Marrero, Fidel Castro and Nazareno: The Return of Moringa

Moringa tree. From

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elias Amor Bravo, Economist, August 14, 2021 — More than a hundred references to “Fidel” swamp the official communist press on a day like today, his birthday. This blog will not be offering any remembrances or testimonials to the work of this communist dictator but, among the jumble of information we have found, one article in particular merits attention.

I am sure the story, which was published in Cubadebate, will have disappeared, within a few days from lack of interest. It deals with a particular tribute made by the Cuban prime minister, Manuel Marrero, on August 13 to Fidel Castro.

Marrero had the bright idea of visiting the Nazareno basic production unit, founded in late 1963 by Castro. At that time it was conceived as an experimental farm for the development of new agricultural technologies. These were the early years of the so-called “revolution,” which faced the same problems as today. Severe food shortages were already becoming common, which forced the regime to adopt the odious ration book.

This was not the case in previous years, when stores provided Cubans with a full array of food choices. So what caused this disaster? Simple. The expropriation and confiscation of farms, the expulsion from the country of agricultural entrepreneurs, the complete transfer of ownership and concentration of property in the hands the state, and the creation of a new Marxist-Leninist economic model that, in less than two years, destroyed what had been been a fertile and productive agricultural sector.

Facing no resistance from the field, Fidel Castro indulged in his experiments. These involved things such as White Udder, which was supposed to be the “little cow that would produce more milk” than the big ones, coffee that would grow under the skies of metropolitan Havana, and other even more terrible ideas such as the country school and the UMAP farms. All were refined and directed by an ineffective bureaucracy known as the National Institute for Agrarian Reform (INRA), which was headed, of course, by Castro himself.

In a way, Marrero’s trip to Nazareno served as a remembrance of Castro’s excesses, which even today prevent Cubans from eating like the inhabitants of any normal country. As an experiment Nazareno could have turned out well. But it didn’t.

Its recognition by the state and the Department of Science, Technology and Innovation (ECTI) as a potential plant protein program made it a full-fledged administrative “experiment,” one of many that, aside from its disastrous impact on the economy, has been an abject failure. Moreover, a failure that can be easily measured. Have any of Castro’s scientific initiatives and developments improved the Cuban diet? Has Nazareno contributed to this in any way?

I can imagine the communist leader’s sense of failure on his last visit to the experimental facility in 2016, when he tried to explain the enormous benefits of moringa while, according to Cubadebate, inspecting the fields and calling for further research. This was the comeuppance for someone who made a multitude of mistakes in an unfortunate quest for power and an attempt to transform a system that worked much better than the one he replaced it with. Castro’s work has to be evaluated within objective parameters, to view it as it actually was: an undeniable disgrace and a waste of money that did not improve living conditions for Cuba or her citizens.

As it turns out, Marrero could not have chosen a worse location to commemorate the dictator’s legacy than Nazareno. High-level government decisions like these have to be scrutinized carefully because the make-up of the entourage accompanying Marrero on his visit to the agricultural station offers an insight into the situation Cuba’s communist regime now finds itself.

The entourage was made up of the first-secretary of the communist party in Mayabeque, the provincial governor and the director general of ECTI, which runs the San Jose de las Lajas farm. In their presence, Marrero expressed appreciation for Castro, pointing out, “Since 1963, the year I was born, the commander-in-chief, Fidel Castro, was already dreaming of these places, dreaming of a great idea that little by little he was developing.” In retrospect, maybe it would have been better if he hadn’t done so much dreaming considering how everything turned out.

Marrero goes out of his way to show solidarity with the culture of failure that began with Castro. He also makes it his own, and in a way, sees it all in the Nazareno facility. His message is spine chilling and goes more or less like this: If the commander has failed in things like the Nazareno project, we have forgiven him. Please, do the same for us. We need it and will be grateful if you give us the same support. From failure to failure, I rolled the dice when it was my turn, like in a board game.

Marrero even justifies the failure of Castro’s experiment, arguing that it was created, among other things, to be “a great laboratory, to break down barriers, to seek solutions by appealing to the main protagonists, peasant and agricultural workers, who were making those dreams come true in coordination with scientists, who contributed ideas and stayed here to combine them with practicality, with reality.”

Obviously, the recipe did not work. The experiment did not take into account the basic requirement of any economic activity, which is to satisfy the needs of the consumer. It was conducted to make Fidel happy, to see to it that his feverish ideas were carried out. No one was interested in the results. Now, fifty-eight years later, Cubans do not have enough food and there are no foreign exchange earnings to import it.

Marrero also said he was proud that Fidel Castro’s ideas had taken shape at Nazareno and that knowledge gained there — plant proteins, genetics, food production in all its scope — had been applied throughout the country. Moringa was back in the spotlight. The best way to honor Fidel, in Marrero’s opinion, “is to keep these ideas alive, to keep demonstrating that anything is possible and to bring each and every one of his ideas to fruition.”

At this point the prime minister realized there were some young people present. None of them appeared in the Cubadebate article but he addressed them, telling them they are part of the Nazareno farm. If they make these experiences, these ideas, their own, he said, this would “be the start of a true continuity with the all work Fidel as done here.” As if young Cubans in 2021 cared anything at all about Fidel, who passed away five years ago and who is already on his way to becoming a footnote in history. Tributes like Marrero’s are of increasingly little interest to them.

For Cuba, Castro’s dreams of revolution turned out to be a nightmare, especially for its youngest citizens, who have grown tired of waiting for the “New Man” who never comes. Fidel’s dreams were never achieved. In fact, when he left this world in 2016, the economy that Cubans inherited was much worse than the one he himself inherited in 1959.

The in-depth investigation that will have to be carried out when a democratic government comes to power will reach the same conclusion. Fidel’s legacy, for which today’s communists have so much praise, will be subjected to a balanced and objective assessment. This will lead a rewriting of  Cuban history post-1959. The communists know this and, therefore, take full advantage of the propaganda machine at their disposal to impose their own point of view. But they will fail at this too because no one in Cuba believes this stuff anymore, much less that Fidel’s experiments are of any use, or that they have to be applied on a widespread basis.

Marrero could have chosen somewhere other than Nazareno to remember Castro. The decision was calculated. Nobody cares one iota about the Castro regime so, in that sense, the choice backfired. During the tour with his entourage, someone must have asked the obvious question: Why is it that, no matter how good we are or how much Fidel did for us, we still have to line up to buy a few sweet potatoes once we leave here?

If this kind of experimental facility carries out so much research, why aren’t we seeing economic results in the Cuban countryside in the form of increased production? What good is all this experimentation if we have to import more than two billion dollars worth of food a year?

Marrero was not wrong to play to his intended audience. The old-guard communists like this sort of thing. They know without a doubt that they were wrong to cast their lot with Castro but now it’s too late. It is a different matter when it comes to the young. Most likely they view all these experiments and innovations as absurdities, devoid of all rationality, which stand in the way of a functioning Cuban economy.

Extolling Castro in the context of the agricultural sector makes little sense. This visit was clearly an attempt by Marrero to ingratiate himself with the hard-line communist wing of the party. But he knows that Nazareno did little to feed the country. Moringa included.


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