Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — No matter how many advisors, how much technology and what sophisticated resources keep the US president well informed, I doubt very much he can even imagine some aspects of this country’s internal workings.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, in addition to journalism, I do other jobs in order to make ends meet. One of these is working the land and breeding pigs. I do this as part of a cooperative, similar to the one headed by that fellow who interacted with Obama during his meeting with entrepreneurs and the self-employed.
Today, while I wait for the people from Acopio (Cuba’s State purchasing entity) to sell them the beans I’ve grown, I remembered that day. I recalled how this gentleman, who was previously briefed and told to say what he said, blamed the blockade for the lack of supplies and equipment, saying these shortages had an impact on yields. That’s what he said.
Obama gave him a magnificent reply, and I doubt he could have previously prepared for the specific question he asked him. He spoke to him of organic agriculture and the high prices these products are sold at in the market, especially in developed countries. He asked him why, in the absence of chemicals and equipment, they hadn’t explored that alternative.
He also told him he was working to put an end to the embargo and assured him of his government´s interest in establishing direct trade with Cuban cooperatives and farmers. It came across as something so thoroughly scripted and rehearsed that the cooperative leader didn’t even bother to ask to reply.
What exactly is a CCS cooperative in Cuba? I’ll explain it simply. It is a State entity (even though they claim it isn’t) imposed on farmers who have their own land or are leasing it, in order to negotiate production agreements and access to credit, supplies, equipment and the market. It has a legal status and, even though the law makes it obligatory to become associated to such entities, on penalty of losing one’s land, those who don’t aren’t penalized in practice if the land is theirs, they are merely excluded from the market.
If you do not join a cooperative, it doesn’t matter whether you own land or not. You won’t be entitled to bank credits, insurance or the technological packages that include supplies, seeds and the use of State-owned machinery. For instance, growing tobacco without a contract with the company Cubatabaco, which offers the needed technical package, is forbidden. You can only secure such a contract through a Credit and Services Cooperative (CCS).
As part of a cooperative, you are charged anywhere from 3 to 5 percent of your gross earnings reported, in addition to a 5 percent State tax. This would be a mere, steep tax if there weren’t great administrative ineptness involved in 99 percent of cases. Farmers suffer this kind of bureaucratic inefficiency a lot. So much so that it is indeed odd to see something work out as planned.
The embargo or supply shortages are almost never the true cause of low yields. What we consider the problem is the red tape, the many superiors and meetings and the excessive planning, which makes it impossible to fulfill quotas and to improvise. Our president can no longer look the members in the eye, because we can never meet the established aims. The worst part is that no one seems to be responsible for anything. To demand answers is an exercise in futility.
It’s true that no official involved is ultimately to blame for this. It is the system, which was designed to be operated by the New Man. Che Guevara was right on that point. With real human beings, with the human beings we know, Cuba’s communist system does not work. Perhaps androids, genetically engineered for this purpose, could provide better results.
I am almost done writing this piece and the government truck hasn’t even arrived. They had committed to picking up the production three days ago and there’s still no sign of them. How inefficient! I signed up for the technological package and the seeds never arrived. I began sowing late, with seeds I got from another farmer, and this had an impact on yield. I bought the supplies on the black market at inflated prices. Now, even trying to sell one’s products is an ordeal. The worst part is that the crops become infested with bugs because of these delays. Then, people don’t buy the product and I’m the one who stands to lose from this.
That’s how people work in Cuba, poorly. All you see is inefficiency, ineptness and inefficacy. I am certain this is not a genetic trait of Cubans. Those same officials go to another country and work like crazy, doing everything right. A different economic system and a bit of real money make all the difference.
If these same Cubans move to Florida, they become supermen. They take on two or three different jobs and don’t even want to go to sleep. It’s the system, that’s for certain, but they would have Obama believe the embargo is the reason for all this inefficiency. The example of organic agriculture he shared was very good, but it would be a pipe-dream here. With Acopio as the intermediary, vegetables and root vegetables rot before the truck arrives.
It seems my truck won’t come today either. I’m not religious, but I think I may need to start praying for my beans.
Cover picture: Yosvani Deya
Other photos by: Osmel Ramirez