Crisis in Agriculture – Land for Those Who Work It
Crisis in Agriculture: Land for Those Who Work It / Dimas Castellanos
Posted on February 14, 2016
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
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
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
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
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
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
From Diario de Cuba
Translated by Regina Anavy
Source: Crisis in Agriculture: Land for Those Who Work It / Dimas
Castellanos | Translating Cuba –