By Dimas Castellano, 9 February 2016
Property and crisis
Once the Cuban Government arrived in power, imbued by an exacerbated voluntarism, it ignored the laws that govern the economy and subordinated them to ideology. From this moment on, the loss of the autonomy that is required by economic processes was converted into a factor of poverty.
In 1959, with the first agrarian reform law, the Government handed over property titles to 100,000 farmers but concentrated in its own hands some 40.2 percent of cultivable land. In 1963, with the second agrarian reform law, the 1,000 farms that had more than five horses swelled the fund of State lands, which grew to almost 70 percent.
In 1976, with the objective of decreasing the numbers of small owners, the Government initiated a project of “cooperativization,” through which it created the Cooperatives of Agricultural Production (CPA), thereby raising the share of land that was State property to 75 percent. The result was inefficiency, scarcity of products and high prices, which obliged the Government in 1993 to convert a part of unused State land into the Basic Units of Production Cooperative (UBPC), while retaining the property ownership for itself.
Fourteen years later, on July 26, 2007, in his speech in Camagüey, General Raúl Castro recognized the deficiencies, errors and bureaucratic or indolent attitudes reflected in the fields infected with the marabú weed, and he announced the decision to “change everything that should be changed.’
And in 2007, he promulgated Decree Law 259, through which he began the handing over of idle land to private individuals. However, the measure sidestepped the declaration of changing everything that should be changed and was limited to transferring — through a form of leasing known as ’usufruct’, which is the right to use the land without actually owning title to it — a part of the land that the State wasn’t able to make productive. The poor result obtained from this measure did not achieve what was proposed.
Of the 420,000 acres held by the 1,989 existing UBPCs, almost 40 percent remained idle; their expanse, although comprising 27 percent of the agricultural area of the country, produced only 12 percent of the grain, food and vegetables, and 17 percent of the milk, and only 27 percent had satisfactory results. In 2010, 15 percent of the UBPCs closed with losses, and another 6 percent didn’t even submit a balance sheet.
In order to stop the deterioration, in August 2012, the Council of Ministers issued a package of 17 measures and a new General Regulation for the UBPCs that recognized what before had been denied: the capacity to acquire rights and to contract obligations; that is, juridicial personality [a legal term meaning an entity that has a distinct identity, with rights and obligations].
In December 2012, without altering the structure of the property, Decree-Law 300 was substituted for Decree-Law 259. It alleviated some restrictions, but it kept others and implemented new ones. Article 11 said that lands in usufruct could integrate with a State farm with a juridicial personality, to a UBPC or a CPA, for which “the usufruct cedes the right of usufruct over the lands and the improvements to the entity with which it integrates.”
In May, 2013, at the meeting of the Council of Ministers, Marino Murillo Jorge, Vice President of the Council of State, recognized that the measures, which for decades had been put into practice for managing the land, hadn’t led to the necessary growth in production. Finally, in 2014, Decree-Law 300 was modified with Decree-Law 311.
The loss of autonomy — which is to the economy what oxygen is to living bodies — together with voluntarism, the methods of command and control, the centralized planning, the inability of the bosses and administrators, and the diminished interest of the producers, shaped the agricultural inefficiency that has characterized Cuban agriculture for several decades.
The process described shows the impossibility of resolving the crisis in agriculture with the monopoly of State property and leads to the analysis of usufruct and the cooperatives in Cuba.
The cooperatives and usufruct
As far as cooperatives are concerned, the Declaration of the International Cooperative Alliance (ACI), adopted in 1995, defines cooperatives as autonomous associations of persons who unite voluntarily to cope with their needs and their common economic, social and cultural aspirations, through an enterprise of conjoined and democratically controlled property.
In agreement with this definition, the ones created in Cuba — with the exception of the Cooperatives of Credits and Services, where, although without juridicial personality, the farmers conserved ownership of the land and the means of production — are not classified as such.
The Sugar Cane Cooperatives, created in March 1960 in areas that formerly belonged to private sugar mill owners, almost immediately were converted into State enterprises. The emergence of the CPAs in 1976 with the purpose of reducing, even more, the quantity of land in private hands, was also a State decision. And the UBPCs, organized in 1993, didn’t result from a true socialism but from the crisis in State agriculture.
If the cooperatives in Cuba are created by the will of the State; if the Council of Ministers regulates them; if the entity that authorizes their constitution is the entity that controls, evaluates their functioning and defines when the “members” can contract with salaried workers; if the activities and tasks that the “partners” can assume are created in places decided by the State and “deal with segments of the market that are not competitive with the State”; and, on top of this, if the State retains ownership over the fundamental means of production, then they are not true cooperatives, but State cooperatives in usufruct.
A convincing proof of this false cooperativism was the report published in the newspaper, Granma, on Friday, January 25, 2013, which announced the decision of the National Association of Small Farmers to replace or remove from their positions 632 presidents of agricultural cooperatives.
For its part, usufruct consists of the use and enjoyment of a good belonging to others. If there had been consistency with the principle of changing everything that should be changed, the idle lands, infected with marabú, would have been handed over to those who work the land.
Nothing justifies making private producers — who have demonstrated they can be efficient — owners in usufruct, and giving ownership to the State, which is responsible for the inefficiency. The question sends us to one of the reasons declared by the 1959 Revolution: to return the land to the farmers. Why now does the land not belong to those who work it?
Neither the State lands, nor the cooperatives created by the State, nor the 17 measures of 2012, nor the successive decrees that handed over land in usufruct have managed to pull Cuban agriculture out of the crisis created by the State monopoly of property.
On the contrary, the crisis has worsened.
Such a result, like it or not, places on the agenda the need for a new reform directed at eliminating the large State land holdings, converting the present owners in usufruct to owners in title and transforming the rest of State property into private property and large cooperative enterprises.
Therefore, what is needed is to determine what are the most effective forms of property in each moment and place for personal and social development, which will make the institution of property a foundation of personal and social order.
Not recognizing this need explains how the administrators of cooperatives can be separated, not by the members, but by a para-State institution like the National Association of Small Farmers, or that the Second Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba threatens the owners in usufruct with the emphatic declaration: “The land belongs to the State. Without discussion.” The obvious question is: And what is the State going to do with land that it never managed to make productive?
The answer is requires the democratization of economic relations, so that parallel to the State, Cubans participate like subjects with institutionalized rights.
From Diario de Cuba
Translated by Regina Anavy
1. Since 2015 there have been benefits from mutually advantageous, cooperative relationships with various countries, particularly the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
True, but these benefits are the result of a relationship that does not follow the normal laws of commerce. The reduction or total loss of Venezuelan petroleum subsidies and its impact on Cuba would be a repeat of what happened with subsidies from the former Soviet Union. Both examples illustrate the impossibility of sustaining an economy that is not self-supporting and the government’s inability to learn from past lessons. The cold, hard fact is that events in Venezuela help explain the real cause of the reported decline in GDP in 2015.
2. At the close of the last regular session of the National Assembly, I noted that an imperialist and oligarchic offensive has been launched against progressive Latin American revolutionary undertakings, which our people will challenge with determination.
We are sure that new victories will come to the Bolivarian and Chavez Revolution under the leadership of Comrade Maduro against the constant, destabilizing onslaught from the right, encouraged and supported by outside forces.
We rely on the commitment of the Venezuela’s revolutionaries and its people, overwhelmingly Bolivarian and Chavista, to follow the legacy of the unforgettable President Hugo Chavez.
We are convinced that the Venezuelan people, as they did in 2002, and the civil-military alliance will not allow the achievements of the Revolution to be dismantled and will know how to turn this setback into victory.
Cuba will always stand beside the Fatherland of Simon Bolivar and call for an international mobilization to defend the sovereignty and independence of Venezuela, and for acts of interference in its internal affairs to cease.
To claim that what has occurred in Venezuela is the result of an imperialist offensive is to sidestep the incompetency demonstrated by the Chavez regime. The use of a substantial portion of the bonanza generated by the high price of petroleum in order to export Bolivarian populism to the region instead of using it to diversify an economy entirely dependent on the production of oil only proves this point. The obsession for expansion over diversification has had a greater negative impact than any “imperialist offensive” in creating the disastrous situation in which this South American country finds itself.
To say that events there will be confronted by “our people” is to deny that the majority of Venezuelans, after supporting Chavez for years, cast a protest vote. Given this situation, one must ask the following questions. What people are we talking about? Do the millions of Venezuelans who voted for the opposition candidates not also make up the people? Who and what criteria define who the people are? When were “our people” asked to challenge the decision by those categorized as non-people?
Suggesting that new victories will come to the Bolivarian revolution led by Maduro, evoking commitments by revolutionaries to the legacy of Chavez and ignoring the popular will as expressed at the polls is a manifestation of interference in the internal affairs of another country, something that the government of Cuba has always accused the United States of doing.
All indications are that what occurred there could occur here if truly democratic elections were held. It seems, however, that the takeaway lesson is to postpone once again any step that could lead to democratization. The great danger is that without democratization there will be no solution to the numerous and serious problems facing Cuban society. Nevertheless, the process underway is unstoppable, especially given the change in mentality that is occurring among Cubans since diplomatic relations have been restored with our neighbor to the north. Democratization will come one way or another, but it will come. Trying to stop it is a march against history, against the winds of change sweeping through the region, against the destiny of the Cuban nation. And therefore it will fail in the end.
3. The proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace by all the heads of state at the second CELAC summit, which took place in Havana in January 2014, is a solid basis for developing relations between our countries and internationally.
At this conclave the Cuban president stated, “For years our region has been a zone free of nuclear arms… but we believe that is not enough. We believe it is necessary for the region’s heads of state and heads of government to formally agree that any difference, any conflict, shall always be resolved through the dialogue of negotiation and that it will never end in threats or the use of force.”
Contrary to these emotional words, the decision to challenge the results of democratic elections in Venezuela could lead to civil war. Then the declaration of Latin American and Caribbean countries as a zone of peace would be nothing more than an empty slogan if these nations do not renounce the domestic use of violence. It would reveal a lack of political will to achieve it whenever peace is threatened by revolutionary populism.
4. As indicated in the Declaration of the Revolutionary Government, published on December 1, the “wet foot dry foot” policy, the Parole Program for Cuban doctors and the Cuban Adjustment Act remain the principal incentives driving the abnormally high level of emigration from Cuba to the United States.
The principal incentives are not US policies. For one action to be the cause of another, it has to precede it. The massive and continuous exodus that has turned Cuba from a country to which people immigrated to one from which people emigrated began in 1959, before these policies even existed. The real cause is the nature of the totalitarian system itself, which — while depriving Cubans of their civil liberties — has been unable to develop a viable economy capable of satisfying the basic needs of its citizens.
Beyond the impact that the prolonged conflict between the two governments might have had, it is only logical that there would be migration from a country with a poor economy to one with the most advanced economy in the world.
Given this reality, the only thing that could halt the exodus would be a structural transformation capable of guaranteeing Cubans’ basic needs, something that ideological entrenchment prevents.
The best proof of this is the increasing emigration from other parts of the world to destination countries which have not adopted anything even resembling the Cuban Adjustment Act. People simply move from areas where conditions are bad to where they are better, something that even certain species of animals do, including migratory birds, who do not relocate because of some “wet wing–dry wing” policy.
Also, the United States is not the principal country to which doctors are fleeing. They have to be recertified there, which involves paying for licensing exams and getting by until they are granted permission to practice medicine.
The only doctors going to the United States are those willing to work at anything or the few cases in which family members assume the costs of recertification. A bigger factor in the exodus of doctors is the fifty thousand physicians rented out to other parts of the world, a situation in which the level of exploitation is not difficult for them to understand.
5. We have reiterated that, in order to normalize bilateral relations, the government of the United States must lift the embargo and the seizure of territory occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base without insisting that Cuba abandon the cause of independence or renounce the principles and ideals for which several generations of Cubans have fought for a century and a half.
As stated, these demands are not feasible. Once bilateral relations have been reestablished, solutions must be sought through bilateral negotiation. If the Cuban government does not want to make concessions to a foreign government, it must make concessions to its people, who are denied means of expression, institutions, rights and freedoms.
If it acts in this way, it would strengthen the position of the US president, who has demonstrated a willingness to move towards full normalization of relations with Cuba, weaken the position of the members of Congress opposed to lifting the embargo and advance the goal much more quickly than by levelling accusations and condemnations through the United Nations. More than ever, the solution ultimately depends on the course of conduct the government of Cuba decides to follow.
Originally published in Diario de Cuba