The Land Belongs To The State … But The Work Does Not / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The invasive marabou plant takes over Cuba’s fertile land. (14ymedio)
The invasive marabou plant takes over Cuba’s fertile land. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerMr. Jose Ramon Machado Ventura met with a group of farmers leasing land under the concept of usufruct in the province of Artemisa, showing first his political skills, and, seeing that his exhortations and appeals were insufficient, moving straight to threats. “The land belongs to the state,” he said, referring to those who do not satisfy the inflexible demands: “We can take it back without much discussion.”

Under decrees issues in 2009 and 2012, the country has 279,021 lessees who occupy just under 3.5 million acres, or 22% of the agricultural land in the country, according to official data that calculates the total to be about 15.4 million acres.

Much of this land that is leased to “natural persons,” was idle, and in the words of many, dead. Marabou and other weeds had taken it over, because the all-powerful state had not been able to make it produce.

Now, in the midst of a real price war, Communist Party leaders are trying to “incorporate into daily practice strict control over the use and possession of the land leased out under usufruct.” Machado Ventura repeats like a mantra that the solution to the problem of food shortages and high prices is in producing more, but he minimizes or understates the shortage of inputs required to achieve this production.

“They place demands on us as if we had everything we need: irrigation, fertilizer, pesticides and don’t even talk to me about machetes or the files to sharpen them,” said Agustin Lopez who only planted yucca and sweet potatoes because they are less demanding. And, he concludes, “We aren’t magicians, just peasants.”

When the controversial topic of prices arose at the Artemisa meeting, the second secretary of the Cuban Communist Party said that he would evaluate the alternative of fixing a maximum limit, that is, “setting an ‘up to’.” The obsession with identifying private traders as unscrupulous intermediaries is leading to the temptation to resuscitate Acopio, that ineffective state entity that only wants to buy from the farmer what it is sure it has the ability to sell, and that on numerous occasions has been responsible for losing tons of food through problems with transport or because of the inefficiencies of central planning and distribution.

Meanwhile, in the capital, the pushcart vendors who operate under the rules of supply and demand have disappeared, and 66 State Agricultural Markets have been set up where there is a list of 37 products, not always available, with fixed prices. The intention is to cover the city’s 195 “people’s councils.” An official note announcing this measure describes it as “the recovery of the status” of these places that had come to be managed outside state control.