‘Scientific’ Meetings Don’t Put Food on Cuban Tables

Current Cuban president Miguel Díaz Canel, when he was vice-president, with then General-President Raul Castro. (Archive)

14ymedio biggerElías Amor Bravo, Economist, 11 July 2020 — A brief note in the state-owned newspaper Granma, reports on a meeting between Cuban president Díaz-Canel and scientists and experts from prestigious Cuban institutions, held to discuss issues of food and nutritional sovereignty. The article offers an analysis of the problem that has always affected the Cuban economy, exacerbated as a consequence of COVID19, and all of this, says Granma, “from an integral point of view, where all the links with regards to food and nutrition are considered.” Pure propaganda.

On this occasion, experts from the Soil Institute addressed the analysis of the needs of Cuban agriculture, from the perspective of fertilizers and pesticides. Nothing new. These are intermediate products that have to be imported because they are not produced on the Island, but which, in the absence of foreign exchange cannot be imported, thus limiting the objective of producing more. As usual. A problem caused by the poor development of an economy subsidized and led by the state for too many years, with criteria that are not the most appropriate. While these issues are addressed, valuable time to take action is lost.

But no. It does not seem that this is the objective of these type of meetings with scientists, but that there is a certain disposition in the official propaganda to follow a script already written in the “scientific” article that Díaz-Canel published some time ago. The matter goes a long way, without a doubt.

And from this “scientific” perspective that Díaz-Canel wants to use to analyze the problems that affect his government, it was said at the meeting that the traditional unproductiveness of Cuban agriculture to generate food for the entire population must be “addressed taking into account other processes that also intervene, such as the introduction of scientific results, problems in marketing and distribution, affordable consumption, nutrition, good habits and, ultimately, the role of food and nutrition in the health of our people.”

Believe it. Said and done. Not a single reference to the crucial issue that grips the Cuban countryside and prevents it from being prosperous: the legal framework of property rights, the land tenure regime, in short, allowing Cuban farmers to truly be the owners of the production factor and to freely decide what they want to do, without interference from the communist state.

This question, essential for sufficient food to be produced, was not raised at Díaz-Canel’s “scientific” working meeting, and I am very much afraid that it is beyond any consideration under official communist doctrine. In fact, at the first “scientific” meeting, similar issues such as “the design of policies and legal norms for agricultural extension and also for bioproducts” were discussed, but nobody raised the need to return the ownership of the land to those who work it and produce Strange as it may seem, there is not a single jurist in Cuba who publicly defends this need, which the longer it goes on, makes it increasingly difficult to avoid the imminent collapse.

In the same issue of Granma, there is a report of a visit to the provinces of Artemisa and Mayabeque by Machado Ventura (age 89 and serving as second secretary of the Cuban Communist Party). At the time of the visit, recent rains had had a negative impact on the supply of food products to the capital. The problems of Cuban agriculture come from yesteryear, and they no longer respond to the proclamations and messages of leaders such as Valdés Mesa (age 75, Politburo member), Marrero (age 57, prime minister), Machado or himself. All these messages fall on deaf ears and lose their validity because numerous problems accumulate in the countryside that have to do, essentially, with the legal framework of property rights.

The Raulista reforms — implemented under former president Raul Castro — based on the delivery of land under lease, have not served to increase production, because the farmer legitimately aspires to be the owner of his land, and not a mere tenant of the state. We must review the model, and stop talking about nonsense, such as bioproducts, local food production in pots in the cities, the cultivation of pineapple by the local CDRs (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution) and other nonsense that we have heard from leaders of the communist regime.

The issue is that in 2020 there is no pork, nor rice, fruit trees are scarce and vegetables even more so, while state security represses and denounces the road workers for doing their work serving the population, and the markets are empty because nobody moves the products from the fields to the city. That Díaz-Canel tells me that this whole and very real problem has to do with scientific research, undoubtedly of quality, that is carried out in the country. Nada.

If the Cuban leader really wants to undertake the production of food he needs to meet with the independent agrarian producers, who have already created associations to defend their interests outside the communist government. He needs to listen to what they are going to tell him, and he needs to willingly accept their advice, and if he sees fit, he needs to arrange for the adoption of some of their proposals, and things will go much better.

This, and no other, is the dialogue that is urgent in Cuba, and as soon as possible, to avoid the food crisis announced by the United Nations World Food Program.

By meeting with independent producers, he will get first-hand information about what is happening in the Cuban countryside, and not the distorted advice that comes from Machado Ventura or Valdés Mesa.

The Cuban guajiro knows what has to be done to produce more and is aware that, if the accounts don’t balance, it is the fault of the government, which subjects him to ideological obedience, aggressive taxation and local communist control, to prevent him from prospering. The food crisis is not only due to a problem of importing fertilizers and pesticides for the soil, but there is much more, and that even though scientific contributions can help, there are many other things that need to happen to solve the problem of producing enough food for everyone.


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