The Reform of Land Ownership in Cuba is no Longer Expected

A Cuban farmer plows the land with oxen (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, 19 January 2023 — Without a doubt, the sector of the Cuban economy worst managed by communist leaders is agriculture. Communist recipes, applied from the first moments of the revolution, with the so-called “agricultural reform,” or the creation of the harmful INRA (National Institute of Agrarian Reform), caused the collapse of a sector that, before 1959, was competitive and produced enough to feed the population and export surpluses. The communist reforms of the land led to the current situation, in which leaders continue to develop one legal framework after another, convinced that laws, regulations and administrative provisions can achieve the miracle of increasing  agricultural production. But they don’t get it.

This is illustrated in two articles published in the State newspaper Granma that try to justify the legislative activity of the Ministry of Agriculture and that formalize a balance of rules that, in no case, have served to increase production.

The results are in sight. The agricultural sector has been decreasing its GDP for three years, and it seems that 2022 will have closed with equally unfavorable results that question the rules and laws adopted in agricultural and livestock matters, since they do not serve to arrange anything, much less to stimulate the production and marketing of food.

The failure of the communist policy applied to the agricultural sector has many reasons, and all of them are well known. The leaders are busy in what they call “improvement of the processes of production and marketing of food” without going to the origin of the problem, which lies in the technical and legal conditions of land ownership and the means of production. If you want to adopt policies that eliminate obstacles to producers and that give incentives to agricultural activity in the country, there is no choice but to go to land ownership.

It’s not necessary to publish a myriad of legal norms, but to go to the origin of the problem that blocks agricultural production in Cuba. It is not a matter of applying partial solutions to “move the earth,” but of listening to and attending to the voices of the Cuban guajiros, who insist on producing food in spite of the countless obstacles, the main one being the availability of land and the dependence on communist political decisions for the viability of their production.

In essence, the problems of poor contracting with the productive base, defaults on payments or low prices that don’t serve to buy crops from peasants and cooperatives, and many more that affect the lack of food in the ration stores and markets, have their origin in the concentration of land ownership in the hands of the state and the weakness of the land delivery model, as a patch solution, to a structural problem. What’s needed is to modify the communist constitution of 2019.

If such access to private property is not regulated, and the appropriate legal guarantees not established, which requires a Basic Land Ownership Law, the rest of the legislative and regulatory activity of the Ministry of Agriculture will be worthless pieces of paper and won’t help resolve the conflicts arising from the existing legal framework since the land confiscations of the 1960s. The Vietnamese were the last to turn around the land rights framework with the Doi Moi reforms and in five years became the main exporter of cereals in Asia.

What has the Ministry of Agriculture been working on in 2022?

The list of topics gives an idea of how far the regulator is from the needs of the sector. The famous “63 measures” that have not served to boost agriculture and the “28 of livestock” have been a good example of failure. Little has been known about the update of Decree 225/1997 on personal violations of the regulations for the control and registration of livestock and purebred breeds through the approval of Decree 70/2022, except that they exist.

The Law on Promotion and Development of Livestock, which updates a 1974 regulation, approved at the last session of the National Assembly, has been in force for a short time, but there are serious doubts that it serves to produce more (the cattle are still owned by the state). The same goes for the approval by the Council of State and the Council of Ministers, respectively, of the Decree-Law and the Decree regulation, which implement the policy for the production, development and use of biofertilizers, biostimulants and biopesticides for agricultural use, or the new draft Decree-Law of Agricultural Cooperatives.

Also highlighted is the May 2022 Law on Food Sovereignty and Security and the subsequent plan of July, which is described as “a decisive step not only in the interest of the protection of the right of everyone to healthy and adequate food, but also to strengthen and perfect the processes that go from production to the consumption of food, based on the endogenous capacities of each territory.” But the fact is that food problems not only continue, but have also been exacerbated by prices that go far beyond the purchasing power of wages and pensions.

Likewise, work is being done on the updating of the Turquino Plan Policy, the development of the decrees that will implement the Agrarian Extension and Agroecology policies, which are on the Legislative Schedule for November 2023, and, as a highlight of this year, the drafting of the Land Law.

It’s good that the regime describes the norm that regulates the land as the “main course.” It is a pity, however, that this Land Law, the most urgent and necessary one, is the last of the projects that are intended to be undertaken this year. Although little or nothing is known about what is intended with this rule, its content could be essential to change the state of the agricultural sector and give it a boost, as long as the obsolete ideologies that prevent the economy from functioning better are left behind. If they miss the opportunity to turn the agricultural sector around by 180 degrees, as happened with the aforementioned Livestock Law, which left the crucial issue of cattle ownership undecided, everything will be as usual, and the problems will remain unresolved.

The Land Law must act, from the perspective of a new legal framework for land ownership rights in Cuba, as the core of reference of the policies and regulatory frameworks of the sector, even if it goes against the provisions of the communist constitution of 2019. Constitutions are born to be modified, and the Cuban government could start such a process.

The regime recognizes that its agricultural policies and legal norms don’t mean immediate food on the table for Cubans. And they are right, in view of the failures, but this is not because those policies are unable to remove obstacles to producers and give incentives and bonuses to agricultural and forestry activity, but because the land should be the property of those who really work it and make it productive.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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