How Can You Fight Injustice in Cuba?

March 20, 2017 |

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

Making the famous Cuban cigars. Photo: cubadebate.cu

HAVANA TIMES — A political system which doesn’t have feedback, nor is founded on democratic elections, will never be able to truly fight injustice, anywhere! If those who rule the country and decide for the rest of us what will happen to the economy and society make a mistake, we have no way of urging them to rectify their wrongs; and even if they are resolved to do so one day, it won’t happen with the speed which these things deserve.

This happens in every aspect of Cuban life: let’s remember that it took them decades to rectify the aberrant ban on selling your own home or car; or being able to walk inside a hotel and be served; or talking to foreigners; or traveling freely.

In this article, I will give you a more current example of this, relating to tobacco production; which directly concerns me, as I am a producer. A very strange situation has come about due to a green stain, of an unknown origin, which affects tobacco plants but only reveals itself when the leaf is dry (once it has been cured). Nothing can conciously be done to prevent it and it depends on the harvest’s luck or not, as it appears for no logical reason whatsoever. We all guess it must be related to the environment.

However, it just so happens that this stain only affects the quality of tobacco, which cuts back on the production of outer wrappers. Wrappers are healthy, thin and Carmelite colored leaves which are used to wrap up a cigar. Logically, a stain or two will affect the traditional aesthetic of Cuban cigars. However, a cigar has three ingredients: fillers, binders and wrappers; and it’s only the wrapper that has to be flawless; and all three are important, you need all of them to make a cigar.

100 lbs of tobacco with green stains (which we call pintadilla here), gives very few wrappers, but a lot of binders and filler. Of course this means that it still maintains great commercial value not only in cigar manufacture, but cigarette manufacture too. According to the CUBATABACO spreadsheet, producing 100 lbs costs us 750 regular pesos or CUP (which is about 30 CUC or 35 USD); however in reality it’s another story, and can cost us up to 1000 CUP. There is a system of separate payment according to the percentage of wrappers produced, in order to stimulate production, but the worst thing is that the price for 100 lbs of tobacco which doesn’t produce wrappers is 300 CUP, even though it is all made use of and still has great commercial value.

Photo: Elio Delgado Valdes

Thanks to pintadilla, we have uncovered this injustice. To give you an idea: 5000 packs of cigarettes, which are sold on the domestic market for 7-15 CUP, depending on whether they are sold in CUC or CUP, and their packaging, are made from 100 lbs of supposedly “affected” but not “rotten” tobacco which the governemnt pays 300 CUP for (a third of the production price). If it was sold in CUC, this would bring in a net of 35,000 CUP and if it was sold in CUP, 75,000. Investments made in industry and salary are minimal when you take into account just how much they reap in profits.

Before pintadilla came onto the scene, we didn’t notice this injustice because we always produced a good percentage of wrappers and the price they paid us was around 2000 CUP. It’s still a relatively low price considering the State monopoly’s high return, but we have seen more scope for financial gain in this business than working elsewhere and so there were no problems. Now, after the disaster of this so-called “stain”, they want to pay us 300 CUP, as has been established, and make millions out of our sweat and hard labor; leaving us indebted to the state bank and without food on the table for our families.

We have been demanding a meeting with managers involved for over three months and we finally were able to sit down and talk, although a lot of important figures were missing. A committee of experts came and explained that this was the price that they should pay “because skilled people had determined that this was the fair price.” Many farmers protested and put forward their arguments. I raised my voice on many an occasion to reveal the injustice and lies of the company’s arguments, as well as how preposterous it was for them to pay for a “useless” product which creates plentiful earnings.

Our President of the local People’s Power took the tobacco farmers’ side and agreed that this price was outrageous, pressuring them to come up with a solution. The Cooperative President also cooperated and made a joint agreement that stated that tobacco would not be handed over until a satisfactory solution was proposed. A report will be carried out by the Communist Party municipal Secretary, who already knows about this situation and has called for it urgently. This is unprecendented in Mayari and is worrying the government/Party, because the issue is so serious that it has made people lose their fear and stand up firm against the state company. Nevertheless, we still have very little hope of changing the situation and we feel like we’re just throwing stones at the hill: we have very little power and the government’s indifference is huge.

Photo from a Cuban cigar factory by Elio Delgado Valdes.

The saddest thing though is that the local tobacco company (UEB-Mayari), which belongs to the national CUBATABACO Company, doesn’t have the power to decide anything, because everything is centralized and controlled by the State. A solution would take a very long time via the Cuban bureaucracy system and there’s also the fact that they never give into the working population’s demands, but rather decimate and scare us by giving our struggle ideological and political hues. However, I don’t know how they’ll rise above such a touchy subject like the current one, which affects the pockets of thousands of families who have no other way of getting by.

Marti once said: “We will win every kind of equality.” I don’t know the context of this quote, but it is used a lot in official propaganda; so it must be true. I voided the company experts’ arguments, which were in favor of abusing tobacco farmers, with this same phrase because it’s never too late to right an injustice. However, the Revolution doesn’t give us space to do this: it’s a sad fact and this is just another example. We will see how things turn out for our struggle; things are gradually changing and our people need to learn, tripping and tripping again, to fight for their rights.

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  • CUBAQUS

    You can’t without paying a very high price regretfully. In Cuba politics, economics, education, housing, work, … are all intertwined and controlled by the same elite that will protect it’s (often corrupt) cronies. Under the principle Octavio Paz once explained: corruption (and it’s resulting abuse) is the oil that makes the machine work and the glue that keeps the regime together. Of everything I heard in my life this is one of the most wise statements. It applies to all societies where abuse is going on. At least in the US judges from Hawaii to the mainland can keep Trump in check. That sets Cuba apart from the US: separation of powers. That doesn’t exist in Cuba.