[On the left, Cuba during its capitalist years, and on the right, under communism]
“If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose–because it contains all the others–the fact that they were the people who created the phrase ‘to make money.’ No other language or nation had ever used these words before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity–to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created. The words ‘to make money’ hold the essence of human morality.”
- Ayn Rand
One of the things about Cuba that fascinates foreigners and travelers the most is the island’s large collection of old and antique American cars. The association between Cuba and old cars is so strong that you are hard-pressed to find pictures of the island before eventually running into a picture of an old Chevy, Ford, or Buick – left over from the days when Cuba was awash with American influence.
It wasn’t always this way. Cuba wasn’t always awash with old cars. Those cars were new once. Cuba was a major importer of American cars until the Revolution in 1959, when Castro came to power and put the island on a collision course with the United States. A large part of the island’s middle and upper classes left in an exodus that continues to this day. Although Cuba’s government has rejected capitalism and all of its values – Cuba’s cars are a reminder that the island once looked to the United States as a source of inspiration and culture.
Before the Revolution, Cuban culture looked not to Spain or Latin America for inspiration – but to the United States. Art Deco architecture, American cars, modernism and everything American was celebrated.
In 1900, Cuba became the first country in Latin America to have an automobile. Cuba was also the place where the first woman in Latin America drove an automobile – Renée Méndez Cape. In 1950, it became the second country in the world to transmit television after the United States. In 1958, it became the second country in the world to transmit color television, also after the United States. As if though it weren’t enough to be in love with American culture, Cubans were also fierce proponents of capitalism and the entrepreneurial spirit.
But with the country’s rejection of capitalism and all of its values, Cuba today is only known not for its modernism and progressivism, but for its old cars, its cigars, decayed buildings and octogenerian dictators. The island’s decline is directly related to its rejection of capitalism.
In Cuba, it is illegal for citizens to accumulate wealth. The accumulation of wealth is considered an economic crime – one that can result in fines, jail and political harassment. Equality is imposed, and no one is allowed to be wealthy.
Venezuela, another country who’s government has rejected capitalism in favor of socialism, is finding itself in what may eventually be a similar situation. This car-crazed country’s automobile industry, once the third largest in South America, has seen its car production output drop by 80% in the last few years.
A lack of dollars and capital, and the government’s increased control of the economy has forced many car manufacturers in Venezuela to drastically cut production. The drop in production is directly related to its government’s animosity towards the profit motive and the idea of making money. In addition to placing limits on the amount of profits that corporations can make, the government frequently expropriates and nationalizes private property – creating an environment that discourages investment in the economy.
President Nicolas Maduro and his socialist Chavista government take any opportunity to demonize anyone who dares to create wealth. The government recently fined General Motors Venezuela after accusing it of selling overpriced car parts. “The only things that these little managers want is dollars, dollars and more dollars,” President Maduro said.
Ever since the first automobile arrived in Caracas in 1904, automobiles have become ingrained in Venezuelan culture. But ever since Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, made the government the only source of greenbacks (dollars) in an attempt to control more and more of the economy, car manufacturers are finding it increasingly difficult to find the dollars they need to finance their operations.
Many Venezuelan car manufacturers now find themselves in survival mode. Once South America’s third largest car manufacturer – Venezuela finds itself in a precarious situation. Venezuela’s Chavista government has rejected capitalism and has demonized the profit-motive as evil. Making money is bourgeois and immoral. This is reflected in the government’s treatment of its private sector and anyone who has a business or wants to make any money. Such people are fascists and Imperialists. The result of this attitude towards entrepreneurship and economic liberty? Economic decline.
Will Venezuela end up like Cuba? In the future, if nothing changes and Venezuela’s car industry disappears – will tourists and adventurers go to Venezuela to gaze at its collection of antique American cars?
Only time will tell. But one thing is certain – if Venezuela continues along the path it is going – its car manufacturing plants and factories will shut down and Venezuelans will have to learn to live with their parents, and then grandparents’ cars. Just like in Cuba.
Because when making money is a crime, when dollars cease to be the way that men deal with each other… well, we know what happens then.
As Ayn Rand eloquently wrote in her novel, Atlas Shrugged, “Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to be the tool by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of men. Blood, whips and guns–or dollars. Take your choice–there is no other–and your time is running out.”