The Tenth Congress of the National Small Farmers Association concluded yesterday at a very critical time for the Cuban agricultural sector. While on TV they broadcast the long sessions of a closed-door meeting, in our homes the worry continues about how to find and pay for what we put on our plates. Rice, the daily companion on our tables – indispensable for many, boring for others – is the latest product to be added to the scarcity list. In a country where most people feel they haven’t eaten if they don’t have at least a few spoonfuls of this grain, its absence becomes a source of despair and cause for alarm.
After so many calls for efficiency, the announcement – with great fanfare – of the distribution of vacant land, and speeches sprinkled with calls to work on the farms, the current result is that in the last year agricultural production fell by 13% and livestock production by 3.1%. Clearly slogans and platitudes in the style of “beans are more important than guns” or “we need a complete turnaround for the land,” don’t translate into food. So what is happening? How is it possible that an island covered in fertile soil is full of people anxiously waiting for a few malangas, some bananas, some yuccas. Why has pork become a delicacy that we can only enjoy once or twice a month at an exorbitant and abusive price. How have they managed to relegate many of our tastiest fruits to plates in an album of things that are extinct. Nationalization, control and centralization have led us here and I’m afraid that we are now trying to dig ourselves out of the hole with the same methods that put us in it.
The solutions will not come because a call comes from a military uniform for maximum sacrifice and sowing the earth “for the fatherland.” Nor will it emerge from a conference led by those who, for a long time now, have not bent their backs even to weed the earth. I hope to read in the final report of this agricultural event the will to actually put an end to all the absurd restrictions. Given the gravity of the food situation I thought they were going to stop demonizing and criminalizing the middleman, without whom boxes of tomatoes will not reach the market. We will glimpse the solution to the lack of productivity when they tell us that the farmers can sell their all their products directly to the population – yes, paying taxes of course – but without going through the “droit de seigneur” imposed on them by the State. If they are not allowed to freely buy agricultural implements, to decide what crops to plant, and how to invest the money they earn from their sales, all that will remain will be the minutes of the conference – one more held without major effects on the furrows or on our plates.