14ymedio, Havana, 6 December 2022 — To the multiple obstacles that complicate the work of banana producers in Ciego de Ávila – debts, bureaucracy, lack of agricultural inputs and a lousy distribution system – another one has been added: the violent theft of bunches of the fruit.
The list does not even include sales to the tourism sector. After several years of sale, the farmers realized that the Ministry of Tourism itself was cheating them. Victor Limia, official of the provincial direction of Finances and Prices, did not dare to admit it to the newspaper lnvasor.
“Either there are costs that have not been contemplated and they have to adjust the sale price, or Tourism imposed a purchase price ignoring the real value of what happens in the field,” he limited himself to saying. “We have to check the files,” he conceded.
With 70 million pesos in losses at the end of November, the case of the Ciego de Ávila agricultural company La Cuba – famous for the “exuberant productions” of yesteryear, affirms the province’s Communist Party newspaper – is a notable example of the gap between investment and gain.
The additional cost of La Cuba is 20 million pesos above the annual plan. The dilemma could be resolved if the administrators dispense with the purchase of fertilizers. But, without them, the company’s production would be mediocre, calculates Invasor. It is a vicious circle that affects, first of all, the pocket of the producer, who must forget about the advances and juggle to repay the credits on time.
Local officials, led by Liván Izquierdo Alonso, first secretary of the Communist Party in Ciego de Ávila, visited the company and concluded the obvious: the farmers “are earning very little.”
Izquierdo Alonso walked through the furrows and talked with the producers. Faced with the complaints of Armelio Díaz, a farmer of almost 60 years, the Party cadre said: “No, you have to earn more, because it is very hard work to hoe the fields starting from dawn.” Díaz replied that he usually couldn’t have breakfast, and that he had to make lunch at his house “because there isn’t any at the company.”
But even if the working conditions were given, the other great impediment to normal production is robbery in the banana plantations and banditry, which is increasingly violent. “Last night they almost killed me,” said Jorge Virella, another farmer. “The bananas are stunted and the theft of the bunches makes things worse. The bandits come in carts and they completely clean you out.”
Although the thieves were captured, there are hundreds of young people in the Avilanian countryside dedicated to robbing farms. The situation has worsened for exactly one year. In 2021, 38 of these criminal acts were registered in La Cuba, and the numbers, according to its directive at the time, “are not enough to describe the magnitude of the problem.”
Of those cases, the Police could only solve 20, which involved thieves from the three municipalities that surround the lands of La Cuba: Primero de Enero, Ciro Redondo and Baraguá. Half remained unclear, despite the fact that the company’s workers provided “lists of names of people who do not work and have been seen loaded with bananas or have engaged in pre-criminal behavior.”
“Everyone here knows who they are and they don’t even have a warning letter,” they denounce. With the shortages and the food crisis, criminals have redoubled their robbery attempts and have become even more aggressive against the farmers. Since then, the official newspaper affirms, they have used clandestine warehouses to store the hundreds of pounds of stolen bananas, which they transport in private trucks.
The bandits that the producers of La Cuba continue to complain about “go out at night in eight wagons and attack in groups throwing stones, shooting arrows with pieces of iron… In the face of this organized band, many, unprotected, fear for their safety; above all because blows and wounds are already experienced,” affirms Invasor.
At the end of 2021, the official newspaper reported a series of “energetic” measures taken by the provincial prosecutor’s office to intimidate thieves. A few days before the close of the year 2022, the situation remains the same.
COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.