The Series: Working the Revolution, 1992-2006. Food Distribution and “Back on the Farm”. 1994-1995
By Ron Ridenour
Jan 11, 2007, 09:44
Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in Ron Ridenour’s wonderful series on his volunteer farm work in Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Union which left Cuba in dire economic straits. The response of the Cuban people to their devastating losses at that time are not only creative and resourceful, but downright exemplary and inspiring. If you missed the Ridenour’s first report on his work in 1992-1993, we encourage you to read it first as it sets the stage for his second report below. – Les Blough, Editor
Batabano’s Farm production director, Aldolfo Montalvo, and Contingente Col. Mambi Juan Delgado overall leader biggest headache in achieving the huge and new task of feeding much of the province of Havana was distributing the harvests before they wasted away.
I attended the first national assembly meeting in Havana concerning the progress of plan alimentario, in which distribution was discussed. Candido Palmero, the chief of Contingente Blas Roca, one of the most distinguished contingents, delivered a report to the nation’s leaders. Palmero had recently been named head of all the new agricultural contingents. He told the deputies that the contingents could guarantee the production goals for next year but there was one major problem. The large calloused-handed man paused. He and Fidel looked at one other from across the large hall. The president gestured for Candido to continue.
“What I can’t guarantee is that you will eat all the harvested crops, because we don´t have our own trucks to distribute the goods.”
Palmero now spoke to a hushed assembly. “We recommend that farm-workers should have the responsibility, the authority and the means to do the entire job, from breaking ground to delivery.”
A food truck unloading in Havana. In the early-to-mid nineties old trucks like these were used to distribute food. All that has changed since the Bolivarian Revolution began in Venezuela.
Fidel enthusiastically agreed and so did the deputies, who decided that each state farm would get its own transportation to delivery production. This would first be tried in Havana’s fifteen municipalities. The bureaucratic distribution system is a centralized one in which all harvests are transported to central markets, called Acopios, where they are unloaded. Smaller distribution trucks are then assigned to load the products again and distribute them to smaller neighborhood markets. This process is almost never carried out in a timely fashion. The double work of loading and unloading, and transporting results in constant losses of edible foods.
In 1993, Defense Minister Raúl Castro said that the Farming Production Cooperatives (CPA) were six times more effective than the state collectives. CPAs had been formed in the 1960s as cooperatives of private farmers, owners and usufructaries. Members share in profits from sales and can hire day laborers at peak times. State farm workers received fix wages regardless of production quantity or quality. Raúl proposed that most of the granjas, which held 80% of agricultural lands (four million hectares), be transformed into new usufruct cooperatives with some CPA benefits.
The government then established a new cooperative structure, Basic Unit of Co-operative Production-UBPC, “to simulate greater production”.
Key features of the new UBPC decree-law 142 are:
* Co-operative members have full use of the land without owning it—unlike CPAs where co-operators are full owners.
* UBPC members are owners of production, like the CPAs, in that they are free to work and organize as they choose but must sell their produce to the state at agreed upon prices.
* Farm equipment, seed, fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, petroleum, parts, irrigation and other supplies are provided by the state on credit.
* Labor is paid, in part, by profit-sharing. The state advances an average monthly wage and capital to get started. Credit is repaid from the sale of harvests.
* UBPCs must be cost-accountable, profitable enterprises.
* UBPC members elect their leadership, which is subject to recall. Worker leadership represents all workers before state managers and state investors.
These changes were introduced after state leaders had studied the CPAs relationships to their land and their style of work. They learned that not only are CPAs better producers, in quantity and quality, than state collectivists but that these workers are more pleased with their work and daily lives. They also earn more money than collectivists. State leaders did not say, however, why they had decided not to sell the land to UBPC users. This does not coincide with the conclusion that a major incentive for CPA co-operators is their ownership status. But the man-on-the-street knows that the party leadership hopes that with a more stimulating work life, and thus improvements in the food economy, Cubans will learn that private ownership of land is not necessary for a decent economic life.