Mamonal, a village located in one of the ferti l e President Castro painfully listed the commit- valleys of Ciego de Avila, was once the king of ments unfulfilled by Cub a ’s former allies: tomatoes and sugar, as well as a host of other As of September 30 , we had pr oducts. Farmers eschewed hoes for large trac- rec e i v ed none of the rice, 50% of the split tors, oxen for agricultural combines, and water- peas, 16% of the vegetable oil, 7% of the ing cans for micro-jet irrigation systems. la r d, 11% of the condensed milk, 47% of Mamonal tomatoes wer e shipped from one end the butter, 18% of the canned meat, 22% of the island to the other. The Mamonal can- of the powde r ed milk, 11% of the fres h ne r y produced tomato purée in 55-gallon and canned fish, 16% of the ferti l i ze r s , dr ums, as anything smaller may have seemed none of the sulphur . . . not worth the effort. Ten years ago an economic crisis brought this all to a dramatic halt. Despite Cub a ’s lying half a world away, its “Why bother planting?” rem a r ked Rey n a l d o economy had been nearly completely dependent Gar cía, a 65-year-old farmer from Mam o n a l . on the Soviet bloc. In 1987, for example, 88% “We didn’t have seeds. We didn’t have ferti l i ze r . We didn’t have fuel for tractors or electricity for the water pumps. Nothing would grow.” The tomato yield in 1994 was negligible— only 5% of its peak five years earlier. Wit h o u t tomatoes, thousands of seasonal workers lost their employment and the cannery opened only ten days that yea r . And it was not just the toma- to industry, but all industries from sugar to pharmaceuticals, that collapsed in the economic crisis. Without food in the fields, people in the cities went hungry. The breakup of socialism first in eastern Eur ope in 1989 and then in the Soviet Union in 1990 created a major crisis in Cuba known as the “special period.” Cuba lost 80% of its export of Cub a ’s trade took place with eastern Euro p e Until the economi ma r ket and its imports fell by 80%—from $8 and the USSR. Gen e r ous trade agreements had crisis, Cuban farms billion to $1.7 billion—practically overnight. al l o wed Cuba to trade sugar for oil—generating used prop o rt i o n a l l y as many tractors a The country went into shock as employ- an enormous capital surplus which in turn U.S. farms. Her e ment, production, and standards of living wen t permitted Cuba to make a sustained inves t m e n t sugar cane com- into a tailspin. In the cities, buses stopped run - in industry, agriculture, health, and education.4 bines move from ning, generators stopped producing electricity, Thus for decades Cubans had the brea t h i n g one cane field to an o t h e r . [Rod e r i c k factories became as silent as gravey a r ds. Obt a i n - space to circu m v ent the worst effects of the U.S. Sin c l a i r ] ing enough food for the day became the pri- embargo against Cuba. After 1989 every t h i n g ma r y activity for many, if not most, Cubans. At changed; without the aid of the Soviet Uni o n , the Cuban Communist Part y ’s fourth Congres s , Cubans wer e left at sea. Cuban Agriculture, Sovi e t-s ty l e Cuban agriculture was particularly vulnerable. In the 1960s and 1970s the rev olution had reshaped agriculture under the principles that the state is the central force and that mechaniza- tion would raise the dignity of human labor. Th re e - q u a r ters of the arable land was held by large state farms, which predominantly pro- duced a single crop: sugar. Agriculture depended heavily on chemical inputs. In fact Cuban farms used more ferti l i z er than U.S. farms (see chart be l o w). Bef o r e the economic crisis Cuba import- ed 1.3 million tons of chemical ferti l i z ers (Mur - ph y , 1999); today the figure is not more than Soviet and U.S. models in that it was large- During the crisis 160,000 tons (Gut i é r r ez intervi e w, May 2001).5 scale, oriented towards export, subsidized, the Cuban diet Bef o r e the crisis, Cuba used 17,000 tons of her- heavily mechanized, and dependent on chemi- has lacked pro- teins. Only those bicides, and 10,000 tons of pesticides (Mur p h y , cal inputs. This made the Cuban model who could afford 1999); today Cuba uses 1,900 tons (Gut i é r r ez extremely vulnerable to dramatic changes in high prices could in t e rv i e w, May 2001). Farms wer e also heavily the trade and aid environment. buy chickens, such me c h a n i z ed at a level comparable to the Uni t e d Although the infrastructure for capital- as these sold in an open market in States. One cooperative president told the intensive agriculture still existed, in 1990 the Santiago de Cuba. authors, “We had more tractors than we could Cuban agricultural model began to collapse as use.” He added, “When the ministry told us to one problem after another halted production. go to the port to pick up a new tractor, we said Imported inputs vanished—no chemical fer- that we wer e too busy. We never went.” tilizers, animal feed, tools, seeds, wire, or ani- Many have compared the Cuban model to mal vaccines. Fuel for tractors and irrigation the Soviet model of collective farms. Although systems was practically unobtainable, as were there were similarities, unlike the Soviet ti r es or batteries or spare parts. Cub a n - p ro d u c e d Union, Cuba never forced collectivization and goods such as feed, pipes, tools, fertilizers, and retained a high percentage of private farmers. pesticides dried up because of the same litany Cuban agriculture was similar to both the of problems: no raw materials, no electricity
High Input Agriculture
Fert i l i z e r s 1989 Me c h a n i z a tion 1989 Ir r i g a tion 1989 (k g / h e c ta re ) (t ra c to rs / 1 00 hectar es) (i r r i g at i o n / c u l t i v ated area )
200 3 20%
15% 2 100 10% 1 5%
0 0 0% ■ Cu b a ■ LA / C a r r i b b e a n ■ U. S . ■ Cu b a ■ LA / C a r r i b b e a n ■ U. S . ■ Cu b a ■ LA / C a r r i b b e a n ■ U. S .
(S O U R CE: Pér ez, p.77, based on 1995 FAO data) Cub a ’s case has been strikingly different. Fir s t of all, the government held, despite the dire pre- dictions. Th r oughout the worst years, 1993 to 1995, two basic government policies kept the food crisis from emergency levels: food pro- grams for the vulnerable population (the elderly, ch i l d r en, and pregnant and lactating mothers) and the state food distribution system throu g h the ration card (although drastically red u c e d co m p a r ed to levels in the 1980s). Social unres t has been minimal even though the differen c e s ha v e increased between the have’s and the have- no t ’s in a society where those differences had ta t e - o p e ra t e d to run the factories, no functioning trucks, been successfully reduced. Government policies st o r es, known as and no petroleum. and farmers’ practices have rev amped prod u c - odegas, became The rural economy in Cuba slowed and then tion and distribution systems and regained a epleted as the mount of food practically stopped. Tractors stood useless in the basis of food security. This type of widesprea d isbursed throu g h fields, electric pumps went dry as crops wilted in change would be rem a r kable in normal times, he ration system the fields, and animals died or wer e slaughtered dr opped by half. for food as their feed disappeared. Acc o r ding to [St e v e Cag a n ] The impact on food security was disast r ous. Daily the Economists Intelligence Uni t ’s evaluation, the agricultural sector began to contract by 10.3% in pe r- c a p i t a caloric intak e fell from 2,908 in 1989 to 1992, then by 22.7% in 1993 and by 4.9% in 1, 8 63 calories in 1995, according to the USDA, 1994. By 1994, agricultural production had plummeted to 55% of its 1990 level. Prod u c t i o n and prot ein intak e dropped by 40%. Some est i m a te d decline was only half the story. Without res o u rc e s to distribute, refrigerate, or store them, crop s that the aver age Cuban lost 20 pounds by 1994. spoiled or rotted in the field. The impact on food security was disastrou s . but the fact that the Cubans wer e able to Daily per-capita caloric intake fell from 2,908 ac h i e v e it with the over whelming shortages and in 1989 to 1,863 calories in 1995, according to sc a r city of the economic crisis is unique and the USDA, and protein intake dropped by should be closely studied. 40%. Some estimated that the average Cub a n The strategies that the government adopted lost 20 pounds by 1994. in the mid-1990s to reform Cuban agriculture When developing countries go into economic were key in the recovery. However, these kinds fr ee fall, such as Indonesia in 1998 or Ecu a d o r of policy changes alone do not necessarily in 2000, often the extremes deepen between the produce the results they did in Cuba. In fact, rich and the poor. The poor suffer more. Th e r e they have led to impoverishment in other is usually no corresponding attempt on the part countries. The reforms worked in Cuba of the government to assess the situation, devise because Cubans built on a stable rural sector, a plan for food security, and protect the most where small farmers maintained their land vulnerable. The result is social unrest, the col- rights and where agrarian development poli- lapse of governments, and a steady decline in the cies produced a modernized peasantry unique health and well-being of the people at the bot- in Latin America (see chapter II). tom of the scale. The Economic Cost of the U.S. Embargo $1 3 per ton. Instead, Cuba is forced to buy from Europe at $2 5 to $28 per ton — ro u g h l y twice the cost. Cuban families will eat rice twice a day, yet Cuban farmers A 1999 study by the Relief and Reh a b i l i t ation Networ k , pr oduce insufficient quantities for the demand. This meant a British orga n i z a tion, est i m a ted that U.S. sanctions have th a t in 1999 Cuba imported 350,000 tons of rice, most of it imposed on Cuba a virtual “penalty” of 30% on imports fr om halfway across the world. But the cheapest rice is pro- because of the increa sed purch a sing and shipping costs duced a few hun d r ed miles away in Texas, Louisiana, and en t ailed to avoid the U.S. embargo. What does this mean Ar ka n s a s. Because Cuba is denied access to its closest suppli- in terms of nutrition? Food imports dropped by one third er , the producer of the highest quality and most inexp e n s i v e fr om 1989 to 1994, the same period in which caloric so u r ce of grains in the world, and the wor l d ’ s large st nati o n a l in ta k e dropped by 38%. Instead of being forced to pay ec o n o m y, Cuba’s trade costs are significantly higher. this 30% penalty imposed by sanctions, if Cuba had been Acc o r ding to a 1997 study by the American Ass o c i at i o n able to import 30% more food, the food deficit would have of World Health, without the embargo, Cuba could pur- been erase d . ch a se grain from a U.S. supplier shipping from a U.S. port at
The Tee th of U.S. Sancti o n s in foodstuffs alone, and making food imports As Cuba’s economy began to spiral downward mo r e expensive is part of the embargo strategy. in the early 1990s, Cubans began to feel the But the U.S. sanctions have also made it more effect of U.S. sanctions. The U.S. government costly and sometimes proh i b i t i v e for Cuba to tried to hasten the regime’s downfall with the pr oduce more food and agricultural exports . 1992 Cuban Democracy Act, which prohibit- Cub a ’s intensive agriculture depended on high ed ships that docked in Cuban ports from quantities of ferti l i ze r , pesticides, spare parts , entering U.S. ports for 180 days and which ma c h i n e r y, and fuel oil. Obtaining these supplies proscribed sales to Cuba by U.S.-owned for- el s ew h e r e was more expensive—at least 30% eign subsidiaries. The law ended $500 million hi g h e r , according to the 1999 British rep o r t “Th e of U.S. sales to Cuba and effectively increased Impact of Economic Sanctions on Health and Cuba’s shipping costs by 43% (American Wellbeing,” published by the Relief and Reh a b i l - Association of World Health). As Cuba’s econ- itation Net w o r k. In addition, the sanctions omy plummeted to its depths, in 1996 the impeded critical linkages between financing, sup- U.S. Congress passed the Helms-Burton law, plying, producing, processing, and marketing. which sanctioned companies of third world A number of reputable studies have found countries for “trafficking” in properties expro- that the U.S. sanctions have caused suffering priated by the Cuban state, a category that and even death. The American Association for could be applied extremely broadly.6 World Health study on “Denial of Food and Measuring the precise impact of U.S. sanc- Medicine: The impact of the U.S. embargo on tions is tricky as it is often difficult to assess health and nutrition in Cub a ” determined that which of the myriad economic problems in Cub a “the U.S. embargo of Cuba has dramatically ar e attributable to the U.S. embargo, which to harmed the health and nutrition of large num- the collapse of the USSR and eastern bloc, and bers of ordi n a r y Cuban citizens.” The same which to long-term inefficiencies in the Cub a n British study found the U.S. sanctions res p o n s i - system. Cub a ’s island economy—in crisis and ble for 7,500 excess deaths each year throu g h 7 dependent on trade—makes it particularly vul- the depths of the crisis. nerable to punitive sanctions. Cur r ently the annual import bill averages around $700 million