Archive for January, 2013

Decree-Law 300 Will Not Make the Land Produce

January 26, 2013 Leave a comment

DSC07434Just a few days ago, December 9, 2012, Decree-Law 300 came into effect, authorizing the leasing of idle state lands under the concept of usufruct. The new measure repeals Decree-Law 259 of July 2008, whose ridiculous results led to its repeal by the State Council.

Judging by the official criteria reported in the press, now the land will indeed produce. Among others, the legal director of the Ministry of Agriculture said the new Decree-Law will strengthen the process of leasing vacant land and ensure continuity and sustainability in its use; meanwhile the director of the National Control Center of Land, under the same ministry, ruled that the application of the law will allow an increase in food production.

These triumphalist statements do not take into account the relationship of the recent Decree-Law with the background of the agrarian problem in the country, especially with regard to land tenure and its efficient exploitation.

In the period between the end of the War of Independence of 1895 and the great expansion of the sugar industry between 1918 and 1924, agricultural property in Cuba suffered a considerable shift to the detriment of small and medium producers with tens of thousands of evictions.

The result of this process is reflected the 1946 census: of the 142,385 farmers who were in the country with 165 or fewer acres (equivalent to the Cuban land measure of 5 caballerías), which represented 24% of the arable land, only 48,000 were homeowners, while the remaining 76% of the land was concentrated in the hands of large  national landowners and foreign companies.

With this distribution big landowners were not interested in intensive use of the land, while nearly a hundred thousand tenants, subtenants, sharecroppers and squatters,were unwilling to efficiently produce on land they did not own.

With the Revolution of 1959 the socialist State monopolized land ownership and introduced central planning. These two factors, property and planning, explained that half a century later, despite the various measures, more than one-third of the land concentrated in the large State-owned estates, remained and/or became idle.

After multiple failures in the attempt to make State-owned land produce, in the year of 2008 Decree-Law 259 was enacted, which delivered 3.7 million acres of the land to leaseholders (a large part of which remains unproductive). However, this legal judgement ignored the main causes of inefficiency and therefore failed to increase agricultural production.

Despite this experience, the Guidelines of the Economic and Social Policy, adopted by the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party in 2011, re-instituted central planning to the detriment of the market and refused to deliver land ownership. That is, it insists on the implementation of an economic, political and social model that has never worked anywhere.

It must be said that, although the Decree-Law 259 lacked the basic elements to produce the required shift to agriculture, its importance was the recognition that something had to change. However, that something, to circumvent farmers actually holding title to property made the economy subject to ideology, and so could not fulfill the stated purpose.

The recent Decree-Law 300 is a step forward in some respects:

1 – Before, the area could be offered in lease could be from  given from 33-100 acres of land and now is extendable up to 165 acres, but only for those who already possess land and are linked to a legally established State Farm, a Basic Unit of Cooperative Production (UBPC). or Agricultural Production Cooperative (CPA).

2 – Housing, warehouses and other facilities, previously banned, are now permitted.

3 – It provides certain facilities for the hiring of a workforce through family support, temporary agricultural workers and permanent workers.

However, access to inputs and services depends on those leasing the land being linked to legally established agricultural entities; there is a manifest disadvantage to individuals in the duration of the contract and that they are also responsible as part of the lease for fulfilling State plans for livestock and unproductive trade. Such limitations are moving towards an insurmountable contradiction: make the land produce while avoiding the formation of a national business.

In turn, Decree-Law 300 does not hide the decision to maintain monopoly control over the property of the State. In Article 11 it states that the lessees can be integrated with workers on a legally established state farm, or as cooperative members with a UBPC or CPA. In such cases, “the lessee cedes lease rights over the land and additions to the entity to which he is a member, which evaluates whether or not he may continue to work the land.”

Most significant is that the lease, understood as the right to enjoy a good of others, does not get to the root of the problem. It holds great contradiction: the land in State hands becomes idle, but whomever makes it produce is unable to access it as his property.

The subordination of economic laws to the ideology of power, explains both previous failures as well as the attempt to repair previous decisions with recent measurements. These changes inform preserve the essential factors that have conditioned the backwardness in agriculture.

Its positive aspect is that, despite government intentions, in a slow and tortuous process against all odds, many farm workers are training themselves as future agents of a national business.

Ultimately the new measures lacking the necessary depth, with occasional modification, will repeat previous failures. These facts allow us to assume the Decree-Law 300 will not make the land produce and until that changes, Cuba will have to continue acquiring, at high prices on the international market, products that could perfectly well be produced in the country.

Dimas Castellanos

Published in Diario de Cuba

December 17 2012

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

The Move Towards Female Suffrage in Cuba

In the TV program “Round Table” on Thursday, October 18, Teresa Amarelle Boué, a History and Social Science graduate and Secretary General of the Federation of Cuban Women, more or less said that, thanks to the 1959 revolution, Cuban women had gained the right to vote. Since then she has been interviewed on various occasions about this claim, which gave rise to my decision to compile the following notes.

Since the 19th century, various Cuban intellectuals have constructed models for women’s rights. The Countess of Merlín reflected in her literary work her feminine feelings, her national roots and her points of view. Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda edited Álbum cubano de lo bueno y de lo bello, a woman’s magazine in which she challenged male domination and urged other women to do the same.

A monument in Santa Clara to Marta Abreu

A monument in Santa Clara to Marta Abreu.  Flickr

Marta Abreu, sublime personification of charity and patriotism, extended charity to the long-suffering people of the country when José Martí put the Cuban people on a war footing. Referring to her, Máximo Gómez said, “If you thought about what rank such a generous woman should occupy in the Liberation Army, I dare say it would not be difficult to see her on the same level as me.”

During the wars of independence Ana Betancourt de Mora defended female emancipation in the Constitutional Assembly of Guáimaro.

In 1895 María Hidalgo Santana joined the insurgent army and participated in the Battle of Jicarita upon the death of the standard bearer. She took up the battle flag, charged forward, received seven gunshot wounds and was promoted to captain. Edelmira Guerra de Dauval, founder and president of the organization Esperanza del Valle, helped to formulate the revolutionary manifesto of 1897, which stated in Article 4, “It is our wish that women be able to exercise their natural rights by allowing women who are single, widows over twenty-five years of age, or divorced for just cause, to vote.”

maria dolzindexIn 1897 María Luisa Dolz, a professor at Isabel la Católica girls’ school, linked educational reform to nationalism and feminism. For this she is considered to be Cuba’s first modern feminist.

In the early days of the Republic a group of women founded associations and press outlets to defend women’s interests. Among them were Revista de la Asociación Femenina de Camagüey, the first feminist publication on the island, Comité de Sufragio Femenino, Club Femenino de Cuba, Alianza Nacional FeministaLyceum, a predominantly cultural organization, which considered change to be impossible without access to education and culture, and Unión Laborista de Mujeres, a radical organization which gave priority to workers’ issues over women’s suffrage.

In 1912, after the crime against the members of the Partido Independiente de Color, a group of black women began a campaign seeking approval for a law granting amnesty to those who had been incarcerated. At their meetings and conferences they expressed support for women’s rights, such as the right to vote and divorce. In 1923, when the Asociación de Veteranos y Patriotas was formed, among its founding members were ten directors of Club Femenino de Cuba.

Among the notable women during the era of the Republic it is worth mentioning Mari Blanca Sabas Alomá, Ofelia Rodríguez Acosta, Ofelia Domínguez Navarro and María Collado, who played important roles in the struggle for women’s rights. They and other feminist leaders held conferences, submitted petitions to politicians, established coalitions among diverse groups, held street demonstrations, informed the public through print and broadcast media, built obstetric clinics, set up night schools and health programs for women, and established contacts with feminist groups in other countries.

Although the constitution of 1901 recognized the equality of all Cubans before the law, the Spanish Civil Code, still in-force at the time, held that women were inferior, which hindered their advancement and closed the door to women’s suffrage. Thanks to the civic movement of 1914, however, debates on divorce began to take place. On July 18, 1917 women were granted parental authority over their children and the the power to control their assets, and in July of 1918 the Divorce Law was adopted.

By 1919 Cuban women had achieved the same level of literacy as men, and in the 1920s Cuba was graduating proportionally as many women as American universities. These developments weakened those opposed to the female vote. In this context the battle for women’s suffrage gained strength.

In 1923 thirty-one organizations attended the First National Women’s Conference, and in 1925 seventy-one organizations attended the Second National Women’s Conference. As Pilar Morlón said, this was “a congress of women, conceived by them, organized by them, brought to fruition by them, without any official help whatsoever!” and, I would add, without any men presiding over the event.

This congress had such an impact that Cuban President Gerardo Machado promised to grant women the right to vote. When he named a constituent assembly to legalize his reelection, women’s suffrage was included among his proposals. Due to his failure to fulfill this promise, however, feminist groups allied themselves with other political groups after 1931, and when rebellion broke out, the issue of votes for women became a symbol of Machado’s abandonment of democracy.

On August 13, 1933, after Machado was deposed and Carlos M. de Céspedes (son and namesake of Cuba’s founding father) assumed the presidency, the Alianza Nacional Feminista sent an appeal to the new president, demanding the right to vote. Subsequently, the government of Ramón Grau San Martín promulgated Decree no. 13, which called for a constitutional convention, which in turn recognized a woman’s right to vote and be elected. Six women from the provinces of Havana, Las Villas, Camagüey and Oriente were elected as delegates.

In February 1934, during the presidency of Colonel Carlos Mendieta, a provisional constitution was approved. Article 38 of this document formally extended the vote to women. In February of 1939, prior to the Constituent Assembly, which drafted the 1940 constitution, the Third National Women’s Conference was held during which various resolutions were approved, one being the demand for “a constitutional guarantee of equal rights for women.” The feminists Alicia Hernández de la Barca from Santa Clara and Esperanza Sánchez Mastrapa from Oriente took part in this appeal, which was discussed in the Constitutional Assembly.

The struggle that began in the 1920s ended with the adoption of Article 97 of the constitution of 1940, which states that “universal, equal and secret suffrage is established as a right, duty and function for all Cuban citizens.” As a result, Cuban women were able to exercise their right to vote – including in the elections of 1940, 1944, 1948, 1954 and 1958 – until revolutionaries took power in 1959.

Published 13th November in

November 16 2012

Categories: Dimas Castellanos