Led by Fidel Castro, the July 26 Movement led workers and farmers to power in Cuba in 1959 in the first socialist revolution in the Americas. One of the first measures of the revolutionary government was a far-reaching land reform, ousting the hated landlord class and turning the land over to the farmers themselves.
Under Law 259 passed in 2008, the Cuban government has distributed millions of acres of idle land for free to anyone who will farm it. Tens of thousands of working people from the cities and countryside have responded, including a significant number of youth.
International delegations came from the Union Paysanne in Quebec, Canada; the Basque Farmers Union from Spain; the Federation of Indonesian Peasant Unions; farm groups in El Salvador, Haiti, Guadeloupe, Congo, and India; and some 65 farmers and others from the U.S., to name a few.
Many work small farms averaging three to five acres, along with associated small businesses such as organic farmers’ markets and production of honeys, jams and other products. Others manage large farms that employ dozens of farmworkers.
Participants included academics and specialists in organic and agroecology farming methods who work for nongovernmental organizations and related foundations.
The meeting was hosted by Cuba’s National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) and co-sponsored by Via Campesina, an international organization that promotes ecological and organic farming methods.
Participants visited some 130 cooperative farms across the island over the first three days of the conference. ANAP organizes small farmers in two kinds of voluntary cooperatives, Credit and Service Cooperatives (CCS), which are associations of peasants who maintain their individual farms but pool efforts to organize supplies and sell their produce, and Agricultural Production Cooperatives (CPA), associations of farmers who combine their land and machinery and farm collectively.
“The Cuban Revolution has been an inspiring example for us throughout Africa,” Melamiseli Ncube, a coordinator with the Zimbabwe Small Holder Organic Farmers Forum, told the Militant. “They have not only survived the economic embargo and loss of trade but they continue to make progress. You can see and feel the confidence in the revolution here.”
“Things look better here now than when I visited Cuba in 2000 and 2002. There is more food and types of it,” said Willie Head, an African-American farmer from Georgia. He joined 14 conference participants that visited farmers in Villa Clara province. He noted the presence of new harvesters and excavators made by International Harvester, a U.S. farm equipment company.
“Cuba changed my life,” Head said. “I came to be recharged and energized, and that happened beyond my expectations.”
Gains of the socialist revolutionSeveral Cuban farmers in Villa Clara told us they had gotten land under the new law.
Farmers here have a proud history dating back to the 1959 revolution. On the eve of victory, Ernesto Che Guevara led rebel troops in consolidating control of the province and in the capture of its capital, Santa Clara. U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista fled Havana and workers and farmers took control of their country.
“My father and three brothers were fighters in the rebel army,” said Braulio Marín Arbeláez, who works 10 acres of coffee and grows fruits and vegetables. They also fought against counterrevolutionary bandits in the Escambray Mountains after the revolution. “The revolution made all you will see here possible,” he said.
In addition to the land, farmers receive a range of support from the government, such as bank credits and crop insurance, Marín said. “The insurance includes everything on the farm — equipment, animals, the family home, farm structures and family members,” Marín explained. Farmers who choose to join can get additional credit from the cooperative.
Marín said coffee prices have been rising, and that has boosted his production, most of which is exported.
Specialists from the university work with Marín and other farmers to develop experimental varieties of coffee plants, seeking products that are more adaptive to the climate and resistant to disease and pests.
“Farmers also have access to a doctor and other health care specialists as needed,” Dr. José Pérez Ríos told visitors from the conference.
“I am not from a peasant family,” said Manulo González, who farms coffee on the steep slopes in Manicaragua. “My father was a mechanic and my mother worked in a tobacco factory.”
González, who farms the land with his wife and two sons, received the land three years ago in exchange for agreeing to clear and work it. Many farmers secured land this way due to Law 300, adopted in 2012 to put more land into food production.
Like Marín, González plants experimental varieties of coffee trees, maintaining records of their yields and overall hardiness. He receives a credit from the government for this and for soil conservation measures.
Asked if he ever longs for the city or would like to move to Havana, he said, “No! Never! I am doing what I love — producing for the Cuban people.”
Women and revolution“My father was a landless peasant. The revolution gave us this land,” Gladys López López, one of the founding members of ANAP in Villa Clara, told us. She works an eight-acre farm with her husband, two sons, their wives and two grandchildren.
In addition to vegetables López raises cows and pigs. The government buys all the meat and at least 5 percent of the family’s produce. These purchases ensure that the elderly, children and hospital patients have their basic food needs met, she said. Small independent farmers who are not part of the cooperatives or ANAP members also have their prices guaranteed.
Joined by the Federation of Cuban Women and the Union of Young Communists, ANAP formed two brigades in 2013 aimed at encouraging women and young people to return to farming, Idalinis Almaguer Domínguez, an ANAP leader in Havana province, told us.
According to ANAP, over 6,000 of the 38,170 people associated with farming in the province are women. “The revolution had a big impact on women,” López said. “It liberated us.”
‘Not one acre for sale’Some conference participants expressed fears that U.S. and European capitalists will try to take advantage of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana to take control of agriculture and production in Cuba, seeking to overturn the socialist revolution.
“Not one acre of land in Cuba is for sale to any U.S. company or from any other country, not one acre!” María del Carmen Barroso, a leader of ANAP, said during the visit to Marín’s coffee farm. “Not even for experimental purposes. Not one acre!”
“We welcome the discussions with the U.S.,” Magdelena González Pérez, another ANAP leader, said. “We know that among the people in North America there are many friends of Cuba. We will never change our principles, our ideals, the revolution we have defended for 50 years, the health care. Anyone here can have a heart operation if needed at no cost. It doesn’t matter if you are a professional or a peasant. That we will never give up!”
The conference adopted a declaration calling for an end to Washington’s embargo against Cuba and normalization of relations between the two countries.
Linda Joyce from Charleston, West Virginia, contributed to this article.
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