Cuba’s Debt to Fidel Castro’s Agricultural Genius

By Carlyle MacDuff

The Dairy Sector

Fidel Castro with the Canadian Holstein bull Rosafe Signet. Photo: todocuba.org

HAVANA TIMES – Initially shown September, 29, 2018, Cuban TV produced a program on the dairy sector of agriculture with film shot in the provinces of Sancti Spiritus and Mayabeque. There was much credit given to Fidel Castro with footage shot of him at intervals between the ages 40 and 80 as Fidel always ensured photographic record for the media from his early days when leaving jail on the Isla de la Juventud to the Sierra Maestra and onwards.

He apparently, should be given credit for introduction of better genetic material and artificial insemination into Cuban agriculture although any evidence of improvement in Cuban cattle is somewhat short. The methods of artificial insemination have not changed and no mention of ovum transplant (introduced to the world by Veterinarian Dr. Tim Rowson of Cambridge University over forty years ago and later applied to humanity) and the dairy production systems shown were not as advanced as those to be found in the UK, Canada and the US in 1950. To increase production, Cuba does not need to re-invent the dairy industry, merely to copy successful systems and methods developed and proven in the capitalist world during the 20th century.

One evident factor shown was the wasteful use of four people where one would suffice, however labor in Cuba is so cheap with monthly rates actually equivalent to hourly rates in the capitalist world, that such costs are insignificant and also there is a dearth of productive work, so the system serves to provide at least some form of “employment”.

To watch the program was to pity the incompetence. No genetic progress was evident in the cattle shown, but rather the reverse with a motley assortment of mixed breeds with humps, bumps, flopping ears, horns in situ and some really poor udders, but to meet the requirements of the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party (PCC) lots of praise was heaped on Fidel Castro in pursuit of the cult of his personality.  

Much footage was devoted to a larger than life size statue of a Canadian Holstein bull Rosafe Signet with even an Insemination Center named after it, certainly a name preferable to Karl Marx, Josef Stalin or ‘Che’ Guevara.

A life size bronze stature of the stallion bull Rosafe Signet.

The bull was apparently imported from Canada in 1965 at the instruction of Fidel Castro and a “genetic expert” stood in front of a picture of Fidel praised his virtues and the genetic selection. Even the sculptor was interviewed although the statue is of less than indifferent quality -the nose is rather similar to a pig’s snout.

But apparently the significant point was that importing the bull was a decision made by Fidel and therefore must be of much merit irrespective of lack of explanation of consequent effect. It is worth recording that it was also at Fidel’s invitation that Dr. Reginald Preston formerly of the Rowett Research Institute at Aberdeen in Scotland in 1963, where he had experimented during the fifties on beef production from barley (It was unacceptable to the Scots who scoffed at it as tasteless and not utilizing the ruminant capability).

Preston was engaged to operate an ambitious national beef production program with much wasted investment in now empty beef cattle lots scattered across Cuba on good land now reverting to bush and with few Cubans ever having opportunity to eat beef.

Castro whose total agricultural knowledge was based upon being the son of a farmer who rather than working at home on the farm, attended private residential Jesuit schools and studied law at Havana, thought that he would revolutionize agriculture in Cuba having apparently gained his knowledge by osmosis. However, the consequences of his policies have been a continuing decline in production across both arable and livestock sectors. That fact however has to be ignored by the faithful in endeavors to find ways to praise Fidel as an innovative genetic genius, with Ceres as the God of agriculture replaced by him. Maybe Communist Party of Cuba faith in his agricultural talents was based upon Nikita Khruschev observing that: “The dumbest peasant knows the horse best.”

The praise heaped on Fidel Castro’s apparently multi-faceted genius is reminiscent of the tale told in Eastern Europe in the early 1950s of a western visitor to Moscow being taken on a tour to be shown a car production facility with a statue in front of a man named Popov who the guide explained invented the car. Next was a visit to an aircraft production factory with a similar statue of Popov who had apparently invented the airplane. This was followed by a visit to where both refrigerators and washing machines were produced again with a statue of Popov as the inventor. Upon return to Red Square, the visitor noted yet another but different statue and upon enquiring who that represented, was told: “Oh, that is a statue of Smirnov, he invented Popov.”

What of the agricultural marketplace in Cuba? The milk and butter requirements of the national market although minimal as few can afford butter even when occasionally available, are like most agricultural products, far from being met. From August until December 2018, not even imported product was available. Children under age 7 receive milk as part of their monthly rations using the ration card (libreta).

In local shops, milk powder was available now and then, but a delivery of homogenized milk in mid-August once sold out by September, was not replenished until January. The relative bright spot is yoghurt which can be purchased at intervals from El Rapido outlets and there is usually a delivery about every couple of weeks.

Beef however is just not available to the general public although rustling of state-owned cattle many of which just wander around aimlessly on good land reverting to bush, is significant with over 6,700 (Yes! Six thousand, seven hundred and some) found missing when a count was held just in the province of Santa Clara during 2017.

As originally the world’s leading sugar producer there are huge empty dilapidated former sugar plants scattered throughout the country with the sole remaining employees being “security” at the gates – maybe they have yet to be told that their plant has been closed for up to twenty years.

The few plants that remain under the Ministry of Sugar, which oddly is a subsidiary of GAESA the military holding company, are shown on TV annually being visited by Machado Ventura the 88 year-old First Vice-President of Stalinist persuasion, shuffling around wearing a hard hat and for the occasions wearing a checked shirt rather than his usual ribbon bedecked general’s uniform.

Sugar production is now at 15% of the 1989 level. The Cuban regime has to be well aware of its deplorable agricultural achievements but annually produces plans for increased production with excuses given to the Poder Popular legislature for failing to meet targets in the previous year. In days gone by, prior to the revolution, Cuba not only supplied much of its own food, but was the world’s largest exporter of sugar and a major exporter of fruit. Those industries were predominantly operated by US businesses all of which were turfed out by Fidel Castro in 1959 along with literally thousands of Cuban private businesses being shut down by compulsion for being capitalist over 15,600 shops were closed.

Having reduced production to a fraction of former levels, Cuba although rationing its population through the libreta the State rationing card system, has to import ever increasing amounts of food. This problem is exacerbated by the increased numbers of tourists, but there is little hope of continuing to charge capitalist visitors several hundred dollars per night in downtown Havana ($435 US at the Hotel Manzanas where Madonna stayed) if guests can’t have a decent dinner.

However, despite its constant criticism of all things American especially “el bloqueo”, representatives of the Castro regime held a conference with US agricultural interests in early November 2018 at the Hotel National in Havana (the pre-revolution mafia den) in which there is a room dedicated to a photographic history including the likes of George Raft, Ernest Hemingway and possibly half of post-war Second World War Hollywood. The conference was to discuss increasing the importation of food produced in the US rather than as in pre-revolution times produced by the US in Cuba. Such is the true measure of the consequences of the level of genius of Fidel Castro’s agricultural policies.



5 thoughts on “Cuba’s Debt to Fidel Castro’s Agricultural Genius

  • The agriculture sector in Cuba will improve when proper reforms are introduced in it. today at least 30% of the agriculture land is full of marabu & aroma; two plants that might be good to produce charcoal, but are horrible plague. Lands must be privatise, what to grow or do is a decision of the owners, the market decides what prices are; import businesses are able to source machinery, fertilisers, and pesticides accordingly. Farmers or traders are able to sell directly, including exporting. taxes are there to collect a fair contribution from farming activities; not to avoid farmers becoming wealthy or expecting that farming taxes are going to subside all government and party activities. These are only a few ideas of what must be a full programme of reforms. We only need to review what has happened in Vietnam in the last 25 years to understand the potential of Cuban agriculture sector!

    Reply
  • Your reference to Vietnam is interesting kike. That country has been a beneficiary of the green revolution which commenced as a consequence of the work in Mexico of Norman Borlaug an American scientist and Nobel Laureate. Although Fidel Castro poured scorn upon Vietnam for adopting capitalism, Cuba has to import up to 600,000 tonnes of rice per year with Vietnam now being the main supplier and has total food imports of $2 billion. Other leading foods including poultry and concentrated milk.
    In pursuit of the usual statistical distortion, the regime claimed for example that in 2017 there had been a 3% increase in food production – that was reported to the Poder Popular and the people of Cuba. In fact, in September 2018, the regime admitted that production actually fell by 100,000 tonnes. (7,2 million down to 7.1 million).
    I agree with you that if released from communist policies, Cuba has an enormous agricultural potential.
    As you indicate, Cuba produces quite a lot of charcoal and indeed during last winter there was a short TV program about the resulting exports – without mention that charcoal is a serious polluter.

    Reply
  • Excellent article. Clearly, like in so many other aspects of Cuban life, Fidel Castro’s leadership served to destroy the once vaunted achievements of the pre-revolutionary agricultural sector.

    Reply
  • Hi, I agree this is a good article, but mainly to demonstrate that Fidel Castro not only destroyed the agriculture in Cuba but the entire country.

    Reply
    • Fidel “invested” $100,000 to purchase Rosafe Signet. Maybe if he hadn’t, then Cuba would have to purchase even more concentrated milk annually. Importation of milk concentrate two years ago was at $164,000 per year, but recently I noted Nestle’s Carnation Milk on a shop shelf, so maybe that figure is increasing. Incidentally, Nestle appear to be able to promote their product in Cuba by having their name on refrigerators in the shops – El Rapido in particular but also others, and on delivery trucks, a unique advantage, not as far as I can ascertain allowed for others.

      Reply

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