The Militant (logo) 
Vol.64/No.2      January 17, 2000 
'We want to learn about the agrarian reform in Cuba'  
Farmers explain reasons for participation in fact-finding trip 
ATLANTA - "When I get to Cuba, I would like to thank comrade Fidel Castro for helping to free Nelson Mandela," said Eddie Slaughter, a Buena Vista, Georgia, farmer and paper mill worker who will be participating in a February 13-20 fact-finding trip to Cuba by U.S. farmers.

"ABC, CBS, and NBC has us thinking America did it," he told a meeting here to publicize and raise funds for the trip. "But thousands of Cuban troops did the job," along with freedom fighters from Angola and the African National Congress of South Africa, when they defeated a massive invasion of Angola by the army of the racist, white-minority apartheid regime in 1988.

The Cuban internationalist volunteers "put the finishing touches on in it in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale, a town in Angola. That opened a new chapter in the freedom struggle. That led to Mandela's release from prison," Slaughter said.

"I want to go to Cuba," he said, "because I would like to understand exactly how they do it: how they fight racism, bigotry, and hatred when it can't be done here."

The farmers will be hosted in Cuba by the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), which represents the economic and social interests of Cuban peasants. It was founded in 1961 and has 200,000 members including over 28,000 women. They will meet and exchange experiences with Cuban farmers, visit different kinds of farm cooperatives, and learn about the Cuban revolution.

Slaughter, who is also the national vice-president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association (BFAA), chaired a December 18 meeting attended by 40 people. The event was sponsored by the Atlanta Network on Cuba (ANOC) which is organizing the farm delegation.

"It has been a long-term dream of mine to see the normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba," said Reverend Tim McDonald in welcoming the group of farmers, workers, and activists to the First Iconium Baptist Church. "To have that cause married with the cause of the Black farmers is almost unbelievable." Meeting participants came from Atlanta, , Birmingham, Tampa, Miami, as well as southern Georgia.

At the meeting each of the farmers explained why they decided to join the delegation, and about their struggle to hold onto their land in the face of the worst worldwide farm crisis in decades.

Lee Dobbins told the meeting that both his father and his grandfather were sharecroppers in Greensboro, Georgia. "I would like to be a farmer, " said Dobbins, who is the secretary of the Georgia chapter of BFAA.

Dobbins explained that his views on Cuba "changed 360 degrees" after meeting Luis Morejón and Itamys García, two Cuban youth leaders who toured the U.S. in the spring of 1999. While in Georgia, Morejón and García met members of the Georgia BFAA and toured several farms that belong to the South Georgia Vegetable Producers Cooperative.

"Those young people were vehement about Cuba. They were unconditionally and unequivocally pro-Cuba," stated Dobbins. "When people in the audience tried to debate them, they stood their ground. They gave quick, accurate answers, such as, 'Hey, this is our country, we know what's going on.'

"This didn't line up with what I'd been told about Cuba. I knew these were the real people of Cuba. When I gave Itamys a BFAA button, she was deeply moved. When we disturbed a seed of corn when we were on the farm, Luis didn't relax until I planted that tiny seed back into the soil. My heart went out to them. I want to go to Cuba and see the whole thing for myself. The Cuban people suffer from an embargo of one type and the American people suffer from an embargo of factual information," he said.

Gladys Williams, a member of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and the South Georgia Vegetable Producers Cooperative, also spoke. "I live in a small town in southwest Georgia," she told the meeting. "The conditions are very bad; the people are in distress. We have no medical care and some of us can't read. We are poor and there is brutality by the police."

"We got very curious," the farmer said, "when we learned that in Cuba young people went into the mountains to teach everyone, young and old, and in the smallest towns how to read. It shows us that it is possible to solve a problem - all you have to do is want it bad enough. We like the idea that rent is 10 percent of your income, instead of having to pay most of what you make, like the government housing in this country.

"Most of all we want to learn about the agrarian land reform, how it was achieved, and how those same methods can be applied here in my own country and community," Williams said. "It impresses us that 40 years later, the small farmer still is the owner of the land in Cuba."  

1959 agrarian reform in Cuba

Williams was referring to the 1959 agrarian reform law, which more than any act defined the character of the workers and farmers government established by Cuban working people after overthrowing the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Millions of acres of large landed estates held by U.S. and Cuban ruling families were confiscated and hundreds of thousands of peasants received titles to the land that they worked. Since the victory of the Cuban revolution, no working farmer has been foreclosed on for nonpayment of debts or forced to sell their land to someone else.

"Look at the tremendous hypocrisy of America. They try to get us to believe that they were bombing Yugoslavia to protect the Albanian minority, while back in America, they have stolen 13 million acres of land from the Black farmers," added Slaughter. "I was born in America, and raised in America, and I have been chasing this American dream.

"But I can't stand this capitalism with all of its injustices, living off its ability to exploit somebody. If I can't be a capitalist, I might as well see the world, and go to a country where farmers are respected, where cultivating the soil is considered important."  

A government of workers and farmers

Karl Butts, a vegetable farmer from Plant City, Florida, explained that what attracts him most about the trip to Cuba is "the chance to see a government which is not the paid representatives of a few wealthy families, but a government of workers and farmers. We want to tell others when we come back about a different set of values, of the human solidarity and culture that Cuba has."

The delegation has decided to apply for a license from the U.S. Treasury Department to travel to Cuba. In 1999, over 2,800 individual licenses to Cuba were granted, including many to individuals involved in agriculture - primarily representatives of giant agribusiness corporations that are interested in opening up trade to Cuba to sell wheat, rice, soybeans, and other farm produce. But some delegations have also included a few working farmers.

"What do the U.S. Grains Council, the American Farm Bureau, Archer Daniels Midland, John Deere, and the U.S. Wheat Associates have in common?" asked James Harris, a member of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) and the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party, who will also participate in the delegation.

"They have all gone to Cuba this year, and been given licenses with the full blessing of the U.S. government. Why shouldn't workers and farmers who want to go also be given a license or at least the same opportunity? The decision to get a license for this trip sets a good precedent," Harris said.

While in Cuba, the farmers plan to publicize the recent class-action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) which was initiated by farmers who are Black in response to extensive racist discrimination by the government agency. More than eight months after the farmers forced the government to admit guilt and promise a financial settlement, the vast majority of farmers haven't seen any change in government lending policies or any money as of this date.  

Worsening conditions on farm

Since the settlement in the farmers' suit, conditions have actually worsened. A case in point is that of Willie Head, a Georgia vegetable farmer and plaintiff in the suit who will also be making the trip to Cuba. Like thousands of farmers, Head has not received the $50,000 promised by the government's consent decree. Now he is having a difficult time getting any new loans or credit because the banks and creditors believe he has already received a settlement check. To make matters worse, he wasn't receiving loans or credit in the first place. Head was unable to attend the ANOC meeting due to the press of daily work necessary to sustain his farm under these conditions.

Melvin Bishop, president of Georgia BFAA, invited participants at the meeting to join the farmers in a protest on January 17 in Atlanta. "We are asking you to join with us because we will be marching and demonstrating. We demand to know why the USDA doesn't discipline its people in the field who have violated the Black farmers' rights," Bishop said. "We will be uniting with striking truck drivers and everyone else marching for fair treatment on the Martin Luther King Day holiday."

Bernardo Gómez, coordinator of the Atlanta Network, says the committee is organizing speaking engagements for the farmers when they return. "The farmers will be in an excellent position to clearly explain how the agrarian reform works and the benefits it has brought to farmers and the Cuban population in general. It is our hope," Gómez said, "that Cuba solidarity groups, farmers' groups, colleges and universities, and grassroots organizations will host these meetings. We have already gotten some initial requests for presentations by the farmers. I also want to acknowledge the Committee on Cuban Youth and Education, based in Los Angeles, which organized the speaking tour for two Cuban youth last spring. Without their efforts, we would not be in a position to organize a farmers trip to Cuba one year later."

"The national tours, and the collaboration between Cuba solidarity groups, students, workers, and farmers is important, and we shouldn't underestimate the results of this work," Gómez said.

For more information on the fact-finding trip to Cuba contact: Atlanta Network on Cuba, P.O. Box 5560, Atlanta, GA 31107.

Arlene Rubinstein is a member of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association. Gladys Williams from Quitman, Georgia, contributed to this article.  
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