Cotton and Scarcity

David Schanoes dmsch at
Mon Jan 20 11:05:55 MST 2003


Read with interest the entire article on changes in Cuban agriculture.

I don't think the picture is quite that clear.  Indeed I think it is
mistaken to speak of Cuban agriculture as self-sufficient, or

Examining the UN FAO measures of total agricultural imports by value reveals
the following:  1994, $647 mill;  1995, $765 mill; 1996 $811 mill; 1997,
$840 mill; 1998, $776 mill;
99, $752 mill; 00, $668 mill; 01 $738 mill.

There is growth and contraction in the value of the imports, a growth and
contraction that is reflected in the record for exports.  Those values are:
94, $901m; 95, $892m; 96, $1.2bill; 97,  $1.0b; 98, $853m; 99, $667m; 00,
$629m; 01, $752m.

Both these elements of trade are driven by output.  Primary crop production
in Cuba rose sharply from 95 to its peak in 96 at 44,369, 942 metric tonnes,
fell sharply in 98 to 35.5 mill and has remained in the 37-40 mmt/year
since then.  Despite the substantial increases and declines of specific crop
outputs, sugar cane accounts for 93-94 percent of primary crop output.

Has Cuba succeeded in overcoming the terrible days of the special period.
Yes.  Has it allowed for private farming, private markets, and private
ownership in agricultural production, Yes.  Has that production and that
ownership, by virtue of its small, decentralized, balanced nature, made a
greater variety of foodstuffs available to all?  No.

First, that production is not the product of the "resourcefulness," of the
individual proprietor (notice how the terms used by Mr. Rosset converge so
comfortably with the terms used to applaud the "entrepeneurial spirit.")
The fact of the matter is that the small individual producers are in fact
subsidized by the Cuban state.  The land, seed, oxen, are provided at a
significant discount by the state's collective resources.  If everything
from seed to transportation is subsidized and the farmer is allowed to sell
products for market prices, then the magic isn't in the harmony of town and
country or land and cultivator, the magic is in the market, a magic called

Which gets me to the second point:  It is dangerous to abstract this
positive story  from the overall changes taking place in Cuba since the
special period with the transition to the multi-tiered economy, one peso,
one dollar, and the tier of "entrepreneurship," in between.  And it is wrong
to think these changes in the economy were created in isolation from the
world market.  The adoption of the dollar economy, made possible by
remittances of dollars from Cubans abroad has been a critical element in the
economic and social changes.  These social changes, triggered by the fact
that goods not available to all are available to anyone with dollars has
produced tremendous stress, not the least notable of which are the dollar
farmers' markets, the hard currency stores, the "particulars,".   The hustle
for dollars has become a secondary occupation for many and the primary
occupation for some.  Monthly  wages for Cuban professionals are more than
dwarfed, they are eclipsed by the tips a waiter in an international hotel
makes in two or three nights.  For illustration purposes,  a mathematic
teacher in Havana wanted to sell me a box of Cohibas for $30.  As we talked
he told me he loved teaching but his monthly salary was the cost of one box.

The point is when dollars can command goods, goods become commodities, and
the commodities will command labor.

This not to attack the Cuban govt for taking steps to revitalize its
economy, it is only to point out the dangers in thinking this a sufficient
model and/or one without reactionary potential.



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