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Land Leases, a “Half-ownership”

Land Leases, a “Half-ownership” / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez
Posted on January 17, 2016

14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 14 January 2016 – The
earth and the man who works it end up resembling each other. The skin
becomes rough and dark like freshly plowed earth, and the face is lined
with furrows where seeds could be planted. So it is with Juan José
Muñoz, who at 83 has merged with the land that he recovered a few years
ago, through a usufruct lease arrangement, long after they took it from
him decades ago.

The old man with lively eyes can be found at kilometer 8 on the La
Ceniza road, near the city of Pinar del Rio. He is one of the 2,596
farmers who, since 2012, have received lands under the usufruct form of
leasing, with a total of roughly 36,000 acres now managed by private

“Planting tabacco soothes my soul, I learned it from my father as far
back as I can remember, and I like it,” says Muñoz. Despire his advanced
age, he still has the energy not only for cultivating, but also for
cutting firewood, cooking and even making the odd joke when someone
passes by his humble home.

“I was born here and I grew up working with my father, my uncles and two
brothers, in the same place,” he says. However, at the end of the
seventies State Planning decided to use his to grow citrus. “They
forbade us to plant tobacco,” he says with regret, but affirms, “They
couldn’t take it all from me and they left me 2.5 acres.”

Losing what had been the center of life as he knew it, Muñoz working in
the citrus plant located in the road to La Coloma, but, he says, “I
wasn’t born to spend eight hours in a factory, so I asked to be released
and went back to the fields.” On his only remaining land he raised
chickens, pigs and even grew a little tobacco. “They couldn’t prevent me
because it was my land,” he says, with a wild glint in his eyes.

“It was a long time until they again allowed the widespread cultivation
of tobacco, because the citrus never paid off; after that they approved
the usufruct arrangements and I asked for the 12 acres we had always
planted with tobacco,” and, he stressed, indicating the land around his
house, “all of this we’d had forever, since I was tiny.”

With the adoption in 2008 of Decree Law 259, replaced by Decree Law 300
in 2012, the government of Raul Castro permitted “the delivery in
usufruct [leasing] the benefits of state property to natural or legal
persons.” Those interested could, from that time, request a maximum of
33 acres for a period of up to ten years, renewable for additional
ten-year periods.

That’s how Muñoz as an old man returned to working the fields that had
been his family’s. Now, he plants rice, corn, tomatoes, sweet potatoes
and fruits, especially for his own consumption. “Life is hard, and the
land does not produce like before,” he says, while straining a little
coffee on his wood stove.

Electricity has not officially come to the house of Muñoz or the 15
other farmers who live nearby. An illegal line provides them the
service, but not without setbacks. “That has brought me problems,
inspectors have come to threaten us with fines.” The low voltage only
allows turning on “one light bulb,” and so he hasn’t bought a
refrigerator or television, “because it would just go to waste.”

This year the drought has taken its toll on the octogenarian’s fields.
“All the seedlings the Fructuoso Rodriguez Agricultural Production
Cooperative gave me have gone to waste. Now the land is bare, completely
bare” and he has to “buy seedlings privately,” he explains.

The problems he experiences are shared by most of his neighbors. The
land leasing arrangement has not worked in the region as expected and by
the end of 2015 the local press reported that it 3,504 individuals in
Pinar del Rio who had taken advantage of this arrangement had lost their
land. According to the official version, irregularities were found, such
as “the abandonment of an area for more than six months and not
dedicating the land to the purposes for which it was granted.

Muñoz sees the situation very differently. Although he has been able to
continue to work his piece of land, he says that most of the time he
cannot get fertilizer, the tractors are broken and there is no fuel.
“This year the seeds didn’t sprout,” and he complains that he can’t rely
on crop insurance against natural disasters. “Three years ago my tobacco
harvest was diseased, and I applied for the insurance but I am still

Across the province 116,000 acres remain available to be leased,
especially in the districts of Sandino, Mantua, Consolacion del Sur and
Los Palacios. However the land is difficult to farm and infested with
the invasive and very hard to get rid of marabou weed, so even the
boldest decline to apply for it.

Despite the few advantages that the stubborn farmer has been found in
leasing his land, he says he appreciates “tranquility” of labor in the
tobacco fields. This calm, however, could be about to end. “They came to
me and told me that this year if I don’t fulfill my plan they’re going
to cancel the contract.” It would be the second time they took away his

Source: Land Leases, a “Half-ownership” / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos
Fernandez | Translating Cuba –

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