Experts: Expect reforms in Cuban agriculture
Posted on Thu, Feb. 21, 2008
BY JOHN DORSCHNER
Raúl Castro may move slowly to make minor reforms, but even small
changes in agriculture could have ''combustible . . . unintended
consequences,'' according to a veteran Cuba expert.
Marifeli Pérez Stable, a vice president of the Inter-American Dialogue
in Washington and a professor at Florida International University, made
the observation Wednesday night during a panel discussion that served as
the opening for the seventh annual conference held by the Cuban Research
Pérez Stable was speaking of much-discussed agricultural reforms
allowing smaller farmers incentives to boost Cuba's dismal production
rates. With Fidel Castro stepping down as president and many citizens
complaining about living on 15 or 20 pesos a month, the demand for
change is huge, she said.
Florida cattle rancher John Parke Wright, who travels to Cuba monthly,
told The Miami Herald later that ''agriculture is priority No. 1'' for
the Cuban government and reform is already under way.
Wright said he spent last week with Ramon Castro, the older brother of
Fidel and Raúl. It was the leadership's idea to give small- and
medium-size farmers incentives, but he disagreed with Pérez Stable's
''Put it another way. The Cubans that are in the leadership are in the
cocina [kitchen] and they know what they're good at. They're solid men
and women. The one thing Cubans want is more pesos in their pockets and
a better quality of life,'' Wright said.
''Bueno trabajo, bueno dinero,'' Wright said. “Good work, good money.
That's pretty straightforward stuff.''
Wright said the reform efforts were starting with farmers raising pigs
and chickens, because these were the places to make the quickest changes.
Many efforts are already under way in which Texas and Florida ranchers
are helping Cuba boost production. Wright said he has arranged for Texas
ranchers to produce 2,000 ''straws'' of Brahman bull semen to be shipped
to Cuba. Some Florida ranchers have also been shipping prize bulls to Cuba.
During the panel discussion Wednesday, Damián Fernandez, director of
FIU's Cuban Research Institute, said Raúl must walk a fine line in
making changes. Cuba has ''not fully entered into a post-Fidel period,''
Fernandez said. He views Raúl as having “much more pragmatic, rational
basis for his leadership.''
But ''he needs hard-liners to be rather happy,'' while also looking to
the general citizens' complaints of shortage of goods, Fernandez said.
“He needs to deliver. He needs to govern differently.''
Pérez Stable noted that after almost a half-century of rule, “how
exhausted Cubans are and how spent the leadership is.
''Fidel has been sold on the issue of agricultural reforms. The
government thinks it can control these reforms, but no matter what, they
are going to be radical in their context,'' because the country has gone
so long without reforms.
“The consequences are going to be unexpected and unknowable. The
government won't be able to control them.''
Katrin Hansing, an anthropologist at the Cuban Research Institute, noted
that even a Cuban neurosurgeon has become an illegal cab driver to make
ends meet. ''Breaking the law has become the standard practice'' as
Cubans put on the “double-face.''