Tuesday, 22 July 2008
Cuba to grant private farmers access to land
MEXICO CITY: President Raúl Castro continued his rollout of changes in Cuba on Friday with the start of a plan to boost the island's sluggish food production by granting private farmers access to up to 99 acres of unused government land.Cuba seized land from most large-scale farmers after the 1959 revolution; the latest announcement in the Communist Party newspaper Granma stopped well short of a return to pre-revolution private enterprise.Under the new system, private farmers, who have continued to exist under Cuba's socialist system, would have access to the plots for up to a decade, with leases renewable if conditions were met and taxes paid. Cooperatives and state farms would also qualify for more land, for up to 25 years. But the fields would stay in the hands of the government, which controls an estimated 90 percent of the island's economy.The new plan, mentioned several months ago but formally announced Friday, is intended to jump-start food production at a time when Cuba is feeling the effects of the global rise in food prices. Last year, Cuba spent nearly $1.5 billion for food imports, much of that from producers in the United States that were granted a special exemption from Washington's trade embargo on Cuba. This year, the island's bill for food imports is expected to rise by another $1 billion, officials have said, calling the issue one of national security.Cuba's government released statistics last month showing that fallow or underused agricultural land had increased to 55 percent in 2007, up from 46 percent five years earlier, The Associated Press reported.