Cuba’s National Assembly Makes a Penalty Call on Agriculture Ministry

Harvesting. (Bohemia)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, August 12, 2023 — In these dog days of August, when the communist press typically goes into overdrive to burnish the image of Fidel Castro, one piece of news passed almost unnoticed. Its headline read, “Cuban Parliament demands systemic change to strengthen food production.” Yes, you read that right. This blog is not one that often reports fake news. In the midst of all the coverage of Fidel Castro, the National Assembly is asking that something be done about the food situation in Cuba, an indication of the seriousness of the problem and about which the legislative branch does not want to remain silent.

It seems it all started with an audit by the National Assembly of the Ministry of Agriculture, over which the legislative body has ultimate authority. Normally such exercises in accountability go unnoticed. No one can remember anything like this ever happening before. But things are different in 2023 and apparently everyone is taking a stand so that no one’s position appears fuzzy when the final photograph is developed.

Speaking for National Assembly members, Esteban Lazo said in writing that it will no longer remain silent or stay on the sidelines in light of what is happening, noting that this statement is being issued “on behalf of the people by the supreme body of state power.” So the Assembly’s representatives have told the Ministry of Agriculture to “get your act together” and to, once and for all, “contribute to the transformation and strengthening of agricultural production in the country through a political and participatory movement to unleash a productive revolution in this sector.” They really could have left off that last part, which is the same as saying nothing.

Cubans are fed up with all the political posturing and want solutions, which can only come by transforming agricultural production. And Lazo, who was alive in 1959 and can remember what a wealthy, export-driven Cuba was like, knows what he is talking about.

The National Assembly has told the minister of agriculture, Ydael Perez, to stop fooling around and do something productive and effective, like dealing with the sixty-three agricultural measures that have proved useless. Acting in unison, the legislators have exercised their oversight powers. Their action goes only halfway, however, because at no point do they call for accountability. Nevertheless, they have opened a pathway that the country’s senior leaders, Miguel Díaz Canel and Manuel Marrero, could not have have liked.

There are those who might think the delegates would not taken this action without first getting the go-ahead from the top. Anything is possible. The fact is, however, that the legislators have made their position known and have put the country’s most pressing problem, food security, squarely on the table. This is something that will continue to be a major issue during current parliamentary sessions, which run until December 2023.

The statement emphasizes the urgent need to increase food production to satisfy the needs of the population and to spur economic development by relying on the experience of seasoned professionals, good practices, science and innovation, farm worker recruitment and training, consultation with producers, and effective land use management.

Unfortunately, there is no mention of reform, the most important being the crafting of a legal framework to codify property rights. What is clear, however, is that ideology still carries more weight than effective economic decision making in the Cuban economy. The evidence for this lies one of the proposals mentioned in the text, which calls for doing the exact opposite — “strengthening planning and contracting processes” — of what needs to be done.  It is difficult for them to accept the fact that basing the nation’s economy on a model that no longer exists anywhere else in the world is a serious mistake. Even worse is their defense of “Fidel’s ideas on Cuban agriculture,” a ridiculous agglomeration of experiences that is responsible for the current mayhem. On this, the statement by the representatives is not correct.

Perhaps a conclusion like this could also lead one to question the usefulness of this type of parliamentary effort. Don’t believe it. It is good that this body, which has always been known for its silence, is now critically discussing the things that affect people lives. Though their statement ends by couching everything in communist messaging, the parliamentarians are there to conduct an audit and exercise control over executive-branch activity, and the Castro legacy has left much to be desired.

The door is only now opening and anything that comes out of it will have to be approved, but this is a welcome step to the extent that, by conveying the public’s concerns to the nation’s top leadership, those in charge may not feel quite so safe and secure about doing and undoing whatever they want.  We will see if this work by the Agriculture and Food Commission will serve as an example for the members of other commissions such as Economic Affairs; Industry, Construction and Energy; and Education, Culture, Science, Technology and the Environment, which have yet to begin to work. We will be closely monitoring their results.

The regime has never missed an opportunity to monitor the work of these commissions which, in any event, will have to be implemented in line with the Socio-Economic Strategy; the general directives for the prevention and mitigation of illegalities, crime, corruption and social unrest; science and innovation as it relates to organizational development; and input offered to representatives from voters involved in that sector. Whether such a brave and well-aimed critique can escape bureaucratic and partisan scrutiny is anyone’s guess.

After being rebuked for his management failures, Ydael Perez simply thanked the legislators and said his ministry views their exercise as “a valuable opportunity to identify potentialities as well challenges to the projections outlined in the provisions of the Food Sovereignty and Food and Nutrition Security Law.”

The lack of any concrete commitment puts him in a very bad light because, given the way the Assembly’s delegates have painted the picture, one would have expected something more. But as is widely known, taking responsibility is not something Cuba’s communist hierarchy knows anything about.

There was one consolation, though. The report did not mention the embargo or blockade as the cause for the food shortage. We are making progress.


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