CubaBrief: As House Agriculture Committee delegation gets Potemkin Village tour, a look back at impacts of U.S. products and communist agricultural practices.

Beginning on November 19, 2022, Congressman Salud Carbajal (D-CA) is leading a bipartisan House Agriculture Committee delegation of Rep. Jim Baird (R-IN) and Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) to Cuba that is expected to conclude early next week. The Castro regime will be providing a Potemkin Village tour, and as much as one believes that they are prepared for it, it is still effective. Paul Hollander’s “Political Pilgrims: Western Intellectuals in Search of the Good Society” offers a good analysis on how totalitarian regimes manage such visits, and should be required reading for policy makers visiting Cuba.

What follows is a look back at the impact of U.S. products and agricultural practices in communist Cuba.

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Saul Berenthal at the Entrepreneurship Summit at La Cervecería in Havana, Cuba, on March 21, 2016. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Cubans continue to be denied their fundamental human rights, and this includes their economic rights. This is compounded by increased scarcity and rising prices due both to communist economic practices and rising costs for importing food.

Minister of Economy and Planning Alejandro Gil Fernández acknowledged the negative impact that the rise in prices will have on a series of foods and essential products that the Cuban dictatorship imports, reported Diario de Cuba, citing official sources, on March 14, 2022.

The minister also stated that one of the regime’s main challenges is “to devise a mechanism, a way of working, that allows us to establish in the country a transparent & rational system of prices, without this entailing a policy of centralization by the State, but at the same time that he advocated for “further progress in price decentralization, he also added that it had to be done without embracing the concepts of a market economy.”

Some historical context.

In mid-February 2016, the Obama administration gave “its approval to the first American factory in Cuba in more than 50 years” and ABC News reported that “the move appears to have gained the support of the Cuban government as well.”

Official communist publications, Granma and Juventud Rebelde, published stories praising the initiative.

The US company, Cleber LLC, the first company with 100% North American capital, was going to set up operations in Mariel to assemble Oggún tractors, designed for small farmers to make land in Cuba more productive.

Ten months later in November 2016 Havana said no.

It turned out that one of the owners of the company that would set up the factory, Saul Berenthal, was a Cuban American, and in his enthusiasm, Mr. Berenthal had reclaimed his Cuban citizenship.

This exposed the reality of the Castro regime’s internal blockade. Average Cubans living on the island are not allowed to make large investments into businesses, and this led to the deal being rejected.

Paradoxically, the Obama thaw with Cuba coincided with the expansion of military control of the Cuban economy.

Liberalization of the Cuban agricultural sector occurred during times of crisis, for example the “free farmers’ markets in the 1980s, and the free agricultural markets after 1994” during the Special Period, and were repealed when the emergency passed.

According to the Cuban Studies Institute between 1952-1958 there was “a successful nationalistic trend aimed to reach agricultural self-sufficiency to supply the people’s market demand for food.”

Despite the efforts to violently overthrow the Batista regime in the 1950s, “the Cuban food supply grew steadily to provide a highly productive system that, in daily calories consumption, ranked Cuba third in Latin America.”

How the internal blockade was imposed

This ended when the Castro regime seized and collectivized properties and prohibited farmers from selling their crops to non-state entities in the early years of the revolution. Farmers no longer chose how much to produce or how much to sell for.

The dictatorship began rationing food in 1962 as a method of control and continued the practice over the next six decades. Rationed food is not free; it is sold at subsidized prices. Rationed items are not enough to feed a person.

The Cuban government established production quotas, and farmers were (and are) obligated to sell to the state collection agency, called Acopio.

Acopio, a state enterprise, fails to pick up crops in time in Cuba, and they rot. 50% is lost before it reaches consumers. Havana does not allow Cuban farmers to sell their goods directly to other Cubans.

Hundreds of boxes of mangos rotted in the fields of Camagüey in the 2021 harvest. (14ymedio)

This is what led Cuban independent journalist Yoani Sanchez to write a column titled “We Cubans Do Not Need Recipes, But Freedom To Produce Food.” In it she raises an important question.

“Why can this cabbage that I plant in an old can on a balcony a few meters from the Ministry of Agriculture give me more hope than the ephemeral plans of the state company Acopio? Because this cabbage is freely watered.”

“It doesn’t answer to anyone, it doesn’t have to pander to the statistics spouted by any leader strutting his stuff on a podium.”

“It is just a cabbage and we are just people who harvest a cabbage that knows that the land can give much and more, but it does not move with ideologies, nationalization or straitjackets designed by centralism.”

“It’s a cabbage, it doesn’t understand parties, and hungry mouths need more cabbages like this.”

Most recent law on agriculture in Cuba ( Decreto Ley 358 de 2018) continues to prohibit private sales of agricultural products to non-state entities.

Today, between 70% and 80% of Cuba’s food is imported. This included the years when Cuba was heavily subsidized by the Soviet Union and was part of the East Bloc. Since 2000, much of the food purchased by Havana has been imported from the United States.

Despite this, rationing continued during the peak years (2011–2014), when the Cuban government received massive amounts of assistance from Venezuela’s Chavez regime.

Agence France Presse reported on February 6, 2022 that Cuba on Feb 5, 2022 announced a new 10% tax on retail food sales, as the country endures economic woes marked by rampant inflation. The levy took effect on February 7, 2022 targeting self-employed people and small- and medium-sized companies in the retail food sector. These sales were only allowed starting in August 2021 as part of reforms on the communist-run island.

Cuban economist Pedro Monreal wrote on Twitter that the new tax will probably have two effects: “higher food prices and more inequality among the Cuban people.”

Food sovereignty today in Cuba is non-existent. Cuban economist Elías Amor, in his November 14th article in 14ymedio, “Cuba: What Food Sovereignty is Marrero Talking About?,” cites the “National Statistics and Information Office (ONEI)” that reports that “in 2014, Cuba produced 584,800 tons of rice, production in 2021 (the last data point) was 225,786 tons — a spectacular decline of 61% in a product that is a staple of daily food consumption among Cubans.”

Impact of U.S. products

Cuban journalist Amaury Valdivia, who until 2016 worked in the official media, and now writes for El Toque reported on June 1, 2022, in the article “Less Chicken from the US Would Benefit Cuban Pork Production“ on the unintended consequences of increased purchases of chicken from the United States on Cuba’s domestic pork production. “In 2021, Cuba spent 280 million $USD on buying chicken from the United States, when Cuban farmers could have practically produced the same amount of pork with that same money.”

Not mentioned by El Toque is that neighboring Jamaica is able to domestically produce most of the chicken needed for domestic consumption, or that Cuba, prior to the imposition of communist agricultural policies was able to do the same. The communist regime in Cuba decided in 2000 to suspend the national production of chicken, and rely on imports. The government has a monopoly over chicken sold to the populace, and is price gouging them.

AgriMarketing, November 19, 2022


Nov. 19, 2022

Source: U.S. House of Representatives news release

HAVANA, CUBA – Beginning today, Congressman Salud Carbajal (D-CA) is leading a bipartisan House Agriculture Committee delegation of Rep. Jim Baird (R-IN) and Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) to Cuba.

“As members of the House Agriculture Committee, we work every week in Washington to track the impact that U.S. agriculture and agricultural trade is having in nations around the globe. And as the United States is one of Cuba’s largest suppliers of agricultural imports, we look forward to seeing the impact of U.S. products and the opportunity to survey local agricultural practices,” said the delegation.

“We will be meeting with farmers and agricultural experts to help us understand the current state of agriculture and food supply in Cuba, as well as discuss where opportunities for mutual economic benefit may exist for American businesses and the Cuban people. We are eager to report our findings back to our colleagues and our committee upon our return.”

The bipartisan delegation is expected to meet with Cuban farmers, agricultural business operators, and local officials to discuss the current state of agriculture in Cuba, the impact that U.S. commodities are having in Cuban markets and households, and related issues.

The trip is expected to conclude early next week.

Translating Cuba, November 16, 2022

Cuba: What Food Sovereignty is Marrero Talking About?

Empty stands in one of Havana’s markets. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Elías Amor, Valencia, 14 November 2022 — Food sovereignty happens to be one of the new chimeras of the Cuban communist regime. Prime Minister Marrero was invited to outline the main points of the policy in this area during the virtual “International Forum on Hybrid Rice Assistance and Global Food Security.” The truth is that he must be hard nosed for this.

Marrero is the Cuban regime’s prime minister and, as such, carries a certain level of responsibility in a country where rice production has declined continually in the last years, to such an extreme as to depend on donations from Vietnam to meet the basic needs; he is giving lessons to the world on how to produce hybrid rice. To cite a few data points from the annual reports of the National Statistics and Information Office (ONEI), in 2014 Cuba produced 584,800 tons of rice, production in 2021 (the last data point) was 225,786 tons — a spectacular decline of 61% in a product that is staple of daily food consumption among Cubans. And Marrero is giving lessons to the world on hybrid rice. I insist, no one understands anything.

The Cuban communists lack stage fright due to their total lack of responsibility. Since they do not respond to an electorate in periodic and pluralistic elections, they do not understand about being held accountable for their management. Marrero spoke in front of the world of food sovereignty, no less, saying that for Cuban communists it consists of “reducing dependence on imports, strengthening productive capacity, use of science, technology and innovation, and developing efficient and sustainable food systems at the local level.” At no point did he attribute food sovereignty to eating food in sufficient quantities every day. That does not matter.

As of now, the regime’s position is brilliant on paper and the political discourse, but impractical under the economic model in place in Cuba. This national plan for food sovereignty and improved nutrition education will result in nothing. Just as, with the same ration card and the eternally long lines at the bodegas.

Marrero’s discourse has been an exercise in irresponsibility no matter how we look at it. It began, why not, blaming the United States embargo/’blockade’ for the difficulties in meeting the goals of food sovereignty in Cuba. In his presentation he denounced that the embargo/’blockade’ has as its goal to “provoke hunger and desperation among our people,” and that it not only “violates our right to development, but also our right to life.” The same old story. Perhaps he should have referred to that internal embargo/’blockade’, which is what truly impedes — for the barriers, obstacles, and prohibitions of the marxist economic model — development and prosperity for Cubans. But, none of that.

In reality, food for Cubans has been an instrument of power and control for the communist regime since it launched the ration card. At that time, when stores in Cuba were well stocked, the reasons given were the same ones offered for why the basic food basket is now regulated: to prevent consumers’ freedom of choice, freedom to buy and sell, the function of a free market of supply and demand.

Communists replaced that structure with a centrally planned economy, an idea that came from a few bureaucrats which are allowed to prevail over the rest of the citizenry and are assumed to know better, can plan the daily needs for fats, calories and protein of each citizen, and cap prices at their whim. And here is where the origin of the disaster lies. Because none of what is planned can turn out well and, systematically, the system enters into crisis and emerges from the shortages, the queues, the misery and the desperation. It has been known for a long time that communism is incapable of providing these kinds of solutions.

And clearly, before having to respond and not knowing how to do so, Marrero did what the communists always do, throw balls out of bounds and waste time. As, for example,  when he stated “enough food is produced globally to feed everyone, but it is wasted, unsustainably, and its distribution is inequitable.” Perhaps, he should understand why this phenomenon occurs, behind this, there are grants and subsidies provided by many governments to agricultural producers, which end up producing inefficient results.

That is, inappropriate public policies of states to maintain the agriculture and livestock sectors end up creating these excesses, which in the long term, are nothing more than a waste of public funds. The problem is that, in Cuba, the agricultural sector does not function, not even with that waste. Here, the issue lies in property rights, which prevent producers from keeping the income generated by their exploitation of the land.

[ Rest of article here ]