Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — With the clear intention of removing some of the obstacles in the way of the full development of Cuba’s productive forces, particularly in the strategically important area of agriculture, the Council of Ministers headed by President Raul Castro has approved a number of decrees that grant food producers new rights and commercial freedoms.
I recall my interview with professor Juan Valdez Paz, published in Havana Times, where this economist touched on the need to broaden “management rights”, that is to say, the effective control over lands exercised by members of cooperatives and other agents in the agricultural and livestock sector, a measure he considered crucial if the aim was to get Cuba’s economy off the ground.
Below, I have summarized the government’s new measures aimed at reducing commercial restrictions:
1- Freedom to buy and sell at different markets, without restrictions, for individuals and entities, without the need to involve inspectors, people who, in practice, earn a salary by creating obstacles that often lead to corrupt practices and increase product prices before they arrive at the market.
2- The creation of a wholesale agricultural and livestock market and a reduction of the functions formerly assigned to companies known as ACOPIO, entities that will henceforth limit their work to distributing products requested by the State and destined to social programs.
3- Producers will now be incentivized to significantly bolster the production of products aimed at the market, for now they can sell them directly (after fulfilling their State quotas).
Only time will tell whether these new, laxer rules for the State and agricultural producers will work or not. The important thing is for the two sides to respect the norms, without taking steps back, without indecision, which are very common phenomena in the history of Cuba.
What we need to do in Cuba today is to set down clear norms and stick to them. We need to write them on the floor, as the traders of old did, inscribing their names on the sidewalk, at the entrance to their establishments, sure that no change in government could affect their business in any way.
We must go back to such practices, which I believe we can catch sight of, in some form, in the responsible pragmatism of Cuba’s current president.
In the meantime, we can begin to do away with the myth surrounding so-called intermediaries, who have been our scapegoats for decades in connection with the high prices of agricultural products. In a well-functioning economy, producers devote their efforts to producing and do not directly take their products to the market because it is inconvenient for them for several reasons, giving part of their profits to dealers, who take on the risks.
The new decree law is, rather, aimed at the true “intermediaries”, the myriad of inspectors, police officers and other “socialist” bureaucrats, those who, from now on, will have fewer pretexts to lay down obstacles in the way of the free movement and sale of products.
I believe these new steps will bear fruit. Their ultimate success will depend, in good measure, on the realism with which these measures are implemented, on their ability to reduce the power of bureaucrats and allow cooperatives and grassroots control measures to flourish. This is the only efficacious way of fighting corruption, which is today proclaimed as the chief task of the single party that governs Cuba.
Vicente Morín Aguado: email@example.com