“Farmers Have Awakened To The Reality Of The System, Although They Can Not Protest Openly” / 14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez

A Cuban farmer plows the land with oxen (CC)
A Cuban farmer plows the land with oxen (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 12 September 2016 – Rolando Pupo Carralero is a self-declared lover of the countryside, despite having begun working the land by necessity, when he abandoned his studies in economics.

Currently a member of the national executive of the Cuban Independent and Democratic Party (CID) and coordinator in the western region of for political group, Pupo has worked for many years growing tobacco. From his experience in the fields, he believes it is very difficult for regime opponents to own land, and believes the farmers have become aware that the “Revolution” pays them one-forty-fifth of the value of what they produce.

Ricardo Fernandez.  How is it possible that within the opposition there are no independent farmer organizations?

Rolando Pupo Carralero. In Cuba, they don’t allow members of the opposition to have land. It is not a written law, but the land is in the hands of the state, and it is distributed to those who are “suitable” and opponents are rarely in that category.

People who inherit land can be part of the opposition, but even so, the government has ways to pressure them not to be. Among these, the strongest are the requirement to be associated with a cooperative with a “legal personality” because otherwise they cannot buy supplies and services or sell their crops.

There is still no private sector in Cuba capable of buying one farmer’s entire production, nor is there a legal market where you can buy fertilizer or supplies if you are not affiliated with the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP).

RF.  Does that mean that the peasantry is in agreement with the Cuban system?

RPC. The fact that they can not belong to the active opposition does not mean that they do not oppose the system, but the farmer does not have freedom or autonomy. Despite the mechanisms used by the government to indoctrinate and repress the peasantry (cooperatives, ANAP and other institutions of that type), farmers are not completely subjugated. You have to be at a meeting of the cooperative, which convenes monthly, to see the high level of dissatisfaction and the harshness in the well-founded opinions expressed by the members.

RF.  How have the farmers changed their position on the government?

RPC. Initially the peasantry supported the Revolution because it brought some benefits, but the accounts have been made clear over time. For example, in the case of tobacco, the state buys the first quintal (more than 70% quality) for 2,574 pesos, for which you need 1,300 cuttings, with a large expenditure of resources in planting, cultivation, harvesting and drying.

But that quintal of tobacco contains 12,800 leaves (80 cujes of 160 leaves each) and if we figure that for a first quality cigar you need only three leaves, the quintal is the equivalent of 4,266 cigars for export, and an amount equal or more in hard currency.

So they pay the farmer 102 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC, about $102 US), when the real value of the production is 45 times higher. These absurd inequalities mean that from their work they earn barely enough to live, which is why they have awakened to the reality of the system; although they can not protest openly.

RF.  Are there opponents with ties to the countryside?

RPC. I am one of them. I cannot be an owner, but I do cultivate land with my stepfather, who is an owner. Many opponents work in agriculture, some out of necessity and others for love. Although government pressures have made themselves felt, with threats to the owners who employ dissidents, the farmers no longer let themselves be intimidated.

For example, State Security periodically threatens my stepfather, saying they will take away his land if I keep working on it; but he defends his position with my right to work and live together because I am his family.

Gone are the days when being an opponent was a stigma for society. The peasants don’t hire people based on whether they are communists or opponents, they look for work performance regardless of political position.

RF.  How has it been for you linking agricultural work with the opposition?

RPC. Sometimes it is a bit complicated because some underestimate the farmers, associating them with terms such as peasant or brutish; but there are a lot of smart people working in the fields.