14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre, Pinar del Rio, 29 June 2016 — For Cubans who, in one way or another, make their living in the countryside, the president of the United States, Barack Obama, set off a surge of hope. One month after that visit, the US State Department’s decision to allow the importing of Cuban coffee (as well as textiles), produced by “independent entrepreneurs,” made us dream of exporting our products directly, without Cuban government intermediaries.
We started to plan the purchase of farm machinery and inputs to increase the land’s yield with the money earned from these exports. We feel respected as individuals, imagining ourselves sitting in front of representatives from foreign firms to negotiate our production.
So it seemed the letter of protest from the National Bureau of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), seemed like a joke to us, that is the coffee “producers”; a letter that rejected the measures proposed by the US State Department, and accused them of wanting to influence Cuban farmers and distance them from the state.
Such a reaction is what we would expect, because it was too good to be true.
We know that the state monopolies in Cuba are not willing to lose the lush profits they earn at the cost of our work. But the gesture of support from the US government made me feel respected. This opening could serve as a mechanism of pressure on the island’s government, because the only way to negotiate with the United States would be through the producers whose rights have never been recognized.
So my confusion was great when I read that Nespresso plans to begin importing Cuban coffee to the United States this fall.
In Cuba there is no flexibility to allow coffee growers to negotiate, on the contrary. The 7th Cuban Communist Party Congress reaffirmed that there will be none of the long-expected, and necessary, changes. So, are the regulations of the State Department dancing in sync to the conga rhythm of the Cuban monopolies? Or is Nespresso being miserably deceived?
It has not been disclosed how this trademark, belonging to the transnational company Nestle, will negotiate directly with Cuban producers. The island’s famers don’t even have the right to sell directly to Cuban government entities. The Cuban state does not do business with natural persons, rather they create cooperatives (for example the UBPC, CPA and CCS) with legal standing as intermediaries.
In practice, for example, if a producer needs inputs they have to apply to the cooperative, because they can’t buy them directly from the entity that sells them. This type of practice involves delays and inefficiencies, as well as increasing costs for the coffee grower, since the cooperative applies a tax to each transaction processed.
When a company makes a purchase from a producer, it writes a check to the cooperative which pays the farmer, after collecting the tax, a mechanism that is also applied when the sale is between producers.
This is the reality we dreamt would change with United States government’s new policy of empowering Cuban entrepreneurs. It could be that Nespresso is being deceived by some artifice of the Cuban authorities, or it could be that the intransigence of the Cuban state has managed to break the good intentions of the Obama Administration.
But there is one thing we can be sure of: the new Cuban Nespresso Grand Cru, Cafecito de Cuba, will have the flavor of broken dreams, because it will be done at the cost of our rights.