The confiscation of the goods and property of bastistianos, landholders, industrialists, and merchants signaled that the revolutionary government would make deep structural changes ahead.
- According to estimates made by the US government, the value of North American properties confiscated in Cuba amounted to $1.58 billion.
- Of the 5,911 officially received claims made by the United States, 86% (in total value) were held by only 38 businesses or corporations.
- When the property of Cubans who later became US citizens is added to this total, the figure reaches approximately 7 billion dollars.
Clearly, the above figures indicate that the nationalizations provided a substantive source of financing for the early social benefits achieved by the revolution.
Meanwhile, in its continuing effort to ease existing spatial disparities, the revolutionary government began to construct new communities.
As we have seen, the government perceived problems in the countryside to be the root cause of the urban crisis. Consequently, it focused on what it called ‘the urbanizing of the countryside and the ruralizing of the urban population’ through a process of concentrating formerly dispersed rural inhabitants in small towns, and building new cities and rural towns. Susan Eckstein says that
Between 1959 and 1962 alone 83 new towns, with an average population of 300-500, were founded: 27 in Oriente, 17 each in Havana and Las Villas, 9 in Pinar del Rio, 8 in Camaguey, and 5 in Matanzas.
By 1971, 246 new settlements had been built, about half with more than 40 dwelling units.
Most of the settlements are connected with work centers: with sugar and cattle farms, and, to a lesser extent, with other agricultural, mineral, and textile centers . . . . In designing the new communities, the Cuban leadership was inspired by both Western and socialist models.
While Castro did not sponsor the large industrial colonization projects common in the Soviet Union immediately after its 1917 revolution, the government intervention described above was one aspect of an integrated policy designed to counter forces that were generally thought to contribute to urbanization.
In addition to the new towns, other rural population centers were to serve as growth poles, absorbing a portion of the population from the most congested cities.
Furthermore, the regime restricted geographic mobility by controlling access to jobs and housing and, to offset the economic concentration in Havana, new industries were located near natural resource sites and provincial ports were developed.
It was hoped that improved conditions in the countryside would make migration a less attractive alternative.
Early reform measures garnered widespread public support as did efforts to rid Havana of gambling, prostitution, large landlords, and foreign proprietors and tourists.
Nevertheless, support was not unanimous.
Many were suspicious of fidelismo and pushed for national elections.
Discontent increased among property owners.
Large urban landowners denounced the reduction of rents as did middle-class property owners, many of whom had invested years of savings into small apartment houses, most of which were mortgaged.
Rent reductions threatened these properties, for mortgages were based on higher rental income than the new government would allow.
Landowners protested the agrarian reform decree, and cattle ranchers were upset at limitations on land ownership. They were joined by the Sugar Mill Owners Association and the Association of Tobacco Planters.
Newspaper editorials and radio commentaries registered their disapproval.
The church, which historically had played a lesser role in politics than in some other Latin American countries, moved openly into opposition.
Photograph by Lisa Reynolds Wolfe.