The Castro Regime’s Fear of Private Land Ownership in Cuba

Tired of Cuban inefficiency, the Vietnamese abandoned their successful rice project in Sancti Spíritus. (Granma/Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, 2 September 2023 — Communists don’t want a private sector in Cuba like the one that exists in the rest of the world. On numerous occasions, the Castro revolution has been interpreted as a process that extends the poverty of the population by depriving it of one of the main sources of vital income along with salary: property rights over economic assets. Since all productive capital is in the hands of the State, the possibility of civil society making a difference with respect to the political power of the regime becomes impossible. Cubans, immersed in an absurd poverty, depend on the State to develop their lives. There are hardly any spaces for independence from the crumbs of power.

A good example of this is the current study in the National Assembly of a Draft Land Law that, far from regulating private property rights, concerns inconsequential issues such as the ordering of the use and possession of the resource. Ordering, because it means greater power of intervention and coercion by the regime, and possession because in communist Cuba private property will never be recognized. It is worth noting the differences between the two concepts.

Using the dictionary of the Royal Academy of the Spanish language, property is the right of someone to possess something and be able to dispose of it within the law. It has other meanings, but this is the one that interests us. On the contrary, possession means having something that is not owned, with the intention of preserving it for oneself or for another. Look at the differences, because they are substantial. “Property” means its owner can do whatever he wants with something within the law. “Possession” means he can only use it and conserve it. One has nothing to do with the other.

The Vietnamese communists understood this, and in the 90s they implemented the reforms known as Doi Moi, which simply recognized what was forbidden in Cuba: land property rights. And from then on, in just five years, the country’s frequent famines gave way to Vietnam’s becoming one of the world’s leading rice-producers.

By the way, Vietnam’s success has been so great that it occasionally gives a helping hand to its Cuban friends. They know the Vietnamese experience well and have been advised on what to do on numerous occasions, but the fear that Cuban communists have of private property is unhealthy, more burdened with ideological and Party issues, than with concepts of economic reasoning.

This is why the National Assembly of the People’s Power of Cuba, whose obedience to the single party is providential, will hardly open spaces for land ownership in the next Draft Land Law, currently in the process of being created. And this, despite the fact that this is the most appropriate time to address a debate that the Cuban communists simply despise, because they know that if they assumed certain postulates, their time in power would end.

In Vietnam the communists continue to rule, but the social and economic evolution in that country since the reforms of the Doi Moi have completely removed it from Castro’s poverty and misery, and today Vietnam is close to the advanced nations in the World Trade Organization. The Vietnamese people, although they lack political freedoms, have seen their income levels rise exponentially along with quality of life and prosperity, which are the bases for the development of democracy.

No one should imagine that this could happen in Cuba. The state press highlights, for example, that the Draft Land Law has as its background in the agrarian reform laws of 1959 and 1963, which constituted the first radical change in the agrarian structure and the redistribution of wealth in the country. So it is established that the redistribution of wealth and the contingency of land ownership, in pursuit of social interest, with principles and budgets that constitute premises for the transformations in terms of land use and possession in Cuba, will be maintained in the Preliminary Draft.

Not content with the failure of the change in land property rights produced more than 60 years ago, the communists return to their old ways and are inspired to draft a 2023 law like one of the most terrifying ideological failures of the so-called revolution: the agrarian reform.

As has already been indicated, the law only considers the planning of the countryside in terms of the use and possession of the land, which they say has direct impact on the control and legal guarantees for farmers. What is not indicated is what guarantees the rights of those who are deprived of property, and most likely we will find ourselves again with a relationship of “rights” that will be offered from the top of the regime down to the farmers, but without altering the hierarchy or operating structures.

An article by the Legal Directorate of the Ministry of Agriculture, published on its website, addresses what little is known about this Preliminary Draft.

And here are some issues to highlight:

First of all, the communists continue to believe that the solution to the lack of food in Cuba depends on the reorganization of the use and possession of land in Cuba, without touching the issue of property rights. And once again they are wrong, because the solution to the agricultural problem is not about putting on makeup or making superficial transformation. It’s about putting the hoe in the ground and digging hard.

It requires structural reforms of land ownership that reward the work of the farmers. The land must be mostly privately owned and subject to commercial activity within a law that won’t interfere. It seems unbelievable that after six decades of failure and agricultural unproductivity, the communists believe that legislative changes involve reordering the use and possession of land.

This same old song will lead them to a much worse situation than the current one, which doesn’t take into account the true aspirations of the Cuban farmer. Most likely this Draft will not save the sovereignty and food security of the nation, nor will it help to improve agricultural yields.

Second, to establish the issue of the legal framework of land, the aforementioned Draft refers to the provisions of the communist constitution of 2019, where a series of “forms of property” were fixed about land. This left the “private” land with the marginal character that it has historically had since the confiscations and expropriations of the so-called agrarian reform of Fidel Castro.

The constitution also serves the Draft for references to the protection of the right to healthy and adequate food, access to justice and due process and procedure, all based on sustainable development for individual and collective prosperity. You can see that Castroism talks about guarantees and rights that end up being nonexistent and not exercised by those affected, out of fear.

Third, the Draft is justified by Cuba’s need to respect the international conventions to which it is a signatory. It is curious that the regime respects the outward appearance of possession, use and access to land and agricultural goods that are established in those agreements, but it forgets and despises everything related to private property.

There is no point in relying on those international conventions, “such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Farmers and Other People Working in Rural Areas; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, as far as rural women are concerned, who advocate promoting and protecting the right to land with equality and equity,” if a basic right of the Charter of Human Rights, such as private property, is more than evidently violated.

Fourth, all this legislative effort is supposed to contribute to the implementation of Law 148 on Food Sovereignty and Food and Nutrition Security of May 14, 2022. And this objective, still unattained (and we fear that it will be another unsuccessful experience), is the one that requires modifying the policy of use and possession of the land and its legal framework.

The communists point out that the long-standing legal norms require an update corresponding to the existing problems for the transmission of land and its use and possession. But from the experience of other legal systems and reorderings, it has already been proven that not everything depends on legislative changes when they are only superficial. Food sovereignty and security in Cuba is a failure of the communist regime, no matter how you look at it.

Fifth, it seems that the results of the Temporary Working Group for the elaboration of the proposed land use and possession policy and its legal instrumentation have had some influence on the  Preliminary Draft. This Group has been behind the various measures that have been approved to boost agricultural production since October 2022, and which, as we know, have not yielded results, such as the famous 63 measures of the agricultural sector or the 93 measures for sugarcane.

Apparently, the work of this group has been accompanied by projects of international collaboration for strengthening policies for sustainable food security in Cuba and climate resilience in the agricultural ecosystems of Cuba, whose implementing agency is the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which awarded Cuba 6 million dollars for the implementation of these projects. This has had little or no effect on the daily food situation for Cubans, as currently reported from the Island.

Last but not least, it is pointed out in the cited article that the regime allowed participation by representatives of agencies of the Central State Administration, the agricultural business system, associations, research institutes, academics, experts and agricultural producers in the creation of the Draft Law. These contributions were “weighted,” which means that the proposals coinciding with the official line were all approved, but those that were not were simply deleted.

We fear that this Draft will be yet another exercise of communist ideology, dominated by the fear of Castroism about private ownership of the land, and that it will end in failure without solving the problem of food. There have been too many experiments, and all have been unsuccessful. The people seem to be used to it. The question is, for how long?

Translated by Regina Anavy 

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