Thursday, October 20, 2011

Globe & Mail on Agricultural Reform

Fifty years later, an agricultural revolution
SAN ANTONIO, CUBA— From Friday's Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011 8:26PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011 11:08PM EDT

For years the land lay fallow, swallowed by thorny weeds. Strangers called it a lost cause. Armando Aroche saw a golden opportunity.

It was 2008 and Raul Castro, in his first major speech as Cuban President, made a shocking admission: 50 years of state-controlled agriculture had failed, resulting in chronic food shortages. The island was importing 80 per cent of the food it subsequently rationed for public consumption.

Mr. Castro offered free, 10-year leases on idle land to anyone willing to try their hand at farming.

Mr. Aroche, a rotund, 53-year-old peasant, was among the first to queue in San Antonio, a small municipality a half-hour drive from Havana.

“I was not afraid of anything,” he recalled. He had a faint childhood memory of a well on the southwest corner of a particular stretch of land, which he requested. He was awarded 7.28 acres and named his farm “San Juan.” He borrowed his neighbour’s tractor and irrigation system and, against all odds, managed to coax 68 tonnes of sweet potatoes and tomatoes from the earth that year, which he sold back to the state at a profit.

Today, he gazes out on his fields from beneath his sunhat. Too much rain means his tomato plants are flowering. His 1952 Ferguson tractor is on its last legs. A team of oxen plow the land as if in slow motion.

But despite these hardships, farmers such as Mr. Aroche are being held out as shining examples of the new face of Cuban socialism. The cabbage, onions, carrots and lettuce he cultivates are described by government officials as the fruits of their “new and improved system” that has boosted food production by awarding more land to peasants who farm it for a profit.

Since Decree No. 259 was passed in 2008, 170,000 peasants across Cuba have been granted land. In San Antonio alone, 410 people have applied for land with 283 of those applications granted.

“Pretty soon we will run out of lands to grant,” confessed Georgina Gutierrez Jimenez, president of the local chapter of the National Association for Small Farmers.

Each farmer can apply for a land grant of 13.48 acres. If the farm proves successful, they can apply for another. Farmers can also use their profits to buy their own equipment, insecticides and fertilizer – something the state used to strictly control. Each farm owner pays a 5-per-cent income tax to the state, and 3 per cent to the local agricultural co-operative.

Mr. Aroche, a trained mechanic, used to work at the “state enterprise of assorted crops,” and earned the equivalent of $9 a month. He demurred when asked about his income today, but acknowledged it is exponentially higher. For the past few years, his family has been able to afford long holidays on the beach.

He employs six workers, who are each paid a monthly wage of $12, plus a yearly bonus. They help themselves to food grown on the farm and often receive a small cash “tip” at the end of each day.

The new agricultural policy has succeeded in boosting food production, officials say.

“There has been an enormous impact,” said Arturo Aleaga Cespedes, a lawyer with the National Farmer’s Association. He cites a 60-per-cent increase in the production of rice, milk, vegetables and root vegetables.

However, it’s still not enough to satisfy Cuba’s food needs.

“We produce a lot, but the demand and consumption are always increasing,” Ms. Jimenez said.

Another challenge is persuading a younger generation of Cubans to take up their leaders’ challenge and return to the land. Many, like Mr. Aroche’s own children, were educated for urban jobs in state offices that are under enormous pressure to trim their bloated payrolls.

The country’s public service is set to lose up to half a million jobs over the next five years.

Mr. Aroche’s 26-year-old daughter, Joseline, quit her job as an economist when her son was born three years ago. Now, as she contemplates returning to the work force, she faces “not a lot of options,” she said.

Her father believes the future of his family, and that of his country, lies in the land: “To work in the field is very hard. It’s something most people don’t like, but it’s work that needs to be done,” he said.

The agricultural reforms – considered radical at the time – have proved to merely foreshadow larger changes sweeping through Cuba as the government relaxes its communist grip on everything from private enterprise to real estate in an attempt to generate revenue.

“The only problem is that all of this should have been done sooner,” Mr. Aroche added.

Globe & Mail Analyzes Economic Changes

Small acts of free enterprise attest to reform looming large in Cuba


HAVANA— From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011 9:53PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011 11:10PM EDT

Just off the Malecon, Havana’s famous seaside corniche, Omar Gatierrez strikes a deal to sell his ’56 Oldsmobile for the rough equivalent of $14,500. It’s the most money he’s ever made.

At a burger joint not far from there, Alfredo Garcia, an economist, shells out twice as much as he normally would for a strawberry milkshake just because it tastes good. Around the corner, Lazaro Rafael, a mechanic, haggles over the price of repairing an infirm Peugeot on the street near the sea where he lives.

These small acts of free enterprise would have been inconceivable in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Under his younger brother, Raul, however, they add up to dramatic economic reform that is quietly reconfiguring the country into something altogether different. Cuban authorities are careful to depict this restructuring as upgrading the revolution rather than forsaking it, yet underpinning it all is an overriding sense of urgency to change.

Floated by fickle Chinese credit and Venezuelan oil, the regime can no longer afford to finance the socialist ideals upon which it was founded. With Cuba at a crossroads, the future remains unclear. One path appears to lead to nowhere, should the regime prove too brittle to allow private enterprise to truly flourish. The alternative route, others worry, would morph the island into something resembling a Floridian mega-mall.

Both outcomes would be disastrous. Most analysts believe the country's true destiny lies in becoming a mixed economy where the state loosens its grip over some sectors but maintains leverage over others. The aim, Cuban sources said, is to have 35 per cent of the economy privatized by 2015. Achieving this elusive balance, however, will prove exceedingly difficult. The reforms that have been rolled out so far – such as allowing cars to be sold and licensing small businesses – have been relatively painless, eclipsing more agonizing ones that lie ahead.

For Cubans, many of whom have virtually no memory of life before the revolution, the reforms are confusing and their consequences unknown. The regime has vowed to implement a progressive tax structure to avoid a Russian-like result where vast amounts of wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few. But a schism of class – however minor – would symbolically violate Mr. Castro's symbolic contract with his people.

Over the next five years, for instance, the regime intends to lay off up to a million public-sector workers, equalling 10 per cent of its work force. Food rations, for which many Cubans rely on for their daily sustenance, are also due to be phased out. Betting on an increase in productivity, the government has promised to boost wages, but economists doubt it will be enough to keep pace with a rising cost of living, as goods are removed from the ration card.

“These larger state-led reforms are going to be wrenching,” said Christopher Sabatini, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly. One of the biggest obstacles to real change in Cuba, he argues, is the awkward paradox the regime finds itself in: Downgrading its leverage in order to save itself from ruin.

“There’s an inherent tension in any economic reform that involves the Cuban state reducing its own authority over the economy, which is [Fidel] Castro’s real legacy,” Mr. Sabatini explained.

Another problem is that while Cuban authorities seem to have a clear idea of the main focus of the restructuring – reducing the state payroll, nourishing the private sector, boosting food production – the government is vague on its timeline for implementing the changes and even more so on how it plans to deal with any fallout. The haphazard transition means that whenever one of the 311 new decrees issued by the Communist Party at its April Congress becomes law, few people on the street in Havana seem to notice or understand why they should care.

Josefina Vidal, director of the North America Department for Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the protracted rollout is deliberate: “It’s a slow process because we are very much interested in avoiding any kind of social impact. We don’t want anybody to be abandoned or left behind,” she said in a recent interview with The Globe And Mail. Some measures, she acknowledged, were easier to implement than others.

When it comes to defining Cuba’s end goal, officials are equally open-ended, maintaining the state is not trying to emulate other countries – such as China or Vietnam – but rather aiming to pursue an entirely unique set of reforms. Observers, however, disagree.

“They want this to be a made-in-Cuba type of economic system. But if it is made in Cuba it certainly resembles the Chinese approach, and it’s moving more and more in that direction,” said Arch Ritter, an economist at Carleton University who specializes in Cuba.

As he points out, Cuba’s economy is nowhere near China’s in terms of scale or scope. Also, China’s ruling Communist Party is less ossified than Cuba’s, which is still dominated by octogenarians. The recent death Cuba’s minister of defence, Julio Casas Regueiro, at the age of 75, highlighted the frailty of the state’s older generation of leaders who are still firmly in charge.

Without political renewal, analysts say Cuba’s economic reforms are doomed. “They are trying to let the economic genie out of the bottle while keeping the political genie in. That’s not going to work,” predicted Arturo Lopez-Levy, a former political analyst in the Cuban Interior Ministry and a lecturer at the University of Denver.

Meanwhile it remains unclear how Cuban society, much less the regime, will deal with social changes that will inevitably follow the economic ones. How will the state prevent Cuba’s new generation of entrepreneurs from accumulating the kind of wealth that could give rise to a new upper class? How will it ensure all Cubans have access to capital, not just the ones with relatives in Europe or Miami? How will it provide incentives for productivity and initiative if it plans to heavily tax the rewards of that?

“Don’t be fooled,” Mr. Sabatini says. “They want to preserve the system in many ways ... at least the perks of the system.”

As sweeping as Cuba’s current economic reforms are, key enterprises such as mining, oil and sugar production will remain in the hands of the state. Cuba’s health system and its lucrative tourist industry will also remain unchanged, at least for now. The rebranding of the revolution, Mr. Sabatini argues, is still very much a work in progress.

“What was Castroism anyways? It was really about survival. Cuba’s future will boil down to whatever it needs for political and economic survival, rather than any principled commitment to the revolution,” he said.

More Land to Private Farmers

Cuba to grant much larger plots to farmers

Reuters - Oct 19

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba will greatly expand the amount of land granted to private farmers, an agriculture official said on Wednesday, as the Communist-run country struggles to boost productivity in the sector.

Under new regulations expected to be approved this year, productive farmers will be eligible for temporary land grants covering as much as 165 acres (67 hectares), up from the current maximum of 33 acres (13 hectares) mandated in a 2008 decree, said William Hernandez Morales, the top agricultural official in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba.

"Those persons or lease holders that have really shown they can produce will be able to increase their land to five caballerias," he said on state-run radio. A caballeria is an old land measure still used in Cuba equivalent to 33 acres (13 hectares).

The state owns more than 70 percent of the arable land on the Caribbean island, of which some 50 percent lies fallow and the remainder produces less than the private sector.

A local agricultural expert said private farmers produce 57 percent of the food on only 24 percent of the land.

President Raul Castro has made increasing food production a top priority since taking over from his brother Fidel Castro in 2008, but with poor results.

In one of his key reforms, the government has turned over 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) of land to 143,000 farmers and would-be farmers since October 2008, but farmers have complained that the small size of the plots and other restrictions hampered production.

They said bigger plots and a recent measure that makes it easier to employ laborers were positive steps.

"This is special. They should redistribute all the fallow land that's been overrun with brush," Roberto Hernandez, a farmer who leased 33 acres in 2009, said in a telephone interview.

"Now the land produces nothing, when it should be producing root vegetables, beans, rice or what have you," he added.

Central Camaguey farmer Jorge Echemendia agreed.

"This is what they have to do without waiting any longer. I don't know how they do it, but when the state gives the land to the people they manage to clean it up, even if with their fingernails, and put it into production."

Castro has also decentralized decision-making, increased prices paid for produce, opened stores where secondary farm supplies such as clothing and tools are sold and promised farmers more freedom to grow and sell their crops.

Agriculture output increased 6.1 percent through June, compared with the same period in 2010, a year that saw a 2.5 percent decline despite the reforms.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

NPR report on emerging private sector

Entrepreneurs Emerge As Cuba Loosens Control

by NICK MIROFF, National Public Radio

September 20, 2011

Since Cuba's communist government loosened its grip on the economy, thousands of small private businesses have sprung up.

It's a new frontier for budding capitalists, but competition is fierce and advertising is still tightly restricted.

Snack bars and food stalls are now all over Havana, but there aren't many as distinctive as Tio Tito, or Uncle Tito. The first thing you notice is the uniformed employees, scrambling to serve up Hawaiian pizzas and fruit drinks as music videos play on a monitor behind the counter.

The napkins and the to-go containers carry the Tio Tito company logo, and there's even a slick website, which is hosted abroad. The red-and-gold color scheme is no coincidence either, says proprietor and would-be Cuban fast-food king Ivan Garcia. If those colors can work for McDonald's, he says, they just might work for him.

"Those are the colors that stimulate the appetite," Garcia says. "I didn't make that up, it's what the research shows."

Garcia's business is one of only two start-up food stands to make it in his Havana neighborhood. Six others have already gone under since last fall, when President Raul Castro let more Cubans go into business for themselves.

The Perfect Play, a baseball-themed snack bar, is quickly becoming famous among fans of Havana's beloved team, the Industriales. On the menu: coffee, milkshakes and sandwiches such as the "Dead Ball" (tuna).

Competing With The Government

These days it's no longer enough to hang a sign outside and sell sandwiches and coffee out the front door. Ismael Bello, another Havana entrepreneur, says the city has too many vendors trying to sell the same things, so he's trying something different.

With a new copy machine brought in from abroad, Bello and his family have started a printing and copy service called Avana, with an attractive, freshly painted storefront. He's competing directly with the Cuban government, setting prices at half of what state-owned copy shops charge.

"In five years, we could be a pretty big company," Bello says. "Next month we'll have our website, and if we keep adding products and services, we can grow."

It's not clear how big Cuban authorities will let these new businesses get as they try to build their brands and open new locations. The government's political messages and propaganda must now compete with more and more commercial signage, but advertising is still essentially banned.

So Cubans like Yanet Alvarez have found other ways to stand out. Her baseball-themed snack bar, the Perfect Play, is quickly becoming famous among fans of Havana's beloved team, the Industriales, attracting crowds to her converted garage.

Everything on the menu is named for something in the game, including a few rather unappetizing-sounding dishes like the Dead Ball and the Squeeze Play. But after toiling for years in drab state-run restaurants, Alvarez says it's exhilarating to be making her own business decisions.

"If a customer orders a sandwich, you have the freedom to say, 'Sure, I'll make it however you want it,' " Alvarez says.

That kind of choice is something of a novel concept in a country where nearly everyone still gets an identical government food ration. And the have-it-your-way ethos isn't the only formula being copied.

One new Havana establishment is calling itself Burger Rey — rey means "king" in Spanish. For now, with the U.S. embargo still firmly in place and no Whoppers to compete with, the market is wide open.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Globe & Mail Report on Emerging Private Sector

CAPITALISM In Cuba, it's Viva la evolucion!
HAVANA— From Thursday's Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011 8:42PM EDT
Last updated Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011 9:21PM EDT

Barbershops, beauty salons, restaurants and car washes have sprung up across Cuba in the year since the Communist Party allowed citizens to open small, private businesses in an effort to save the country from ruin.

The government says more than 157,000 people have qualified for business permits and are currently self-employed. This new generation of Cuban entrepreneurs is quietly reshaping the island’s stagnant revolution in a way that was inconceivable when Fidel Castro was in control. The economic changes brought about by his brother Raul, however, are proving slow to take hold.

Many are being implemented by young Cubans with virtually no memory of life before communism. Some new entrepreneurs are struggling to understand how to pay small-business taxes or navigate the country’s labyrinthine bureaucracy. With virtually no access to bank loans or credit, most are relying on family living abroad to float their new ventures.

Still, Cuba is buzzing with new energy as people attempt, for the first time in their lives, to make money outside of the underground economy. Business owners are experimenting with novel concepts, such as advertising and open competition. It’s unclear, however, how far the Cuban authorities will allow the reforms to go – whether small business owners will be permitted to accumulate vast amounts of wealth, for example, or build empires.

At the moment, however, these new entrepreneurs seem content enough to turn a profit they can officially pocket.


His idea for a restaurant might ring a bell: a fast-food joint with a red and yellow colour scheme where, for a couple of bucks, clients get a meal deal.

Mr. Pena, 39, spent a decade of his life as a poorly paid information officer in Cuba’s tourism department before he decided to open Tio Tito’s in January. He siphoned his savings, hawked his personal gym equipment and sold his mobile phone to finance the construction of a modest grill in his front yard, borrowing refrigerators and Tupperware from friends.

“Some of my friends thought I was crazy. Others encouraged me,” recalled Mr. Pena, his voice partially drowned out by the song Stand By Me blasting from a super woofer on a shelf, next to the mustard.

With no restaurant experience to speak of, he relied on what he gleaned as a customer from previous trips abroad, to Spain, Chile and Portugal. An American friend offered to design and build a website, which is hosted in Miami. He hired six employees, including his brother, Tito, who works as head chef, paying them the equivalent of $25 a month, plus a commission.

His inspired colour scheme? “If it works for McDonald’s it can work for me,” he reasoned.

The family has yet to recover their initial investment of $3,000. Business is brisk, however, and Mr. Pena is hopeful that soon he will turn a profit.

“I want Tio Tito franchises all over Havana,” he said.

He prefers the life of an entrepreneur to his previous existence as a bureaucrat.

“You’re obtaining profit from your own work. If you work more you will earn more. The disadvantage is that this is much more work than being an information officer.”


He’s led a double life since officially entering Cuba’s work force: During the day, he worked construction for a government ministry; by night he worked as an underground mechanic, fixing cars for friends and relatives at an unofficial workshop.

Between his two gigs, he earned about $15 a month.

His fortunes, however, changed in December when he quit his day job and applied for a business licence to open his own garage. Since officially opening shop, his income has tripled.

“I still have the same clients, but now I can do the work in the open,” Mr. Rafael, 31, said standing in the shade outside his seaside apartment in Havana’s quiet Miramar neighbourhood.

His wife, Rachel, is an economist in the provincial Communist Party office. Under Cuba’s new economic plan, her job could be in jeopardy as the country seeks to drastically trim its public service by half a million workers over five years.

With his own thriving business for them to fall back on, Mr. Rafael isn’t particularly worried. His biggest problem at the moment is finding a garage to rent – or even buy – when Cuba changes the law to allow people to purchase private property in the coming months.

For now he works on the street, which is strewn with cables and car parts.

Today, he is trying to coax an aging Peugeot to start. Five more cars await service with troubles ranging from a trunk failing to open to a broken headlight.

A team of government inspectors has paid a visit to demand proof he has paid his last instalment of taxes.

Mr. Rafael produced a bank receipt showing he paid the $40, but the inspectors said the government has not received it, and ordered him to pay it again.

“The system is not yet perfect,” he says, “but at least we are moving in the right direction.”


When she worked as a cook in a state-run cafeteria, her kitchen was fully stocked when she arrived at work each morning. Now, as her own boss, she scrambles to find basic supplies in the shops.

“This is very hard,” the mother of two teenagers said, standing behind the counter of La Jugada Perfecta, her baseball-themed restaurant dedicated to the Industriales, Cuba’s wildly popular baseball team that was founded 50 years ago in the wake of the revolution. The restaurant name translates as A Perfect Play.

“We are not used to this and we have to go out and find everything we need. It’s not like working for the state,” she added.

Sometimes she comes up short. Unable to source proper kitchen appliances, she appealed to relatives in Miami who sent a brand-name blender and two bright orange coolers from Home Depot.

Ms. Alvarez’s husband, an accountant, helped set up the books, but the restaurant is women-owned and women-run.

Most days, clients line up all the way to the sidewalk to order an Extra Base (hamburger with fries) or a Strike (bacon burger). The prices are roughly twice that of a state-run cafeteria.

“I don’t mind paying for quality,” said a 26-year-old economist named Alfredo Garcia, sipping on a strawberry milkshake.

Ms. Alvarez used to earn the equivalent of $80 dollars a month. Now she pays $16 tax every month, as well as about $4 in social security for each of her two employees, both cousins.

She is ploughing all her profits back into the restaurant, and hopes to one day pay back the relatives in Miami who floated her.

“Up to this point I believe we made the right choice,” Ms. Alvarez said.

“This is a new thing for us, but as time goes by I hope we are going to be well,” she said.


She’s a life-long bureaucrat who currently presides as director of the office for work and social services in Havana’s Plaza Revolucion.

She harbours no ambition to start her own business, but anyone in the neighbourhood who does must first receive the blessing of her staff, which issues all permits for the district.

Since the new law came into effect, about 40 people file through this crumbling building each day, searching for door No. 6, where a handful of state workers surrounded by broken filing cabinets sort through applications. The process takes about eight minutes.

Applicants submit their identity cards with two pictures and a written application. Five days later, they come back to pick up their permits. The process has been simplified from a few months ago, when applications had to be reviewed by the neighbourhood Committee to Protect The Revolution before permits could be issued.

On this day, Nara Creas, a 63-year-old who constructs costumes and pinatas for children’s birthday parties, has come to renew her license. Nelson Cruz, a 26-year-old taxi driver, is also applying for a permit, to turn his illegal taxi business into something official.

“Our department rarely takes five days to complete the application process. We can do it in one or two days,” Ms. Legra said with pride. Her office has processed roughly 6,000 applications since last October, when the decree came into effect.

Permit in hand, entrepreneurs then proceed to the local tax office for an assessment of how much they will pay per month.

After that, they can officially open for business.

Farmers Frustrated by Pace of Reform

28Sep2011 RTRS-Cuban farmers impatient with pace of reform

* Farmers charge local bureaucrats undermine reform
* Land lease program proves insufficient
* State maintains monopoly on key farm inputs and sales

By Marc Frank
HAVANA, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Cuban farmers are frustrated with the pace of reform under President Raul Castro, charging that bureaucratic bungling and self interest are undercutting efforts to increase production, according to a telephone survey by Reuters this week.
They said some of the hallmark reforms they once applauded, such as a land grant program and decentralization of agricultural management, were turning out to be woefully insufficient in practice.
Decentralization had become a double-edged sword as some local officials protect their interests and undermine a pledge by Castro to lift the state's monopoly on farm inputs and the purchase and sale of what they produce, farmers said.
Castro began leasing fallow state lands soon after taking over for his ailing brother Fidel in 2008.
He also decentralized decisionmaking away from the central government, increased prices paid for produce, opened stores where secondary farm supplies such as clothing and tools are sold and promised farmers more freedom to grow and sell their crops.
But the communist-run country's agriculture remains in crisis and the state monopoly remains in place more than three years after the reforms began.
In recent speeches, Castro himself has expressed growing impatience with bureaucrats hindering the implementation of wide-ranging reforms he says are needed to ensure the survival of Cuban socialism.
"It is a diabolical system that will drive you crazy," Arsenio, a farmer in Holguin province said of the state's food contracting system.
"You first sign a contract covering when and what you are going to plant in exchange for supplies. Later, you have to confirm and ratify how much you will produce, something that's just about impossible," he said, like others requesting that his full name not be used.
"And if you come up short, they demand compensation and if you produce more, they don't come get your produce because it wasn't contracted," he said.

Ninety-seven of Cuba's 169 municipalities are rural, where those who control agriculture control the only business and money flow in town.
The farmers charged that Castro's reforms were being sabotaged by these local power structures.
"Agriculture officials at the intermediary levels think that if they apply these reforms they will lose their own importance, lose their power and the advantages and privileges they now enjoy," said a retired president and still active member of a cattle cooperative in central Camaguey.
"That is why they keep looking for ways to limit reform: yes the contracts, yes centralized supplies, defining the quality of products and many more measures they take to force the producer to come to them, to depend on them," he said.
Agriculture output increased 6.1 percent through June, compared with the same period in 2010, a year that saw a 2.5 percent decline despite the reforms. But food production remains below 2005 levels and food prices at farmers markets have increased 7.8 percent this year, according to the government.
The state owns more than 70 percent of the arable land on the Caribbean island, of which some 50 percent lies fallow and the remainder produces less than the private sector.
"Private farmers currently produce 57 percent of the food on only 24.4 percent of the land," a local agricultural expert said.
The cash-strapped government imports 60 percent to 70 percent of the population's food.
Some 4 million acres (1.2 million hectares) of land have been granted to 143,000 farmers and would-be farmers since the land lease program began in October 2008, according to the Agriculture Ministry, around 50 percent of what is available.

Farmers said the numbers were deceptive because there was little financing to put land into production and the time, size and conditions of the leases undercut their purpose.
"The government says they have issued 13,000 bank credits, but the credits are very narrow, for example to buy livestock but not clear the land, purchase milking supplies or fencing," said Alfredo, a farmer in eastern Guantanamo province.
Plots of no more than 33 acres (13.42 hectares) are leased for ten years to new farmers under the land grant program, with the option to renew, but building homes on the land is prohibited.
Under Cuban land reform put in place after the revolution farmers could own up to 165 acres (67 hectares) of land, five times that offered under the land lease program.
"Only someone sitting in an office in Havana with no idea what goes on in the countryside would lease land for just ten years and prohibit building permanent structures on it," Jorge, the president of a group of private farmers in Camaguey who collectively receive credits and services from the state, said.
The Camaguey farm leader said the government should authorize building homes on the land and at the same time increase the size of land grants and make them indefinite.
Alfredo in Guantanamo agreed.
"It is absurd to try to work a plot of land and when the night arrives leave it till the following day. Who is going to protect your animals and crops?" he said.
(Editing by Jeff Franks and Jackie Frank)

MBA Program launched by Catholic Church linked NGO

Cuba opens doors to MBA studies
By Marc Frank, Reuters

In what may well signal a slight political and economic thaw in the communist-run country, Cuba has opened its first MBA programme.

The part-time programme is an educational initiative of the Roman Catholic Church. Small businesses and the church’s educational mission have traditionally been thwarted in the country and the programme, by Cuban standards, is a remarkable event.

The MBA is being run from the 18th-century San Carlos y San Ambrosio Seminary in Havana, home to the Felix Varela Cultural Centre, which sponsors the MBA. Plans for the centre originated at the Pontifical Council for Culture at the Vatican, which wants similar centres to be built in other big cities.

Outside the seminary, on Chacón Street, private taxi drivers trawl for fares and snack and artisan shops compete with the state for tourist dollars, attesting to the changing retail scene on Cuba’s streets.

“Private business was not favourably looked upon in Cuba just a year ago. An entrepreneur was even viewed as a criminal, a delinquent,” says Father Yosvani Carvajal, director of the centre. “Today businessmen are viewed as contributing to society and the economy, but with what tools? We are going to provide those tools ... how to start and run a business, marketing and the like.”

Fidel Castro, the former president, took over the country’s retail sector in 1968 in what he called the “Revolutionary Offensive”. Raúl Castro, who replaced his older brother in 2006, recently described that decision as a “mistake that was perhaps unavoidable at the time”, and has repeatedly stressed the need for the state to withdraw from secondary economic activity.

Professors from the San Antonio Catholic University of Murcia in Spain will teach the MBA classes for a week each month, with students studying the curriculum under the direction of Cuban economists for the remainder of the time.

Father Carvajal, a lean, soft-spoken man with a serene and seemingly permanent smile, says the MBA programme is the first of its kind in Cuba and marks an important milestone for the church.

“The MBA is just the first course [that] the centre’s new Institute for Ecclesiastic Studies will offer, mainly in the humanities and theology, for example psychology, in conjunction with foreign universities and Cuban professors,” he says.

“We are not questioning the state’s role in education, but the church, as part of its calling, has always been a teacher and this is now seen as something positive.”

Esade business school in Barcelona, Spain is part of a project led by the European Foundation for Management Development and financed by the EU, aimed at improving the management skills of Cuban executives. The project was due to start last year but is currently on hold.

In recent months, Cuba has lifted a myriad of restrictions on what it calls “working for oneself”, a euphemism in many cases for running a small business. Working for oneself was first introduced during the 1990s, but subsequently regulated by Fidel Castro to the point of extinction.

Last year there were about 150,000 “self-employed” out of a workforce of about 6m. Today, the “non-state sector” consists of 350,000 licensed tradesmen, small businesses and their employees, according to the government, which plans to move 35 per cent of the labour force into such activities and private farming in the next few years.

When the MBA students gathered last week for their first classes, their dreams were of bigger ventures than the family operations on Chacón Street. Local economists believe competition and market forces will eventually lead to more sophisticated businesses in retail services, small-scale manufacturing and construction.

“These students will certainly emerge with more than a diploma. They will have the knowledge they need to compete and that’s what this country needs,” one economist said.

. . .

Sceptics however, wonder if Mr Castro’s reforms will be shortlived, given the fate of less comprehensive reforms in the past.

“These are surprising, really unthinkable changes for someone who has always lived in Cuba, so I understand the sceptics,” says Father Carvajal. He points to reforms that make it easier to go into business on a limited scale and include the right to hire workers, seek bank credit and do business with the state. “I think this time the door has been opened and will never again close. That is why we are offering the MBA course.”