If you were told that in a Latin American country almost 60% of the fertile land available for agriculture is not even cultivated, producing nothing at all, you would think they were pulling your leg, because in the 21st century this is impossible.
But, alas, it is. The country in question is Cuba, a beautiful tropical island covered with lush, fertile lands that astonished Columbus when he first saw them 525 years ago.
How is this possible in a country that the FAO, in the 1950s, cited as one of the greatest producers and exporters of food in Latin America in proportion to its total population?
One of Fidel Castro's proselytizing pledges during his anti-Batista movement, after causing the death of dozens of young people in the disastrous assault on the Moncada barracks, was the promise that when he came to power he would implement profound agrarian reform, handing over lands to the peasants who worked them, and eliminating Cuba's sprawling, unproductive plantations.
General Batista fled the Island, Castro rose to power, and proceeded to renege on those promises, seizing 77% of the nation's agricultural land for the State. In this way he created his very own unproductive latifundia, the largest in the country since Spanish colonization.
As a result, in the first two years of the statist "Agrarian Reform" the production of sugar plummeted from 6.8 million metric tons to 3.8 million in the 1962-1963 harvest. The island ceased to be the leading producer and exporter of sugar cane in the world, a title it had boasted since the end of the 18th century. In 2017 Cuba produced 1.7 million tons of sugar – three times less than the 5.1 million tons produced 92 years ago.
Cuba devolved into one of the weakest of Latin American food producers, with some of the lowest agricultural yields in the Americas, including in sugar cane, in which it once was the world leader. If there were no fatal famines it was because Moscow began to subsidize the dictatorship to turn the island into a giant Soviet aircraft carrier, poised right next to the United States, and to expand Communist ideology throughout the Americas.
Even with the subsidies from the USSR, in March of 1962 the commander had to implement a food ration card, which is now 55 years old, the longest-lasting in the history of the Western Hemisphere.
With the "Agrarian Reform" the production of foodstuffs basic to the Cuban diet tanked: meat, rice, milk, vegetables, fruits and vegetables. From nearly seven million heads of cattle in 1958 for six million inhabitants (one cow per inhabitant), today the figure is 3.6 million undernourished cattle, for 11.3 million inhabitants (three inhabitants per cow). This is why in 2016 it produced three times less meat and less milk than in 1958, with twice as many inhabitants.
In the 1950s Cuba was self-sufficient in beef, milk, tropical fruits, coffee and tobacco. And it was almost self-sufficient in fish and seafood, pork, chicken, meats, vegetables, and eggs. It was the Latin American country with the highest fish consumption, and third in calories, with 2,682 daily. And it ranked seventh in the world in average agricultural wages, at 3 pesos a day (equivalent to dollars), according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Before 1959 Cuba imported 29% of the food it consumed. The Communists of the time (the PSP) complained that figure was too high for such a fertile country. Today, with the Communists in power, 80% of food is imported.
State property vs. private
The regime refuses to hand over land to those who work or want to work it, and forbids them from freely cultivating and selling their crops on the market. It forces them to hand over the crops to the State, at meager prices.
To make matters even worse, in the state distribution under the monstrosity dubbed "Acopio," 57% of the harvested food is lost, according to the ONEI (National Office of Statistics). The regime itself admits that 56% of Cuba's agricultural land is idle, overgrown with marabou. These last two statistics are more than enough to justify General Raúl Castro's resignation tomorrow.
There is a total of 6.2 million hectares of agricultural land, of which 46%, or 2.8 million hectares, are owned by state companies (sovjoses in the former USSR). 31%, or 1.9 million hectares, are also state-owned, but delivered in usufruct to individuals under abusive contracts. The remaining 1.4 million hectares, 23%, correspond to individual farmers, working on their own or in cooperatives.
To appreciate their production, one stat suffices: according to the ONEI, in the first half of 2015 state-owned enterprises, including the state cooperatives dubbed "Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC) " produced only 10% of the 5.7 million tons of the vegetables, rice, beans and fruits grown throughout the country. That is, 570,000 tons. The other 90% (5.1 million tons) was produced by private farmers and usufruct workers.
Incredible, but true. With about half of the land, the best in the country, the socialist state produced one tenth of the total national crop yield, while the other half, cultivated by private workers, accounted for 90%. This manifests the absurd idiocy and arrogance of the Castro elite, which refuses to accept the wisdom of the Creole saying: "the master’s watchful eye fattens his cattle." And it now spends $2 billion importing food.
Bonfires to burn ration cards
The evidence demonstrating the superiority of private property in the agricultural sector - and in every other - is overwhelming. The military regime has the obligation to deliver the Island's fertile lands to those who wish to work them, and with their corresponding property deeds. Even in China and Vietnam, under Communist governments, peasants are free to harvest and sell what they produce.
Despite the fact that the Venezuelan crisis has exacerbated food shortages in Cuba, due to the lack of money to import them and acquire the supplies and equipment to render the land productive, Castroism, instead of freeing up the island’s productive agricultural forces, tightens its grip.
At a recent meeting of the Council of Ministers, according to Granma, “it was confirmed that the lands granted in usufruct are non-transferable State property.” In other words: let one get their hopes up, because the land is owned by the State, and is only lent for a time, which now will be extended to 20 years.
At the meeting, Marino Murillo, czar (somewhat obscure lately) of the "updating of the Cuban model" revealed that interest in obtaining state land in usufruct has declined. Of course, peasants and potential farmers do not want to work on lands that are not even theirs and that they cannot sell or leave to their children. Neither can they freely produce and sell crops. And the regime can seize their land at any time, as has already happened in Holguin.
Cuba is the only western country where agricultural and livestock are not entirely in private sector hands. If agriculture were privatized and the rights of citizens to economic freedom, and all the other rights of modern man, were respected, Cubans would soon make bonfires to burn their ration cards in the streets, and feed themselves properly, and Cuba would once again be cited as an example by the FAO.