Praying for Beans in Cuba

Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

The Mayari Valley has very fertile land.

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.

Tobacco is a crop widely grown by the farmers of our cooperative.

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.

We urgently need improved breeding of our cattle.

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

6 thoughts on “Praying for Beans in Cuba

  • Well, if the embargo didn’t hurt Cuba while it was a client state of the US, why did we maintain it? Either it was effective, or it wasn’t.

    And before Cuba got massive Soviet subsidies, the embargo was quite openly, quite intentionally, designed to hurt the Cuban people so that they would overthrow the government.

    Do note, that there were and are plenty of horrible governments that the United States does not embargo, in fact even subsidizes. Check out the odious people who run Pakistan for example.

    So people who support the embargo, now or in the past, ought to ask themselves: if this is a good weapon against tyranny, why was it only used against a left wing tyranny? Just in Latin America, there were dictatorships far bloodier than the Castro one. Why no embargo against the Argentine colonels, or Pinochet, or the Brazilian torturers or …

  • Everything that you say is true. Sadly. But you fail to see the big picture. By ignoring the problems that Cuba continues to face today, and staying focused on the long term benefits of engagement, Obama’s plan is force democracy down Cuba’s throat. I am not a fan of this plan but it’s time to try something new. The Castros want to discourage change for as long as possible. The increased detentions and other human rights violations reflect their intransigence.

  • Good point. And even with the Soviet subsidies, Cuba failed to develop a functioning developed economy. That’s because Cuban socialism is an idiotic economic disaster.

  • You fail to note that prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba, for the most part, would not have been evolved economically with the US. ….Just like the Soviet Union was involved in very little trade with the US. Cuba had sufficient subsidies from the Soviet Union that the did not need the US. In fact Cuba was able to use those subsidies to export revolution and destabilize other governments. They should have used those moneys to fix their infrastructure instead. But the bearded ones were always good at promoting mayhem, not so much at government.

  • It’s clear that Cuba suffers from both top-down state control of the economy, AND the embargo.

    If the embargo didn’t cause suffering in Cuba, the United States wouldn’t have imposed it.

    If it didn’t cause suffering in Cuba, rightwingers (who, by the way, have absolutely no problem with rightwing dictatorships far more bloody than the Cuban government) wouldn’t be so fervent about maintaining it.

    That was the aim of the embargo: to cause economic hardship so that the Cuban people will overthrow their government and replace it with one that the US likes.

    It hasn’t worked, so … end it, and deprive the state-worshippers of their best excuse for the failures of top-down state-socialism.

  • Thank you for that well written & incisive account of how Cuban co-operative work.

    For all of his advisors and high tech informations systems at his disposal, the largest barrier for President Obama in understanding how the Cuban system really works is his habit of ignoring information he does not want to hear.

    When the US intelligence services started sending in reports about an extremist Islamic group called ISIL was establishing itself in Iraq, the message was sent from the White House to the Pentagon to stop reporting nonsense. Obama had campaigned on his boast that he had ended the war in Iraq, and no “Junior Varsity team” of terrorists was going to spoil that false claim.

    Likewise on Cuba: Obama refuses to listen to contrary information. It has been an article of faith among leftist & progressive Americans that the US embargo is a very bad thing and responsible for all that is not quite perfect in Cuba. That is why Obama is determined to lift the embargo, if he can convince congress to vote on it.

    In November 2015, Obama promised not to visit Cuba unless he had clear evidence of improvements in human rights in Cuba. but come February, he had made up his mind to visit Cuba anyway. When asked to give an example of any such improvements, Obama avoided giving any straight answer. His Secretary of State, John Kerry, hummed & hawed and said they hoped the engagement with Cuba would bring change, but he couldn’t point to any such improvements.

    In his speech to Cuba from the Teatro, Obama praised Cuba’s medical and educational systems. This was despite the fact that surely he had heard that these so-called “achievements of the revolution” were not at all like they are described in the propaganda, generated in Havana and echoed in Hollywood & Harvard. Never mind. To the progressive president Obama, “free healthcare” is an absolute good and no amount of fact will dissuade him from praising Cuba’s crumbling, filthy understaffed hospitals.

    Just a week before travelling to Cuba, Obama granted special permission to a US hotel operator to enter into partnerships with the Cuba hotel corporation. He had to ignore the fact that the Cuban hotel operator is owned by GAESA, the conglomerate owned by the Cuban military, and headed by Raul’s son-in-law. It is against US law for US citizens or companies to do business with the Cuban military, or with the Castro family, but Obama approved it anyway.

    That is why Obama gave such simplistic and unhelpful advice to the co-operative farmer at his meeting. Obama ignores the fact this farmer worked for a co-operative that is owned & controlled by the Castro regime. Obama ignores the fact that the Castro regime controls all imports & exports to & from Cuba. Obama ignores the fact that the Castro regime controls the supplies of seed, equipment & fertilizers to Cuba farmers.

    While Obama gave speeches, strolled through Habana Viejo and watched a baseball game, the Castro regime police arrested 498 Cuban dissidents and independent journalists. We don’t know if Obama was unaware of these ongoing assaults and arrests by the agents of his host, Raul Castro. But it is as if Obama ignores the fact that the Castro regime still rules Cuba and runs the country with an iron fist.

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