Latin American Network Information Center - LANIC

FL172340 Havana Domestic Service in Spanish 2009 GMT 17 May 84

[Speech by President Fidel Castro at a ceremony held at the Yara
Municipality in Granma Province to commemorate Peasant Day and the 25th
anniversary of the Agrarian Reform Law -- live]

[Text] Distinguished guests, peasants, and compatriots from Yara, Granma,
and Cuba. [applause]

It is very hot today; we have not had a day such as this in a long time.
And, it looks like this will be the first anniversary when a storm does not
occur. The last time we met with you in Caujeri, the rain began as the
event started. We no longer know which is preferable, the rain or the sun.

Pepe [Jose Ramirez Cruz] did not want to speak today. He says he has given
too many speeches and that he now is dysphonic -- as the doctors call it --
because the doctors say that one does not say aphonic, but dysphonic,
correct me if I'm wrong. To be aphonic is to have lost your voice, and
Pepe's voice is only distorted. I think that this is his pretext for not
participating, and leaving me with the entire task.

On this land of Granma Province, where our struggle for independence
started and where Cuba's final battle for freedom began, we today
commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Agrarian Reform Law, the 23d ANAP
[National Association of Small Farmers] anniversary and Peasants' Day.

We can very well say that on this date, it is not only Peasants' Day, but
the day of all agricultural workers. [applause]

Today the revolution is well defined and fundamental, and it is people's
day because of the Agrarian Reform Law's significance. The law was signed
at Sierra Maestra general headquarters. This law became the first truly
profound measure which came out of the revolution. As we have said on other
occasions, it was the measure which first directly confronted us with
Yankee imperialism. What kind of situation did we live in at that time? To
cite a few examples we can say that 13 major U.S. companies were owners of
some 100,000 caballerias of land. Some 40 large cattle-raising latifundia
were owners of 25 percent of Cuban pasture land. When the Republic of Cuba
was born at the start of the 20th century, a great number of U.S.
businesses began to enter the country. They began to take over the largest
and best areas of Cuba's land at ridiculous prices. This was a time of land
distribution, not to peasants, but to big business in colossal proportions.
This is how it happened that many of the peasants -- who were the
fundamental base of the war of independence, who first fought for 10 years,
continued the rebellion, and then fought again in 1895 -- lost their land.
Many who cooperated with the Spanish grew rich as the fighting continued.
At the end of the war they became owners of most of Cuba's agricultural
land. Three percent of the landowners held 56 percent of all agricultural

Many youths and children who are here today do not know the tragic
situation that this unequal distribution of natural resources did to our
peasants and workers. We remember well the evictions, the crimes committed,
sugar industry off-season, hundreds of thousands of workers without work,
the miserable income per family. Approximately 70 percent of rural families
-- which includes peasants and workers -- had incomes which did not amount
to 40 Cuban pesos per month. The situation of real hunger, misery,
humiliation, sickness, and illiteracy, was suffered by our peasants and
workers -- victims not only of naked exploitation of the land, but also of
all kinds of abuses and injustices; victims of all kinds of crooks and
intermediate speculators. We know this situation very well and we cannot
forget that when we arrived in the Sierra Maestra, there were thousands of
peasants who had taken refuge fleeing from the sugar production's
off-season, from unemployment, and from hunger. They were doing thousands
of jobs to occupy a piece of land to cultivate a few vegetables or coffee
to have crops for 2 or 3 years when the lands were owned by well-known
large landowners, or they went to work on lands that belonged to the state.
Once they had managed, at the cost of enormous effort, to own a few
cultivations and some coffee, there always appeared the representatives of
the large companies or of the large landowners, who intended to take over
those lands, which were already under cultivation. Therefore, there were a
large number of peasants who were sharecroppers who lived with the
incessant fear that the so-called owners would appear -- the judges or
legal representatives or the rural guard -- to evict them.

Even at the beginning of the war, the presence of a rebel force served as a
pretext to bomb and evict the peasants. In those days, they underestimated
that small force. They believed that it had been wiped out. But they took
advantage of the circumstances of the revolution to carry out the massive
evictions of peasants under the pretext of the war.

The health situation was truly terrifying. In all the mountain regions of
the country there was not a single doctor. There was not a single hospital
or dispensary. Infant mortality was very high. There are no reliable
figures. It is thought that infant mortality was more than 60 for each
1,000 live births. But if we consider the situation of the peasants and
especially of those who lived in the mountains, it would not be an
exaggeration to say that over 100 died out of every 1,000 who were born
alive each year.

We recall epidemics of gastroenteritis, of typhus, and other calamities,
which really cost the lives of thousands of peasant children. And when the
campesino raised an animal -- when he had a pig or some little animal -- he
did not eat it, he saved it so that when he had the misfortune of some
illness in the family he went to the market to sell it to try to get 5 or
10 pesos to pay for medical attention. Medical attention was generally a
long distance away. It was very inefficient. He had to pay for medication,
which was expensive. Everyone remembers those tragedies and those anxieties
of the peasant. And everyone knows what a scourge the health situation was
for the countryside - for the peasants and the farm workers.

The educational situation was similar. If the rate of illiteracy in the
nation as a whole was around 30 percent, it was 40 or 50 percent in the
countryside. And in the mountains, it was higher than 50 percent. There
were practically no schools in the mountains and very few in the
countryside. It was rare for the children who were able to go to school to
reach the second or third grade. Truly, educational opportunities were
available to only 30 percent -- 38 per cent of the children in rural areas.
Sixty-two percent had no teachers, schools, or books. They had no other
alternative but to remain ignorant all their lives.

Often there was no market for products. It was necessary to pay ridiculous
prices. The earnings went to the middlemen. Credit was practically
nonexistent. Only a few middle class or rich peasants were able to obtain a
few credits from the banks, paying exhorbitant interest rates and they were
always exposed to the threat of mortgage foreclosure -- to the loss of
their property.

Social security was practically nonexistent in the countryside. A
farmworker in the sugar industry -- when he received his retirement after
many years of labor, it was about 7 pesos per month.

This was the overall picture in general terms. To this you would have to
add the lack of communications, lack of transportation, lack of roads, lack
of everything. That was the real situation of our countryside before the
triumph of the revolution.

When the Agrarian Reform Law was promulgated on 17 May 1959, the revolution
set free the peasant and labor masses from exploitation. Some 100,000
tenant farmers and sharecroppers became owners by virture of that law. Also
by virture of that law, the large foreign and national latifundia were
condemned to disappear.

That law marked the beginning of the liberation not only of the peasants,
but also of the agricultural workers. This marked the end of the
off-season, of the thievery to which the agricultural workers were being
constantly subjected. The salaries of these workers were being stolen
through numerous ways. There were many cases of agricultural workers who
were never paid in cash, because by payday they owed the entire check. In
some instances, not even during the harvest, they did not have the
opportunity to have some cash. During those days, many times people had to
queue at the canefields to cut cane. There was no transportation, not a
single clean lodging for the canecutters. There were no workers'
restaurants, no safety measures, no guarantee for our workers in the

All of that has changed. We all are witnesses to it. Today's picture is
completely different. The speculators, crooks, and middlemen disappeared.
The markets were opened to all the peasant production. It was no longer
necessary to save the chicken, pigs, hens for family matters related to
health problems. Concern dealing with education disappeared. Thefts were
gone. Rents disappeared for those who had no work. The partnership
contracts disappeared.

The peasant became absolute owner of the land he worked. Something else, in
25 years of revolution the peasant never paid 1 cent for taxes. The taxes
began to be collected nearly 25 years after the Agrarian Reform Law. Tens
of thousands of kilometers of roads and routes have been built. Some 52
rural hospitals and nearly 200 clinics and medical offices have been built,
in addition to the access that peasants have to provincial and municipal

A great battle was waged in the field of public health. Many diseases
disappeared. Gastroenteritis, for example, which in 1960 still meant death
for more than 4,000 children, was reduced to 400. Poliomyelitis, typhus,
malaria, rabies, and several other diseases disappeared. [applause] The
Child mortality rate was progressively reduced until it reached under 17 in
1983. Life expectancy has been extended to 73 years of age. The security
experienced today by a peasant family with respect to the children was
known first in our countryside, not only medical services but also dental
services. This progress is continuing, and in the future we will have more

In this province of Granma, next year a number of peasant units will have a
physician nearby. In a not too distant future, we expect to have a
physician assigned to each peasant community, in addition to polyclinics,
municipal, provincial, and national hospitals. [applause] That is why we
are graduating thousands of physicians every year. Many are registering in
the schools of medicine which are established in the country's 14
provinces. This way each province will produce its own physicians and
specialists. That way no one will have to come from the western part of the
island. No one from Havana will have to come. In preparation for these
projects, last year we began to experiment with the work of these
physicians. We are sure that they will raise considerably the levels of
health of our urban and rural population. Thus, we will be able to say that
no other country in the world will have the public health coverage that our
people will have in cities and in the countryside. [applause]

It was not only the land that was given to the peasants who were working
it. It was not only the liberation of the agricultural workers. It was, we
could say, that on 17 May began the liberation of our peasant and
agricultural workers in all fields. [applause]

I spoke about health, but I could speak about education. Today 100 percent
of the children in the countryside, the children of peasants and
agricultural workers have their education guaranteed. It has been assured
for many years now. I remember that during the first years, when we did not
have sufficient teachers, or teachers to send to the mountains, we had to
use the students, volunteer teachers. Those days were difficult. We were
facing up to the problems without capable human resources. A short time
later the literacy campaign began, and in just 1 year -- we could call it a
record and not matched by any other country -- illiteracy was eradicated.
Later we had the follow-up courses, and today we can say not only that
there is no illiterate peasantry, but that the peasantry, with the
consistent and intense effort of the National Association of Small Farmers
in cooperation with education offices, has won the battle of the sixth
grade. [applause] They are now conducting the battle for the ninth grade
together with other workers in the country. [applause]

Who would have foreseen that? Today our peasant masses have a higher
cultural and educational level than the majority of the farm foremen had in
the days of capitalism. [applause] I would also say that they have greater
knowledge than many of the landowners. No only do they have greater
knowledge, much better education, but also a higher culture; and this is
not only a general culture but also a great political culture. [applause]

During those days, the political area captains were conducting political
campaigns, buying identification cards, and other crooked deals. That can
only be done in the midst of an exploited and ignorant population. Who can
imagine anyone speaking today to a peasant and asking him to vote for this
one or the other, to buy the vote? Or asking a peasant to give him the
identification card if he wants to have an appointment in a hospital? Or if
the peasant wants a recommendation for public employment? And not only
public employment, but employment in a private enterprise. Who can imagine
such a character, such an individual in our cities, in our countryside? Who
would be capable today of deceiving even one of our peasants? Which of you
would let yourselves be so miserably deceived and then they will say that
it was freedom and democracy. No sir, that was exploitation, injustice,
deception, abuse, and oppression, [applause]

Not only were all educational costs of children and youths covered, but
education was guaranteed up to the 6th grade. And, through scholarship
programs, hundreds of thousands of young peasants were educated and
training throughout the years. In the past not even a single high school
existed in Cuba's rural areas, not to mention pre-universities. Today our
nation has 567 high schools and pre-universities in the rural areas, the
great majority of them with excellent facilities where more than 20,000
teachers work. And, even though many youths from the city study there, the
young peasants have priority in high schools, pre-universities, and schools
for technicians and skilled labor. Thousands upon thousands, better yet
tens of thousands of youths from the farms are now engineers, architects,
doctors, professors, Armed Forces officers, and in party and state cadres
thanks to these programs. With satisfaction, today we can be sure that all
rural children and youths have an equal if not greater possibility of
studying than a child or youth from the city. But there is one other
matter. If we said before that our peasants today know more than many
managers, foremen, and even landowners, what will it be like in the future?
We can say that any Cuban child or youth today has more chances of
obtaining an education in better schools and with better teachers than did
the children of the managers, foremen, and landowners in the past.
[applause] That is true justice. That is equality, that is freedom, and
that is dignity. [applause]

We know very well what the capitalist society provides its children and
youths: bad habits, corruption, gambling, drugs, and prostitution, This is
what capitalism provides them and tens upon tens of millions of people in
the world, vices, calamities, and tragedies, all of which our people do not
know of today. [applause]

Today social security reaches all our agricultural workers, and recently a
law was enacted providing social security for agricultural workers and
peasants in cooperatives. Even before this law, social security helped and
continues to help tens of thousands of peasants who for one reason or
another cannot continue working. Today the minimum pay retirees receive is
10 to 12 times the amount which only a few retirees received in the past.
This is in addition to all the free services that the revolution has
provided them, such as health benefits. Out of some 800,000 persons who
receive social security benefits, around 200,000 live in our rural areas as
elderly agricultural workers or peasants. If in the past, the income of a
great majority of peasant families did not amount to 40 Cuban pesos, today
the income of any peasant or rural worker is from 4 to 5 times what a
family received, and this is taking into account a larger number of
workers. That is the past, that bad past, that tragedy of off-season which
nobody really remembers.

In some provinces more than others, because it is necessary to work in
agriculture, it is necessary to work in industry and it is necessary to
work in construction. And whenever there are no big construction projects
in one province, there are big projects in other provinces -- in Santiago,
in Moa, in Cienfuegos, in Havana, or in any other part of the country, so
that the problem of unemployment has disappeared. The problem is different
now -- finding the labor force for the many activities that we must carry

Workers in the countryside now exceed half a million. There are about
600,000 people in our country who are working in other sectors such as
education and health care. Hundreds of thousands are working in
construction. We have been able to introduce machines without problems --
without putting anyone out of work. Before, under capitalism, with those
social conditions, who brought a sugarcane combine to our country? Who
brought a gathering machine? Who brought a rice harvesting machine? It was
necessary to do hard work, very hard manual labor to prepare the ground in
sugarcane harvests, in rice harvests, in construction, in the ports, in all

The revolution, with its measures for school justice, with the correct,
revolutionary, socialist policy, not only eradicated off-season
unemployment in the sugarcane industry, bad health, illiteracy -- it not
only brought the masses levels of healthcare and education which had been
available to a small group of privileged individuals, the revolution has
also freed the worker and especially the rural worker from the most
inhuman, and hardest tasks when it mechanized the preparation of the land,
when it made use of chemicals to fight weeds, when it introduced mechanized
combines and harvesters in sugar and rice cultivation, motorized
transportation and loaders of bulk sugar, and when it mechanized the ports.
Before, a man had to work 12, 13, 14 hours in the fields to earn a
miserable subsistence wage. For the first time in the history of our
countryside, the 8-hour day has become a reality, and when we work 9, 10,
11, or 12 hours, they [as heard] do it voluntarily, spontaneously,
enthusiastically, because they know that they are helping the country's
economy and they are helping themselves. [applause] because they know they
will receive a fair reward. This demonstrates how the task of the
revolution is not for small groups of privileged individuals, but for the
benefit of all the people. [applause]

During these 25 years, since the first agrarian reform law was proclaimed,
approximately 10 billion pesos have been invested in our countryside. The
number of tractors has increased eightfold. The application of fertilizers
has increased tenfold. The application of pesticides, fourfold. There have
been massive applications of herbicides. The building of dams has increased
by 125 times what it was before the revolution. Irrigated areas have
increased by four times, reaching almost 1 million hectares. In the
countryside about 3,000 agricultural and industrial installations have been
built with the storage centers, the schools, and the development of our
electrical industry. There has been an extraordinary increase in the number
of families that receive the benefit of electricity. Currently plans are
being made for micro-hydroelectric power plants. Also, experiments have
been done in Granma Province to bring electricity for a few hours a day, by
means of small electric plants, to tens of peasant communities in the
mountains. It is planned in coming months to extend this experience that
has given results to all the mountain areas of the eastern provinces.
According to statistical data, there is 82 times more credit available now
than there was before the revolution with 35 times more beneficiaries than
it had before the revolution -- and now, no one has to mortgage anything or
risk anything. There are low interest rates and the consideration of the
state financial institutions every time a catastrophe occurs which affects
a peasant sector.

All this effort has been translated into a great humanization of men's
labor in the countryside. Nowadays, there is practically no one who milks
cows by hand. Almost all the cows in this country are milked mechanically.
I failed to mention that earlier. Not only has work been mechanized, but
increases in production and in productivity have also been achieved. It is
sufficient to point out that in 1970, 350,000 manual canecutters were used,
and in this harvest of 1984, about 30,000 were used -- that is, less than
25 percent of what we used 14 years ago. And this has not meant
unemployment for anyone because these efforts demand that many other
important tasks be done.

All production, almost without exception, has grown and, in some cases,
really considerably. To cite a few examples, the production of eggs is 12
times greater than it was in 1969; the production of poultry, 3 times
greater; pork production, 5 and 1/2 times greater than in 1960; citrus
production, 4 and 1/2 times greater. This gives an idea not only of the
diversification of our agricultural production, but also of the
considerable increases that have been achieved in production and in
productivity, in productivity [Castro repeats] -- the increases that have
been achieved in the sugar harvest, in the sugar harvest [Castro repeats]
for example, the number of manual cane-cutters that was used 14 years ago;
in construction; in the ports; in industry; everywhere. Therefore, on the
completion of the 25th anniversary, we have a clear and objective panorama
of the significance for our countryside of the passage that began on 17 May
1959. [applause]

Now, the peasant movement ANAP and the peasant masses have new tasks for
the future. Currently, we are deeply involved with the masses of peasants
who make up ANAP in the struggle to develop superior methods of production
on the land. The cooperativization movement is moving forward. It is
relatively new in the revolution and has reached a high level in the past 3
years. Currently, about 70,000 caballerias, including 6,000 ceded by the
state, comprising 56 percent of all the land of the peasants, are
cooperativized. If we combine the state farms and the farm production
cooperatives, about 90 percent of our farmlands are being worked under
superior forms of production. [applause]

During the early years, the largest investments were made in state farming
enterprises, which have since advanced considerably. Now, the emphasis is
being placed on the peasant cooperative movement. There are 1,457
cooperatives that have an average size -- some are larger, some smaller --
of 50 caballerias per cooperative. Despite its being a new way, despite it
being a relatively young activity, the advances are considerable. The
immense majority of the cooperatives have attained successes. They have
earned profits. They have considerably reduced the cost of production and
we can say that they are progressing very well from the economic point of
view. And if an analysis is made of the reasons why a small group of
cooperatives has not yet shown profits, it is necessary to keep in mind the
prices and other factors that add to production costs. Most of the
sugarcane-raising areas are cooperativized. There are now 42 sugarcane
cooperatives which produce 100,000 arrobas of sugarcane per caballeria.
Since the cooperative movement was begun in the sugarcane-raising areas,
the cooperatives have managed to show an increase of 13,200 arrobas per
caballeria and a total harvest of 400 million more arrobas of sugarcane,
enough to produce half a million tons of sugar.

We know that there are difficulties. We know because the comrades of ANAP
have been telling us about some complaints and different kinds of
difficulties, which we are studying to solve them. And we will find a
solution to all the problems and to all difficulties. I can assure you of
that. [applause]

And now, we think we should take advantage of this date to make the pledge
with the peasant masses to continue advancing toward better forms of
production, to continue to push the cooperative movement forward to find
out what we will be able to say on the 30th anniversary of agrarian reform.

Fatherland or death!  We will win!  [applause]