A Clear Example of Cuba’s Cooperative Movement

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

ANAP (the Small Farmers Association) oversees Cuba’s cooperative movement for the Communist Party and virtually elects its leaders.

HAVANA TIMES — I have been farming the land and been a member of a credit and service cooperative (CCS), for over five years now. It is called “Desembarco del Granma” and is based in my community, of Mayari, Holguin. This mode of production is the closest thing there is to a real cooperative here in Cuba.

The CPAs (agricultural production cooperatives) and the UBPC (basic unit of cooperative production) are clearly state companies dressed up as cooperatives more than anything else. And, if you take a close look, the more recent non-agricultural cooperatives have just been a way of legalizing, without recognizing, some small and medium-size companies, which were created or needed to encourage activities which are too “heavy” for the self-employment sector.

I would like to know of an example of a real cooperative of any kind existing in Cuba. One where members are real partners and not what they are here in reality: workers who are “better paid” than those in a state-run company, under the blanket of “cooperative members”; or land owners who are obliged to join a CCS in order to access credits, services, inputs, seeds, supplies and market, which the law doesn’t give them as independent farmers. It sounds mandatory, right?

I don’t know the regulations of a non-agricultural cooperative, but I doubt it’s very different to those of an agricultural one. If you break it down, and you have basic knowledge about what a cooperative is, you will only see an imitation, a malicious and manipulative creature.

They are rife with contradictions, but for now, I only need a recent example to reflect this sad reality. We had “elections” at my CCS last month. Just imagine that more than two thirds of us didn’t want the same board to continue on for more than enough important reasons. The local ANAP (Small Farmers Association) has imposed them on us for a long time, using electoral mechanisms which can easily be manipulated. They have used several strategies and inventions to stop what farmers want from being put into action.

Now, the situation is critical as things have reached a point where everything works extremely poorly, our resources are being used in an abusive and shady manner, and they have immunity. However, we can’t get rid of them! We’ve been stuck with them again after a process which was even more rigged!

However, this time the  farmers didn’t lower their heads and didn’t go home mumbling to themselves like they have done so many times in the past. They raised their voices and they want to repeat this process but with more transparency. There was a great commotion to challenge and stand up to municipal ANAP’s tyranny. It’s a difficult battle to win because of the many mechanisms that exist here to silence any popular demands. Hopefully it will succeed, because the political conspiracy, influence peddling and corruption are too interwoven in our country, to a greater extent than ideology itself.

For some reason, (and there are speculations of corruption), Mayari’s municipal ANAP is very interested in continuing with this inefficient leadership. They don’t produce successful results and they constantly violate the most fundamental rules of accounting and controls, but that fact is completely ignored by the local ANAP officials. I know about these many irregularities very well, just like all the other members do, but it would be suicide for me to write about them here, as I am already the target of “the law” instead of the corrupt “partner/socialists”.

It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t a one-off problem. Due to the existing regulations, farmers can’t democratically elect their president from among themselves. The election process is a faithful copy of the Cuban electoral system. An Electoral Committee is chosen, preferably put forward, suggested and even agreed between the ANAP and the CCS board so they can steer the process.

Farmers are banned from putting candidates forward at their General Assembly. They only have a right to tell the Committee, which visits them, in secret, thereby not knowing who the others have put forward. In the end, the Committee finally chooses the eleven colleagues in total who they say were put forward the most. You have to trust the system, as there’s no other choice. They are then voted in with a single cross and if they receive more than 50% of the vote, they are approved.

This is more of an approving process rather than an “election”, similar to the “election” of National Assembly lawmakers. Just some differences: Eleven votes (crosses) need to be made and if you don’t like a candidate or several, you need to cross them out and write down another name at the end as a replacement. What a process! It’s a real master plan to make us vote without really choosing, to simulate there’s democracy when all there is are rigged and manipulated elections.

But, that’s not all. This is just how members of the Board of Directors are chosen. You would think that we members would have the opportunity to put forward and elect our cooperative’s own president and vice-president from amongst us. But, we can’t! The new Board meets behind closed doors with the ANAP person who oversees it, along with the Electoral Committee, and they listen to proposals among themselves, but it’s a foregone conclusion that whoever the ANAP puts forward ends up winning.

Just imagine the super “democratic” result that comes out of such a process. The Assembly of members waits outside for their verdict. They then come out and inform the members, without giving us details about the number of votes there were, percentages or anything. This is how the most unpopular candidate or whoever suits the ANAP’s sensors can perfectly become president, which is what effectively happened at my cooperative.

This is just an example of the contradiction between what is supposed to be a Cuban cooperative and the very concept of the cooperative movement, where democracy should be the foundation of it working. The sad thing is that the same thing happens within every other aspect of Cuban “cooperatives”.

It would be interesting to continue exploring this subject from different perspectives, because there really are lots of us who sincerely believe in the need to push the cooperative movement forward as part of a more efficient and fair economy that the country needs. However, it needs to inevitably stem from the critical recognition of what we currently have and from the pragmatic push of what needs to be encouraged in the future.

  • gary maybarduk

    Very useful information. I would like to read more first hand observations on the workings of the CCSs as well as the UBPCs.

  • Jon

    What does it mean to be a target of the law? And what happens if you refuse to vote?