“The Agrarian Reform in Cuba”, a plan to exploit the farmer

The redistribution of lands to Cuban farmers was delineated as a part of the Moncada Program in Fidel Castro’s plea titled “The History Will Absolve Me” in a swift trial, which followed failed attacks on military headquarters Moncada and Carlos Maule de Céspedes de Bayazo. Later on it became known as the “Agrarian Reform Law”, after it was signed on May 17, 1958 in Sierra Maestra by Fidel Castro himself.

In its precepts, the law stipulated that the land belongs to those who farm it and that there should no longer be large estates that concentrate ownership under one landowner. The law postulated that land would be redistributed up to a maximum of 4 caballerías (Cuban measure item equals 13.420 hectares or 33.2 acres, transl. note) can be assigned to one landowner. Several years into the fledgling revolution, many landowners, in essence livestock farmers, homesteaders and coffee growers, began to rise up against the decree from the capital, which worried the Revolution’s leaders and which in return created ill feelings among these lower class people. The farms of the ‘people’ emerged, which occupied the largest and best areas, like the estates, even though “Small Agriculturists” were still around. However, small famers started to suffer from the lack of basic resources necessary for food production.

In this manner, what used to be huge farms were transformed solely into one state property. Since the government was not happy with the mere existence of small farmers, it came up with a new strategy, which, in my opinion, was not very sensible: “the new form of production in cooperatives.” From here arose the UBPCs (The basic unit of production in cooperatives), the CPAs (The cooperative for agricultural production) and the CCS (The Credit and Service Cooperative). Left without other possibilities and confronted with the lack of resources, such as work clothes, work equipments, fertilizers, herbicides, transport and the utter isolation, small farmers begin to unite behind a new strategy. These new units were forced to accept BANK CREDITS, a cruel system because of the many requirements connected to them, as well as the high interest rates from the banks. This led to cooperative members falling into debts at an accelerated rate, when the state taxes on production, sale and labor were added up. Thus, the agrarian reform began to exhaust itself.

All this has resulted in the following conclusions:
● the producer is not an owner of his production, fruit of their sacrifice. The production is instead controlled and taken by the state.

● the producer does not have the autonomy to sell his products to those he chooses

● the producer cannot price his production and is obliged to adhere to the official state list of prices

Producers are obliged to declare their profits from their own production and extremely high taxes to the state.

In the early 90s, “Urban Agriculture” appeared that required a number of new and expensive investments, such as the purchase of concrete posts, fences, transfer of flat stone from large distances, turning of soil for planting and organic fertilizers. All this involved labor costs, transport, fuel, etc. And yet after more than 15 years, a cucumber or a head of lettuce still can’t be found in any of the ORGANOPONICOS. What must also be added to this waste of money are the costs of constructing wells, the purchase of turbines, backpack sprayers, irrigation systems, fertilizers and pesticides, etc., all of which are imported products whose price in the world market is high.

A current problem of the Cuban agriculture. Cuba’s geographical characteristics and its tropical climate define it as an agricultural country, even if agriculture is one of the hardest hit areas during the current financial crisis, since farmer are forced to till the land and collect the harvest, all this without resources. Recently, the state authorities have increased the transfer of territory to the farmers of THE IDLE LAND with the intention of increasing living standards for farmers and delivering better nourishment to the people. The province Granma, which is the most productive province in the country, this land was offered with the objective of increasing the cultivation of rice.

The region’s farmers dedicated themselves to this task in all its magnitude, but make an interesting case study for the latest reform. These days what can be seen is chaos concerning the post-harvest stage. There is a lack of warehouse space, transportation, and equipment for peeling and drying grains. In addition, the inhuman form of work has exposed workers to diseases. Also, in the previous years, the state paid $120.000 for one quintal of rice. These days the state offers 50% of the price but at the same time, on its state markets, maintains the same sale price that they had in the previous years.

One caballería of rice yields on average 1,500 quintals. In the national currency this is equal to 90,000 Cuban Pesos (CUP). A farmer needs to cover the costs of fuel, packaging, transport, storage, drying and peeling of the grain and labor, whose amount cannot be assessed at exact terms since it is not known precisely how many workers are used per caballería. A liter of gas costs 25 CUP, which is one dollar, since in the network of national trade there is no gas priced in the national currency, only in foreign currency. In order to harvest one caballería of rice, it is necessary to have 500 liters of gas. One jute or nylon sac costs 10 CUP, if bought through the usual route. In order to provide storage for the harvest from one caballería, one needs 15,000 CUP worth of investment. This costs increases even further with the payment for the grain-drying process by 200 CUP, 2000 CUP for peeling and 800 CUP for transport. When we add up all this investment, we arrive at an approximate figure of 30,500 CUP. Yet, this is increased further by costs and expenses necessary for small farmers to feed themselves and by the progressive tax, which ONAT (Fisco) imposes on the workers’ miniscule earnings. In addition, the delays and bureaucratic methods that state uses to issue checks should be mentioned, since these checks can only be cashed four or five months after delivery of the products, regardless of the needs of the workers’ families. All this creates an environment of bad feelings and discontent on the side of the producers who, after becoming aware that they might be trampled over and mistreated, still have to decides how to make the land productive.

Lic. Eco Alberto Adolfo Moreno Fonseca is the President of the Worker Campesino Party and a member of the leadership of The Agenda for Transition in Cuba.