Crisis in Agriculture: Land for Those Who Work It / Dimas Castellanos

By Dimas Castellano, 9 February 2016

Property and crisis

Once the Cuban Government arrived in power, imbued by an exacerbated voluntarism, it ignored the laws that govern the economy and subordinated them to ideology. From this moment on, the loss of the autonomy that is required by economic processes was converted into a factor of poverty.

In 1959, with the first agrarian reform law, the Government handed over property titles to 100,000 farmers but concentrated in its own hands some 40.2 percent of cultivable land. In 1963, with the second agrarian reform law, the 1,000 farms that had more than five horses swelled the fund of State lands, which grew to almost 70 percent.

In 1976, with the objective of decreasing the numbers of small owners, the Government initiated a project of “cooperativization,” through which it created the Cooperatives of Agricultural Production (CPA), thereby raising the share of land that was State property to 75 percent. The result was inefficiency, scarcity of products and high prices, which obliged the Government in 1993 to convert a part of unused State land into the Basic Units of Production Cooperative (UBPC), while retaining the property ownership for itself.

Fourteen years later, on July 26, 2007, in his speech in Camagüey, General Raúl Castro recognized the deficiencies, errors and bureaucratic or indolent attitudes reflected in the fields infected with the marabú weed, and he announced the decision to “change everything that should be changed.’

And in 2007, he promulgated Decree Law 259, through which he began the handing over of idle land to private individuals. However, the measure sidestepped the declaration of changing everything that should be changed and was limited to transferring — through a form of leasing known as ’usufruct’, which is the right to use the land without actually owning title to it — a part of the land that the State wasn’t able to make productive. The poor result obtained from this measure did not achieve what was proposed.

Of the 420,000 acres held by the 1,989 existing UBPCs, almost 40 percent remained idle; their expanse, although comprising 27 percent of the agricultural area of the country, produced only 12 percent of the grain, food and vegetables, and 17 percent of the milk, and only 27 percent had satisfactory results. In 2010, 15 percent of the UBPCs closed with losses, and another 6 percent didn’t even submit a balance sheet.

In order to stop the deterioration, in August 2012, the Council of Ministers issued a package of 17 measures and a new General Regulation for the UBPCs that recognized what before had been denied: the capacity to acquire rights and to contract obligations; that is, juridicial personality [a legal term meaning an entity that has a distinct identity, with rights and obligations].

In December 2012, without altering the structure of the property, Decree-Law 300 was substituted for Decree-Law 259. It alleviated some restrictions, but it kept others and implemented new ones. Article 11 said that lands in usufruct could integrate with a State farm with a juridicial personality, to a UBPC or a CPA, for which “the usufruct cedes the right of usufruct over the lands and the improvements to the entity with which it integrates.”

In May, 2013, at the meeting of the Council of Ministers, Marino Murillo Jorge, Vice President of the Council of State, recognized that the measures, which for decades had been put into practice for managing the land, hadn’t led to the necessary growth in production. Finally, in 2014, Decree-Law 300 was modified with Decree-Law 311.

The loss of autonomy — which is to the economy what oxygen is to living bodies — together with voluntarism, the methods of command and control, the centralized planning, the inability of the bosses and administrators, and the diminished interest of the producers, shaped the agricultural inefficiency that has characterized Cuban agriculture for several decades.

The process described shows the impossibility of resolving the crisis in agriculture with the monopoly of State property and leads to the analysis of usufruct and the cooperatives in Cuba.

The cooperatives and usufruct 

As far as cooperatives are concerned, the Declaration of the International Cooperative Alliance (ACI), adopted in 1995, defines cooperatives as autonomous associations of persons who unite voluntarily to cope with their needs and their common economic, social and cultural aspirations, through an enterprise of conjoined and democratically controlled property.

In agreement with this definition, the ones created in Cuba — with the exception of the Cooperatives of Credits and Services, where, although without juridicial personality, the farmers conserved ownership of the land and the means of production — are not classified as such.

The Sugar Cane Cooperatives, created in March 1960 in areas that formerly belonged to private sugar mill owners, almost immediately were converted into State enterprises. The emergence of the CPAs in 1976 with the purpose of reducing, even more, the quantity of land in private hands, was also a State decision. And the UBPCs, organized in 1993, didn’t result from a true socialism but from the crisis in State agriculture.

If the cooperatives in Cuba are created by the will of the State; if the Council of Ministers  regulates them; if the entity that authorizes their constitution is the entity that controls, evaluates their functioning and defines when the “members” can contract with salaried workers; if the activities and tasks that the “partners” can assume are created in places decided by the State and “deal with segments of the market that are not competitive with the State”; and, on top of this, if the State retains ownership over the fundamental means of production, then they are not true cooperatives, but State cooperatives in usufruct.

A convincing proof of this false cooperativism was the report published in the newspaper, Granma, on Friday, January 25, 2013, which announced the decision of the National Association of Small Farmers to replace or remove from their positions 632 presidents of agricultural cooperatives.

For its part, usufruct consists of the use and enjoyment of a good belonging to others. If there had been consistency with the principle of changing everything that should be changed, the idle lands, infected with marabú, would have been handed over to those who work the land.

Nothing justifies making private producers — who have demonstrated they can be efficient — owners in usufruct, and giving ownership to the State, which is responsible for the inefficiency. The question sends us to one of the reasons declared by the 1959 Revolution: to return the land to the farmers. Why now does the land not belong to those who work it?

Neither the State lands, nor the cooperatives created by the State, nor the 17 measures of 2012, nor the successive decrees that handed over land in usufruct have managed to pull Cuban agriculture out of the crisis created by the State monopoly of property.

On the contrary, the crisis has worsened.

Such a result, like it or not, places on the agenda the need for a new reform directed at eliminating the large State land holdings, converting the present owners in usufruct to owners in title and transforming the rest of State property into private property and large cooperative enterprises.

Therefore, what is needed is to determine what are the most effective forms of property in each moment and place for personal and social development, which will make the institution of property a foundation of personal and social order.

Not recognizing this need explains how the administrators of cooperatives can be separated, not by the members, but by a para-State institution like the National Association of Small Farmers, or that the Second Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba threatens the owners in usufruct with the emphatic declaration: “The land belongs to the State. Without discussion.” The obvious question is: And what is the State going to do with land that it never managed to make productive?

The answer is requires the democratization of economic relations, so that parallel to the State, Cubans participate like subjects with institutionalized rights.

From Diario de Cuba

Translated by Regina Anavy