Why Doesn't the Land Belong to Those Who Work It? / Dimas Castellanos
With the title "The Land Belongs to Those Who Work It," the newspaper
Granma published an editorial on May 17, in commemoration of "Peasant's
Day" from which I have selected three points that invite reflection.
One: The Agrarian Reform was a basic need for economic liftoff.
An affirmation that I share, since the concentration of large tracts of
land was, and is, in addition to a generator of social injustice, a
major obstacle to the diversification of agricultural property, roots,
the sense ownership and development.
In the beginning, in the sixteenth century, large tracts did not hinder
the formation of a class of small owners. It was the growth of the sugar
industry, accelerated by the Haitian Revolution, which ruined the
economy of this neighbor island, which led to the fact that from the
late eighteenth century Cuba occupied the number one position in the
production and trade in that product. That leap accelerated the
conversion of cattle ranches common estates — haciendas — and multiplied
the number of mills by promoting the growth of small and medium
ownership. It was from 1860, due to increased production capacity, that
the larger mills swallowed up the smaller ones, leading to the
separation between agriculture and industry and the emergence of the
figure of the tenant farmer. However, these transformations did not lead
to the concentration of large land areas, as the tenant farmer, who
settled on tens of thousands of farms, supplied the necessary cane.
It was in the late nineteenth century, resulting from the struggle for
raw materials, where the competition between mills for more land
originated, from which emerged the modern large estate. This process
accelerated after 1902 with the orders issued by the Government of
Occupation, which authorized the investors to purchase and expropriate
land for railway lines and to install new plants. As a result, the
penetration of foreign capital concentrated in about 180 mills, a fifth
of the country, as reflected in the 1946 census. Of a total of 159,985
farms, fewer than 12% had 76% of the land, while 24% of the remaining
area was scattered in 142,385 farms, with their respective owners.
That anomaly so vital to the Cuban nation, attracted the attention of
illustrious figures of our history, from the Bishop Espada in 1808 to
Manuel Sanguily in 1903, passing, among others, José Antonio Saco,
Francisco de Frías, José Martí, Enrique Jose Varona, Martín Morúa
Delgado and Fernando Ortiz, who argued for the need for small and medium
land ownership and the existence of a national middle class. However,
the social struggles, the measures taken by the Republican leaders, and
the brake on large estates, endorsed in the 1940 Constitution, were
insufficient to reverse the ownership of land to those who worked it.
Two: It was precisely the Agrarian Reform Law that defines the Cuban
In his legal brief, History Will Absolve Me, in 1953, Fidel Castro —
taking into account the adverse effect of large estates and in order to
win the support of the peasantry — proposed to grant land ownership to
all who hold parcels of five or fewer caballerías (one caballería equals
about 33 acres). This project, launched in October 1958 during the
insurrectionist struggle, formed the basis of the First Law of Agrarian
Reform, which liquidated the estates in the hands of Cuban and foreign
companies, benefiting some 100,000 farmers and defining the 1959
Revolution as advanced, agrarian, and democratic.
However, 40.2% of the confiscated lands remained in state hands. Then,
with the Second Agrarian Reform Law of 1963, the thousand farms that had
more than five caballerías went directly to swell the collection of
state land, which increased to 70% of the country's arable land. So
sudden was the turn, that if the First Law was allowed to define the
Revolution as advanced, agrarian and democratic, the Second Law marked
it as totalitarian, in concentration an amount of land greater than that
possessed by the great estates that had been confiscated.
In 1974, the fifteenth anniversary of the Agrarian Reform Law, the chief
of the Revolution urged the peasants to tackle "higher forms of thinking
about production, since the course of development of the country can not
be stopped, since the growing needs of the population necessitate a
constant modernization of our agriculture, and an optimal use of all the
land "  .
With this supposed end, they developed a process of induced formation of
cooperatives, through the creation of Embryonic Cooperatives, Mutual Aid
Brigades, the Credit and Service Cooperatives (the only ones in which
the farmers retained ownership of the land and means of production, but
they lack legal status), and Agricultural Production Cooperatives;
meanwhile state ownership rose to 75% of arable land.
Three: The Law established the principle that the land belongs to those
who work it.
Given the decrease in production and efficiency brought about by State
ownership, Raul Castro, in his speech in Camagüey on 26 July 2007,
acknowledged the shortcomings, errors and indolent or bureaucratic
attitudes as reflected in fields infected with the marabou week, and
argued that the rising cost of food in the international market forced
us to produce it in Cuba. However, nothing was said of the unworkability
of the State-owned large estates, nor of the fact that in privately
owned lands the marabou week is kept under control. At that juncture
they enacted, in 2008, the Decree Law 259, for delivery of vacant land
If usufruct consists of enjoying the use the property of others, in this
case the huge properties of the State, and the land becomes idle, what
is the reason for the private producers, who have demonstrated the
ability to produce efficiently, to be tied to usufruct agreements — that
is to be essentially tenant farmers — and for the State, responsible for
inefficiency, to be the owner? Why doesn't the land belong to those who
Translator's note: Usufruct is the right to use and enjoy the profits of
something belonging to someone else. In Cuba, Decree 259, of 2008,
established a system of limited term usufruct to turn over idle lands to
people who want to work it.
 J. MAY. Two decades of struggle against landlordism. Brief history
of the National Peasant Association, p. 21
21 May 2011