…even under today’s Communist Party government
By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – Cuban agriculture has been in crisis for decades now, but it’s a lot more visible today because of more drastic consequences. These are the result of the widespread crisis of the Cuban Communist Party’s (PCC) political, economic and social system, which has reached breaking point.
Seeing as they are no longer able to compensate their shortcomings with imports and that the farm sector has become a matter of national security for the PCC and for the survival of our people (and even their own system), we have seen the government promote different measures and reforms in recent years, especially in the last few months.
Every one of these measures tries to outdo the one that precedes it in scope, but none of them have been able to kick off the long-awaited takeoff of productive forces in agriculture. Why haven’t they been able to do this? Don’t we have the right natural conditions here, such as enough fertile land and water available, for agricultural development? Are we missing a labor force or skilled labor? We all know the answer: “we have everything we need and more.”
So, what are we missing then? Freedom, there is no doubt about it. We need a production system, at least in agriculture, that allows us “to take action” and “take the right action”. Clearly, this is what consecutive measures pushed by the government lack.
The fifteen points below are not based on the ideal situation, or on my full hopes for economic freedom as people who want a more democratic country, but are rather based on today’s political and economic reality. If they are applied, they could make a difference and get the ball rolling for the much-needed and perfectly viable development of Cuban agriculture.
1- Allow farmers to freely cultivate crops and commercialize them, in line with their own personal interests. Opportunities that the State provides with proper incentives or marketers with attractive options, or just upon the demands of the national market or exporters’ interests, who better value their products, or with someone they have already made a prior and free agreement with.
2- Cooperatives need to stop being businesses that are subordinate to the State with some features of the cooperative movement. Removing the straitjacket for members, and become truly spontaneous, free entities, with their own regulations, and be democratic while always acting in the best interests of their members.
3- Allow and encourage the emergence of new agricultural and non-agricultural cooperatives that are dedicated to any services, support, commercialization, supplies and even import/export activities.
4- Allow and encourage SMEs, micro-companies and the self-employed that dedicate themselves to any services, support, commercialization, supplies and even import/export activity.
5- As soon as incompetent state-led agencies lose their commercial privileges and enter a crisis to survive, or become a burden for the State, they should form part of a “self-management” experiment instead of being shut down.
6- Allow and encourage imports of supplies and agricultural machinery, which have only been managed by state-owned companies up until now, but also allow anyone who wants to enter the agricultural business, including the private sector, cooperatives and other emerging economic players, to import with the basic regulations needed.
7- During an initial phase of decapitalization and balance of trade, private companies that dedicate themselves to import/export activities, could have a limitation of only being able to import the same quantity that they are able to export, until the severe crisis is reversed or freeing the market is a feasibility.
8- In the current system and its demands, Cuba’s State purchasing company ACOPIO could hold onto prerogatives or benefits on trade, but only on 20% of production, with prices agreed or fixed, for what we call “social consumption”. However, in order to access the remaining 80%, they should need to compete and fight for this niche in the market with other economic players involved (the self-employed, cooperatives, other state companies or potentially self-managed companies, as well as possible SMEs and private micro-companies that emerge).
9- Promote commercialization via state companies in the domestic machinery and unsubsidized goods market, with a minimum utilities margin, whether this is for imports or nationally-produced goods, giving priority to this sector again in the government’s financial planning.
10- Without going back to the days of large estates, we should remove limits on land ownership that affect growth and efficiency. To do this, we could increase the amount of land that can be legally owned to 134.2 hectares, for natural and legal persons, and provide the opportunity to extend this limit if they prove to be efficient, competent and of public service. Up to double, 264.4 hectares, with the Municipal Assembly’s approval, assessing every individual case. In order to exceed this size, up to 402.6 hectares, with the Municipal Assembly’s approval and ratification from the Provincial Assembly. Only legal persons will be able to own more than 402.6 hectares, and only once they also have the Council of Ministers’ approval. The quantity of land up for ownership also needs to be independent of the kind of property (whether it is personal land, leased land or a combination of both), but they should always have these restrictions and requirements.
11- Allow the free buying and selling of land with the above-mentioned restrictions, and thus get rid of a ban that ties incompetent famers to the land in feudal style and stops new and truly interested farmers from legally having access to it. In the case of leaseholders, they should have the right to sell their improvements and do business as a leaseholder with third parties, without the owner (which is the State) interfering, unless it’s with a fair tax policy or if they have a justified objection, which the leaseholder should also be able to contest if they consider it unfair.
12- Liberating the cattle industry from the State’s excessive control, laying down the initial legal framework that allows for slaughter, but without interfering too much, so that growth and development targets can be met. Needing only a license from the government to kill or sell to state or private traders, and this only being granted if they meet the requirement of having increased herd quantity, which does not only apply to great breeders, but every owner.
13- Create the Agricultural Development Bank as an independent and dynamic financial body, where farmers, cooperatives and associated companies have flexible funding, and they feel confident and have an incentive to have their deposits, receive loans and carry out financial operations.
14- Making the constitutional principle of “effective citizenship” useful, so that every Cuban (living both on and off the island) has the right to promote these businesses, directly or via an administrator, and they can freely invest in any of these agricultural or related ventures, and legally own land and goods and be protected by the Law.
15- Allow and promote (mainly by creating trust) an influx of capital, machinery, supplies and technology from abroad via national immigrants, NGOs, international organizations, governments, friends, etc., without limiting their fates or imposing regulations, while this activity is legal.