Daisy Valera 

Photo: Marco Petrovic

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 10 — This past December I took a bus back to my hometown of Sancti Spiritus. In this way I avoided having to take the torturous train, which — because of its slow speed — has been baptizing as the “milk train.”

It had been almost eight months since I’d gone back home, though that’s insufficient time to forget the features and characteristics of the route.

The gas stations, the orange groves in Matanzas Province, and the few cheap inns all remain in place, but the landscape has definitely changed.

I immediately associated all of this with the turning over of land to those individuals who have already gone to work as farmers (and others who are just beginning that activity), as well as the deregulation on selling products.

With the timid implementation of these reforms, we’re beginning to see visible changes in the countryside, which were previously overgrown with “marabout” bushes.

Campesinos have stopped flagging down vehicles along the highway trying to sell their produce, meaning that they’ve also stopped dangerously leaping out in front of cars and trucks in order to tout their goods.

Now they’re building kiosks. Some are circular, while others are like small cubicles with thatched or wooden roofs – all captivatingly coquettish.

Along the side of the highway they offered us passengers homemade nougat candy bars, cheese, fruits and vegetables.

What were especially amazing were their long strings loaded with garlic and onions, as well as the cows! Although you wouldn’t believe it, there were many of them. I counted more than 80 on the three farms right there along the road.

The “Km 132 Cafeteria” is another of the successes, especially because it has become the unquestionable rival of “Los Conejitos” (the state-run cafeterias along the highway).

The first part of the cafeteria is a caney (a thatched open eating area) with tables reserved for the drivers of the inter-provincial buses. The second area consists of a wide portico where they sell almost any kind of food imaginable – from roasted fish to shrimp cocktails.

In most instances the prices are lower than those charged by the state for the same products.

They’ve even added on two new bathrooms for passengers who come in to eat.

So the Cuban countryside appears to be changing.

The campesinos seem to have come to terms with the high prices that were being charged for agricultural implements and with the lack of farming supplies.

Previously, such burdens meant farmers having to depend on the “revolutionary cooperatives,” though these have little in common with true cooperatives.

Nevertheless, the road that will allow cities to be supplied with a diversity of products will be a long one. Anyone can tell you about the Havana markets that are still devoid of products.

What will first have to be broken is the obligatory knot with which the government has hamstrung campesinos, and which has only caused the emergence of a new breed of landowners.

They will have to establish new relations of production that are different from those that prevail today, ones that create pools of local wage-laborers receiving very little pay and golondrinas (literally swallows), who migrate from one province to another looking for farm work.


Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

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