Tractors In Cuba, From Ghosts To Orishas / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar
Posted on February 26, 2016
“Do not put me in the dark to die like a tractor”
(popular parody of a line from José Martí)
14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 25 February 2016 – Two pieces of
news have raised hopes among Cuban farmers. One is that the United
States company Cleber LLC will install a tractor factory in the Mariel
Special Development Zone (ZEDM). The second is the announcement that
China will open a line of credit so that the island can buy YTO brand
Chinese tractors to use in the rice program.
To encourage more hopes, the newspaper Granma dedicated an article today
to an explanation of the situation of the 62,668 tractors registered in
the country, of which 95% have been in use for more than 30 years. The
article reports the number of these machines, their distribution by
area, what they are used for, and how many tires or tracks they had. But
they said nothing about the future of these obsolete vehicles nor the
new ones to come.
However, Cubans learned long ago that when the river is roaring it is
because it is carrying stones, but when you can’t hear it it’s doing the
same. It’s been a long time since anyone has repeated from a podium or
in a meeting with senior officials that plowing with oxen is better than
doing it with farm machinery.
The thousand small tractors the US firm proposes to produce annually are
optimal for use with organoponic cultivation methods and they suggest
selling them to independent farmers in Cuba. The tractors will enter the
market under the name Oggún, one of the main orishas of the Yoruba
religion tied to technology and surgeons.
A rural legend, repeated by old already-retired tractor drivers, tells
that at the end on the seventies in the San Juan y Martinez nursery
area, a huge pit was dug to bury hundreds of destroyed tractors. Whole
machines buried as scrap before handing them over to the peasants. State
ownership “was ready to die” before making the transfer to the calloused
hands of the private producers.
Time passed and the “Special Period” arrived and only then was the
decision made to hand over whatever was unusable. Alfredo Perez,
operator of a ’56 Ford belonging to La Isleña farm in Pinar del Río, who
tells how this transfer worked. “As far as I know, in the nineties the
state enterprises began giving the private farmers some farm machinery,”
The farmer remembers that in most cases the tractors involved were in
such poor condition, that in all the bureaucratic paperwork it appeared
as the sale of decommissioned equipment, not property. From there it was
up to the farmer to find a way to do what the state had failed to do
despite all its resources, which is what they did. “They handed over a
ghost that had to be resuscitated,” remembers Perez.
Despite the poor mechanical condition of the equipment, it was necessary
to have an endorsement letter from the president of the cooperative and
a commitment to lend the vehicle to whatever entity needed it ,
including the police.
The current practice is that when a state enterprise receives a new
fleet of machinery, they hand over the old equipment to the
cooperatives. Sometimes the machines are in terrible condition, other
times in pretty good shape or even the company itself can help the
cooperative get the parts to make it work.
Another way to acquire a tractor is to have the great good fortune to
know the owner of a piece of American-made equipment that they want to
sell. The Soviets awarded by another system what they weren’t allowed to
market. The price of these “agricultural almendrones*” could vary
between 100,000 to 150,000 Cuban pesos, depending on their condition and
the farm implements included.
Alfredo only knows one farmer to whom they sold “ten years ago, a new
tractor, and it was Alejandro Robaina,” the famous tobacco farmer of
Vueltabajo. The farmer has some reservations and wonders if “the
Americans” are going to distribute through the state or market them freely.
With the wisdom of a man of the countryside who knows that nothing is
certain until the harvest is gathered in, Alfredo knows that tying the
tractors to Oggeun is very premature, “because it is not even confirmed
that they will build the factory,” and “only time will tell.”
Increasing food production is a priority for the State, so as to be able
to replace imports and meet demand. The shortages and consequent rise in
prices generate controversies of every kind, but there is something
everyone agrees on: the solution is to produce more and for this,
willpower isn’t enough, tools are needed. The farmers need
better resources and marketing tractors puts to the test the old
governmental prejudices: the Cuban countryside, stuck in the 20th
Century, is facing the modernity it needs.
*Translator’s note: “Almendrones” (from the word for almond) is what
Cubans call the pre-Revolution American cars still circulating in Cuba.
Source: Tractors In Cuba, From Ghosts To Orishas / 14ymedio, Reinaldo
Escobar | Translating Cuba –