Anton spent most of his life in Cuba before political oppression pushed him to immigrate to America in 2013.
It was not a lack of love and respect for his country that caused Anton to leave. On the contrary, Cuba was his beloved home. He never dreamed he would have to leave his life behind, but without the freedom to own property and earn a living free from government coercion, he and his wife felt they had no choice but to come to America.
PLF had the great honor of speaking with Anton—not his real name—about the circumstances that led him to flee his own country because his individual liberty, specifically his right to economic liberty and property, and thus, his ability to pursue happiness, were threatened.
Speaking of his feelings upon making this difficult decision, he quotes a Cuban poet he has always admired: “To
He added, “It takes time,” but at the end of the day, he knew it was the right decision.
Some immigrants speak of the material opportunity that led them to America, but for Anton it was the Cuban government’s quest to squash the individual that led to his exodus.
Anton and his family had committed what he describes as the “three cardinal sins” under communism: They were religious, they owned property (a few acres of land), and they had a history of distrust for the communist government. This painted a target on their backs and earned them a reputation as being “capitalist” sympathizers—the worst trespass of them all.
Anton’s family owned a small farm where they planted fruit and raised livestock which they would then sell to their local community. Community was important to his family. They also built churches for communities around the country.
Anton embraced the individualist mindset and used his skills to improve himself, his family, and his broader communities.
Owning property was bad enough on its own, but having the nerve to privately sell goods was a direct violation of communist principles.
His family’s reputation followed Anton everywhere he went, from grade school to his first job. Communist governments make the claim that everyone is equal under their system, but Anton and his family were not treated as such.
Their beliefs were contrary to the post-1959 revolution Cuban way of life, and the family was discriminated against accordingly.
But Anton was brave beyond measure. Despite the great danger he and his family faced, they continued to build churches and feed the community.
Building an enterprise of any scale was not the communist way. Any form of entrepreneurship not sponsored by the government needed to be squashed in the name of the collective good.
As a young boy in school, Anton was taught to follow the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. He and his classmates were told that they would one day have one society where money would be useless. Under this “ideal” system, the Cuban people would work in factories, they were promised. When they finished their nine-hour shifts, the government would provide them with everything they needed. If they needed clothes, they would be given clothes. If they needed food, they would be given food.
This was the utopia the Cuban socialists strived to create. But such a system can never exist unless the individual is sacrificed to the masses.
Human nature dictates that individuals each have different wants and needs. It was of little importance to communist supporters that some may not want to work in a factory. Others may prefer goods and services not provided to them by the government. And some may not be willing to sacrifice the freedom to own property and keep the income they earn for whatever is deemed in the interest of the “public good.”
This “ideal” society does not and cannot exist.
As Anton expressed, “We are not in a perfect world. And, what happened in Cuba in 1959 when the revolution took power, they took everything from the rich people. They made everybody “equal.” So, everybody in the end was very poor. There was no incentive for people to work, no incentive for the farmers to grow food. There was no incentive for people to go to factories to work because, again, in a perfect world, this idea that they are talking about is nice, but like I say, we’re not in perfect world.”
Communist regimes make grandiose promises of free stuff and equality, but there is no such thing as a free lunch, and equality of outcome is a perverse distortion of equality of opportunity. As Anton explained:
“In my opinion, nothing in life is free, because yeah, it’s like that you are try to kill me and give my stuff away for free. Really?”
He continued: “People have good intentions, I understand this, but I will have to say that the way to the hell is good intentions.”
The sanctity of the individual is undermined by collectivists’ ideologies, both in our own country and abroad. By placing the collective good before the sanctity of the individual, socialism and its more extreme form, communism, jeopardize our ability to live freely, peacefully, and productively without interference by government.
While our free-market, democratic system has helped keep full-fledged socialism and communism at bay, other countries have not fared so well absent these economic principles, as Anton’s story shows. We should use his story to be vigilant in protecting our capitalist system from the threat of socialism.
Anton laments that, thanks to American filmmaker Michael Moore, westerners have developed a false perception of socialism, especially when it comes to Cuban healthcare.
“Michael Moore never went to our hometown hospital. He went to the best government hospitals. When he came back, he said that Cuba is a paradise.”
He does not deny that the doctors in his country are talented, but they are underpaid. Doctors are expected to work without incentives. They bring home $40 to $50 per month, according to Anton.
“The concept is free,” he says, “but in the reality it is very expensive, and as a Cuban, we are paying for this. Instead of bringing home an income and deciding for yourself if you would like to spend the money on a doctor, you are left with no choice.”
And the education in Cuba is often not sufficient to train doctors; they have to go to other countries, like Brazil or Venezuela.
“When we say free things, personally, we don’t believe it. They are not free. This is a lie.”
It was with a heavy heart that he and his wife eventually had to make the painful decision to leave their children, grandchildren, and friends behind in Cuba. It wasn’t just their own lives they feared for—they also feared for those involved in the organizations they were active in.
“If we don’t leave the country,” he thought, “We will have serious problems, especially the part of the organization that we work over there in Cuba. The motive that I had to leave Cuba was more for safety and security, not just for me and my wife, but also for what was being done in Cuba.”
So they left their old life behind and came to America.
The textbook definition of socialism is when the collective, or the government, controls the means of production, distribution, and exchange. Communism takes this further, giving the government total control over economic and even social issues.
Anton explains that each self-described socialist and communist country has adopted its own version of what this economic system means, despite what the actual definition may be. When asked the difference between socialism and communism, Anton explained that there is very little difference between the two.
In America today, many people push for socialism as a means of getting to equality. Anton would like to give advocates of such a system, like Senator Bernie Sanders, the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they aren’t talking about the same kind of socialism that destroyed his own country. But having seen the horrors of collectivism first-hand, he knows to be wary of such ideologies.
Anton has adapted to his new life in America. The freedom to hold and express one’s own opinion is among his favorite aspects of American way of life. Unlike Cuba, in America, he loves talking to people with a host of different beliefs. He may not always agree, but he treasures the freedom they are allowed to exercise.
Our American government was instituted to keep each individual sovereign, possessing an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of our own happiness, something Anton did not have in Cuba.
One core concept all our Pacific Legal Foundation cases have in common is the principle of individualism. Whether we are fighting for equality before the law, property rights, economic liberty, free speech, or separation of powers, protecting the individual stands at the center of all we do.
When organizations like PLF fight for the dignity of the individual here in America, we are doing it to protect our country’s founding principles that have helped us maintain our freedom while other countries have crumbled.
PLF’s main focus is law. But Anton’s story gives an example of how law and economics go hand in hand. Without the freedom to pursue his own happiness and earn his own living, there was no individual liberty. Socialism can’t work on a foundation of individual liberty. And under such an oppressive government, there was no one to fight for him.
We should remember Anton’s powerful words: “Cuba was heaven before 1959”; when he left, he says, “it was hell.”