Posted on Tuesday, 05.18.10
Cuban farmers seek fewer government regulations
By JUAN O. TAMAYO
Cuba's independent farmers are strongly urging the government to ease
its suffocating controls on agriculture, arguing that they could deliver
more and better products if the bureaucrats get out of the way.
“Internal Commerce is superfluous,'' the Juventúd Rebelde newspaper
quoted farmer Lázaro Hernández as saying about the government ministry
in charge of the sale of food and other goods.
The farmers aired their petitions during the weekend congress of the
National Association of Small Farmers, whose 362,440 members — private
farmers and members of 3,635 cooperatives — control 41 percent of
Cuba's farmlands but account for 70 percent of the production. State
farms, usually large-scale enterprises, produce the other 30 percent.
Raúl Castro's financially strapped government has beseeched farmers to
step up production so Cuba can reduce food imports that cost $1.5
billion a year and make up 60 percent of all consumption.
But Cuban news reports Monday on the congress reflected the farmers'
arguments that it's the bureaucracy that is hampering productivity —
and indirectly that capitalist-styled incentives would help.
The vast government-run system for getting products from farm to
consumer “has too many people and inflated payrolls,'' Hernández
complained at one congress session, according to Juventúd Rebelde, run
by the Communist Youth Union.
Tomato prices have risen, he added, "and not because there's fewer
tomatoes. The problem is they don't get to market'' because of
transportation and distribution problems.
"In the capital, where there used to be 1,300 sales points and now only
600 are left, we need not just 1,300 but 2,000 — and permission for the
cooperatives to deliver their merchandise directly," he added.
Maximum prices should be set only for food items most needed by Cubans,
Hernández argued, but the rest of the prices should be set by demand and
supply as an incentive for farmers to produce more.
Using more circumspect language, the association's official
end-of-congress resolutions and Economics Minister Marino Murillo Jorge,
in a speech to the farmers Sunday, also reflected Cuba's tough
Facing farmers' complaints of shortages of basic supplies such as
fertilizers, insecticides, fuel for transportation and even horseshoes,
Murillo promised the government would open more stores to sell those
goods to farmers — but at real, not subsidized prizes.
He also hinted that farmers and their employees would have to start
paying income taxes. One congress resolution said taxes would be OK but
urged they be based on income. The government often imposes flat taxes
on independent economic activity.
In its official declarations, the association urged the government to
speed up the delivery of water services to farms and credits for the
60,000 farmers who have been loaned fallow state lands as part of a
recent campaign to increase production.
Half the 2.5 million acres handed out under that program are not yet in
full production because of various problems, Murillo acknowledged.
Another 2.5 million acres of fallow lands have yet to be handed out, he
One declaration recommended “directly linking cooperatives to (the
issue of) resolving the needs of the people'' and that farmers be
allowed to sell directly to tourism enterprises — both moves designed
to remove the bureaucracy from the food distribution chain and maximize
profits for the farmers.
The document also called on the government to allow the cooperatives
more autonomy, saying they are now required to sign production and other
contracts with state enterprises — which then charge commissions on the
The government also should end the “noxious practice'' of requiring
that cattle and other livestock be kept in corrals — so they won't be
stolen — instead of allowing them to pasture freely, the document added.
Milk should be priced according to the season — cows produce more in
the rainy season — and the government should allow farmers in eastern
Cuba to grow tobacco so they can supply the cigarettes factory in
eastern Holguín that now depends on tobacco from Western Cuba, according
to the declaration.
The farmers also asked to be allowed to grow and sell ornamental plants
and flowers — “including floral arrangements, the production of floral
wreaths and direct sales … to provide our modest contribution to the
development of Cuban floriculture.''
In his speech to the farmers, Murillo announced the government had
developed a five-year plan to increase domestic agricultural production
so that the country could cut $800 million worth of food imports per
year, but gave few details of the plan.
The government will promote the decentralization of agriculture, he
said, mentioning the 17 towns already in a pilot “suburban
agriculture'' program in which farms close to towns are selling only in
those towns, bypassing the bureaucracy and transportation costs.
But Murillo, reflecting the government's reluctance to give up control
of the food chain, also said the government and farmers must work
together to eliminate “illegal intermediaries'' — Cubans who buy
products from farmers and resell them in cities at higher prices.
“We're not questioning the income from the hard work of the peasants,
but the incomes obtained by those who profit from the illegal commerce
… and abuse our people,'' Murillo declared.