In 1953, in his self defense statement [as he appeared at his trial for the Moncada Barracks attack] History will absolve me, Fidel Castro addressed some key issues pending in our country: land reform for instance. He announced on that opportunity, as a priority in his program, giving productive land to those in possession of five or less acres; a nationalistic and democratic project that had its first episode in October, 1958, when, in the middle of the guerrilla war a bill of law was issued from La Sierra Maestra. Once he took power, actual laws were passed–on May 1959 and October 1963–in which property titles were issued to 100 thousand farmers, but 70% of productive land remained in government hands.
The new monopoly of the land and the elimination of the institutions of the civil society related to the agricultural (farming) activity generated a progressive decrease of the agricultural efficiency, while about 40% of the productive land of the country became idle; a regression that was continued until Cuba lost the subsidies from the former Soviet Union. Since then, the government had spent millions of dollars to buy food supplies that otherwise could had been produced locally.
With such an obvious deficiency of the agricultural production, just five months after taking over the presidency of the State council and of the Cabinet, General Raúl Castro, conscious of the deplorable condition of economy, expressed emphatically: We have to focus on the land! We have to get it to produce! And he added, that sooner than later laws and regulations will be passed to (once again) lease idle lands to farmers on the condition they make them productive as soon as possible.
One week after his speech, the Official Gazette of Cuba published the Decree Law 259 on that regard. This measure, could not solve such a serious problem on its own, might have been valid if this law had been conceived as the first step in a long way to go, for which a strong political will is need to face the historical problem of private property in Cuba, worsened during the Revolutionary government which promoted large state farms (collectivism).
For its content, the Decree Law 259 of July, 2008 dictated from the totalitarian optics, evaded the root of the problem. This same law was just meant to lease small pieces of land of 30 – 100 acres infected with the marabu weed, and accompanied by multiple prohibitions such as: no building of houses, warehouses or infrastructure and no hiring of employees.The absurdity was that the Decree-Law, issued to attack an inefficiency whose primary cause if the inability of the State to make the land produce, is limited to offering parcels in usufruct (a kind of leasing arrangement), that it enjoying the fruits of the work of others, while the inefficient State reserves the right to keep the property. The results obtained in these conditions aren’t what was hoped for.
However, even though the above mentioned Decree-Law lacked the power to increase agricultural production, the law itself was an implicit recognition of the need for a change. Its main fault consisted of ignoring the possession of the property in hands of the producers and keeping the economic decisions subordinated to politics. Given its unsatisfactory results and the zigzagging process without the political will required, in December, 2012, Decree-Law 259 was repealed and replaced with the Decree-Law 300.
The new regulation made some advances such as: allowed the construction of housings, stores and other facilities; also allowed farmers to hire permanent or temp workers; and let farmers lease up to 5 acres, though limited to those that already had leased contracts and were associated to official entities: State farm, and State Cooperative Farms.
Decree-Law 300 brought the same fault of the previous one, the State kept the monopoly of land and private producers subordinated to the State. In its article 11 it states that the lessees can join as workers State Farms as legal entities, or as member of a cooperative farm, for which “the lessee yields the right of the land and other infrastructure to the entity to which he joins, such entity decides whether he continues working this land or not.”
In addition, the Decree-Law 300 preserved other limitations such as inputs and services not tied to the mentioned entities, with clear disadvantages for individuals regarding the term of the contract. Such limitation revealed once again there was not a strong political will to bring agricultural production to a profitable level and a desire to avoid creating domestic entrepreneurs.
The new failure is very well adjusted to the government reforms slogan of ” no rush but not pause “, in January, 2014 Law 311 was passed, which modifies Law 300, to extend the leases to up to 150 acres to the most productive sector of the peasantry, especially to people working for state farms, that were excluded in the previous legislation. However, the lease depends on there only being credit and services cooperatives in the municipality; and b) the State farms as legal entities, basic units of cooperative production and cooperatives of agricultural production in the municipality are located at a distance exceeding three (3) miles of the requested area.
This official data does not explain the fact that after leasing 3.7 million acres of idle lands (since Decree-Law 259 was adopted in 2008), there has been reported increase in production; although there is another 2.5 million acres of land idle of the total 15.6 million acres of potentially productive land in the country. This negative result reminds us of that phrase of Jose Marti: “Cuba has an enormous potential to become a wealthy nation, but that is impossible if Cubans cannot be wealthy as well.”
Translated by: Rafael
From Diario de Cuba
2 March 2014
In a statement issued on Tuesday, February 11th, Rogelio Sierra Diaz, Cuba’s deputy foreign minister, reported that the Council of Foreign Ministers of the European Union (EU) had authorized the European Commission and the EU’s senior representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Catherine Ashton, to begin negotiations on a political dialogue and cooperation agreement with the Republic of Cuba. He added that “Cuba will consider the invitation from the Europeans in a respectful and constructive way and within the context of Cuba’s sovereignty and national interests.”
This represents the possible start of negotiations on a bilateral agreement, which depends on the Cuban authorities’ willingness to accept the invitation. In this regard Catherine Ashton said, “I hope Cuba will take up this offer and that we can work towards a stronger relationship,” but added “the decision is not a policy change from the past,” which can be interpreted as a change of tone, not of substance. Meanwhile the EU ambassador to Cuba said that the policy is the same but there is “a new dynamic” and called the decision a “big step forward for a possible agreement,” adding that the agreement would “formalize cooperation at all levels on a firmer legal and policy basis.”
Transitions towards democracy are dependent on both internal and external factors, with the latter assuming greater or lesser importance in relation to the strength or weakness of the former. In retrospect we can see that this has been exactly the case with Cuba.
When revolutionary forces came to power in 1959, they became the source of all laws and led the country towards totalitarianism. The constitution of 1940 was replaced with the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State, which allowed the designated prime minister to assume the role of head of government and the recently created Council of Ministers to take over the functions of Congress. Subsequently, power became concentrated in the hands of the strongman and property in the hands of the state. Civil society was dismantled, and civil liberties and human rights were restricted. As a result Cubans were relieved of vital tools and opportunities for civil discourse, which meant losing their status as citizens.
In 1996 the countries of the then European Community, which maintained bilateral relations with Cuba, established the Common Position in order to “encourage a process of transition to pluralist democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as a sustainable recovery and improvement of the living conditions of the Cuban people.” That decision, which provided moral support to the island’s opposition, sharpened differences between the EU and the Cuban government. When the European Commission delegation took up residence in Havana in 2002, it welcomed Cuba’s request to sign on to the Cotonou Agreement (1), opening a new stage in bilateral relations. However, the imprisonment of 75 peaceful dissidents in 2003 and the execution of three young men who attempted to commandeer a boat to escape the country led the European Union Council (2) to reaffirm that its Common Position remained valid and in force.
In 2008, when hurricanes deepened the country’s internal crisis, the government signed an accord restoring relations with the EU and agreed to restart a political dialogue. The European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba issued a statement announcing the decision, with the Spanish government playing a key role, repealing the Common Position. However, just as Spain assumed the EU presidency in 2010, two events dashed the arrangement: Cuba refused entry to Spanish EU deputy Luis Yanez and the Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died the following month of a prolonged hunger strike.
If the Cuban government were now to accept the EU’s offer, it would have to agree to a dialogue on the subject of human rights and proceed to reestablish what it should never have abolished in the first place. Interestingly, we are not operating under the same conditions as in the past, when then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Felipe Pérez Roque, said in reference to the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, “If the EU were to drop its insistence on a sterile and confrontational voting procedure, then Cuba would be inclined to sit down with the EU to work out a plan.” He added that Cuba “would feel a moral responsibility to abide by the European decision and would sign the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights the next day, indicating that we had entered a new stage in our relationship.”
Judging from the words of Catherine Ashton, certain demands would have to be on the table for EU countries to agree to negotiations.
She noted that, first, Cuban statutes would have to be brought into compliance with the United Nations Charter and all its instruments of international law such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 30 of this document states, “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as conferring any rights to a state, group or person to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.” It is a provision that for Cuba has special significance, as it was one of the sponsors of and signatories to this important document. Secondly, it would also have to ratify human rights conventions it signed 2008, which form the legal basis for the principle of personal dignity and guarantee that the planned changes will have a positive effect on Cuban society.
To meet the first requirement, the Cuban government would have to halt political repression and summary imprisonment. EU countries would encourage exchanges with civil society so that Cubans might gradually emerge from the political margins to recover their status as citizens. This would help promote popular sovereignty so that Cubans might become the protagonists of their history and destiny.
In addition to other issues on the table there should be a requirement that the soon-to-be drafted Labor Code once again include the right to form free trade unions and the right to freely hire workers, two things that were part of the Labor Legislation of 1938 and the Constitution of 1940. Similarly, the new Investment Law should allow participation by Cuban nationals since the programs in which foreign investors are being invited to participate will be worthwhile only if Cubans benefit from these changes by having their rights restored. In the case of the Mariel Special Development Zone, the project will be of enormous benefit to the Cuban economy provided it helps lead to the country’s democratization. Otherwise, these steps will only strengthen the current economic and political model and condemn Cubans to continued civic, political and economic poverty.
(1) A comprehensive partnership agreement between the EU and 79 countries from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Article 9, paragraph 2 states: “The Parties undertake to promote and protect all fundamental freedoms and human rights, whether civil and political or economic rights.”
(2) Name for the European Community’s heads-of-state and heads-of-government summit, which takes place regularly, at least every six months.
From Diario de Cuba
14 February 2014