Cuba : different farmers, different country

In Cuba: A different farmers congress
By Jorge Gómez Barata-progresoweekly
I followed with interest the work of the Congress of the Small Farmers Association (ANAP), also called “the Peasants’ Congress.” The effort was worthwhile because novel and bold ideas were heard, things that I knew were verified, and things that I anticipated were outlined.
A farm leader said: “The peasants did not go to the Congress to ask for land or schools. They didn’t demand doctors or teachers, roads or highways, because they have all that.” A woman delegate said that “one CSC (Credit and Service Cooperative) can have 15 farms and each farm is an enterprise.” Finally, someone said it! The peasants’ congress also was a meeting of agricultural entrepreneurs.
Peasant is a sociologic category, part of the social and class structure that exists in the Cuban countryside. Until the Revolution, it was formed, among other strata, by hacendados (ranch owners), latifundistas (large-estate owners), terratenientes (landholders), ganaderos (cattle ranchers), colonos (tenant farmers), absentee owners of sugar mills and their high-level employees who operated and managed the mills, farm workers and, in last place, the peasants.
The peasants that Fidel and Raúl Castro knew in the past, the fathers and grandfathers of those who met at the recently ended Congress, and for whose benefit the 1959 Agrarian Reform was enacted, were the last card in the deck and lived under miserable conditions closer to indigence than to production capability.
According to a 1957 survey by the University Catholic Association (ACU), “only 11.22 percent of them drank milk, 4 percent ate meat, 3.36 percent ate bread, 2.2 percent ate eggs and fewer than 1 percent ate fish. Barely 8 percent had access to medical care furnished by the State.”
Through an effect that has lasted 50 years and goes on despite the repeated setbacks in the State-run agriculture’s efforts to trim the social structure in the countryside from the top, the peasants who gathered in cooperatives advanced consistently, occupying economic spaces until they displaced the State from first place in the volume of production, land yield, and ability to cope with climate adversities.
With 40 percent of the land, the cooperativistas (cooperative members) create 70 percent of the values. I don’t know what percentage of the machinery, fuel, fertilizers and pesticides, water, transportation, agronomers and veterinarians the cooperative members utilize to accomplish this, although one could suppose that the amounts are considerable fewer than those used by the State sector.
Because of the combined effect of the failed agrarian policies of the ministries of Agriculture and Sugar, the climate adversities, the crisis that followed the fall of the socialist bloc (which was devastating for Cuba’s State-run agriculture but not for the peasants), the social structure in the countryside has experienced a mutation. An example of this is the introduction of the usufructuarios, many of them city folks to whom the State has leased several million hectares of idle land. These farmers-in-usufruct have added to the entrepreneurial nature of the Cuban countryside.
According to the current trends, the State could soon be replaced not only as the leading farm producer but also as the majority holder of land. It is difficult to predict the impact of the phenomenon created by the so-called “process of actualization of the Cuban economic model.”
Among the topics dealt with during the Congress was the commercialization of the peasants’ production. Production is something the peasants know how to do, but the State – which owns the means of transportation, the fuel and the distribution hubs, hires, buys and sells in the retail network – is reportedly not handling the commercialization well.
Along with the commercial side of the business, the peasants paid special attention to the contracts, the prices, the availability of supplies, seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, water and other aspects of an entrepreneurial activity that, because of its technical profile, they could deal with anywhere on the island, not just in Havana.
For his part, the Minister of the Economy, without being critical, revealed that these “peasants” hire as many as 100,000 farm hands to whom they reportedly pay higher wages than the State. However, these new rural entrepreneurs don’t pay taxes or assume obligations in terms of social security for their farm hands.
Because of the topics discussed and the results achieved, the Congress of the Small Farmers Association seems to me to be a magnificent exercise and a demonstration that the Revolution – through an institution like the ANAP that is solidly established and committed to its work – has permitted the political leadership to monitor and efficiently manage those processes.
The fact that these “peasants” work the land and sweat while doing it puts them on a par with millions of micro-, small- and midsize-entrepreneurs worldwide. Nevertheless, their hard work will ease as their revenue increases and they can devote more time to management and planning and, along with their families, can enjoy their prosperity.
Maybe the peasants’ Congress – a gathering of agricultural entrepreneurs to perfect society and its basic structures – can be considered a kind of rehearsal for an improved version of socialism. In this new version, the mercantile efforts and the citizens’ economic initiative, which is a commendable variant of their participation, will coexist with the high goals of social justice and collectivism contained in the socialist ideal.

The New Country comes by mail
By Aurelio Pedroso-progresoweekly
In Havana, a group of dissidents has just issued a proposal to create a new group, this one called “The Charter of the New Country.”
The birth of this peculiar document took place recently in an apartment overlooking 23rd Avenue and proceeded without incident, except for a moment when the loud sound of sirens was heard on the well-traveled boulevard. Some attendees were startled, but it wasn’t police cars on a mission. It was just fire fighters celebrating National Fire Prevention Day who by happenstance stopped their truck a few seconds in front of the building and sounded their sirens to open up a lane for the vehicle.
I’ve lost count of the overwhelming number of parties, associations, federations, labor centrals or trade guilds that have been formed by the opposition, but it could reach 200.
Some of them have only two members: the president and the vice president. God knows which of the two is the G-2 agent, because what our dissident movement has is an extraordinary facility to admit all kinds of moles.
That’s not the only important attribute. Then there’s the very native obsession everyone has with being a chief. The big problem with unity among Cubans dates back to José Martí, whose death in combat 115 years ago is celebrated this month, on the 19th.
Ever since, it has been impossible for any three Cubans to devise a plan or strategy without each one of them wanting to be the leader – so he doesn’t have to work too much.
This can be seen on occasion in construction work on the street. Two men are working, ramming a power drill into the pavement, and five are issuing orders or instructions. That’s the way we are. Shall we continue to be like that?
For now, I don’t see much future for The Charter, although I do acknowledge that the country needs in-depth remodeling in all aspects. The Charter will have the same fate as the Varela Project, although the republic’s Constitution could help the promoters in their task.
The signers of the Charter – so far, about 100 persons living on the island and in the United States – propose a “Basic Basket” consisting of radical changes in alimentary security, a thorough review of property rights, and the ratification of pacts signed by the authorities at the United Nations.
Among the signers are journalists, writers, lawyers, farmers, physicians, architects, historians and painters. Even a forest ranger and a retired mariner.
Actually, considering the notorious inefficiency of our postal service, where a letter from Havana takes one month or two to reach Santiago de Cuba, The Charter of the New Country will be stuck in some post office somewhere, even though it says things that are quite worthwhile, if we’re talking about the future of the island.

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