ABOUT THE COVER
The illustration by Virginia Gifford captures the essence of this book, which is to present Fidel Castro as a Cuban Don Quixote. Like Cervantes’ character, he sees himself as the valiant knight devoted to fighting the injustices of the world. However, he is a delusional fool like his predecessor.
In dealing with the agricultural sector, the Cuban Quixote showed a whimsical imagination that made him believe that he knew better than the best scientists did. Dressed in an outlandish costume, he rides his Rocinante over a land devastated by soil erosion, wielding a dry sugarcane stalk that represents the failure of his goal of a 10-million-ton harvest. Over the years, he has chosen several Sanchos who all have been cast aside leaving a trail of wise, but discarded, aides in his wake because he could never accept either criticism or advice.
The cow sticking her head inside one of the windmills (silent witnesses of past failures), as if it was another air-conditioning experiment, represents part of his genetic revolution. In the distant background, one can hardly see the smokeless sugar mills not grinding since he decided to restructure Cuba’s main source of employment and foreign exchange. The dog observes him passing along in prudent silence, beside the midget cow –humble successor of his beloved «Ubre Blanca» who died before she could supply all Cubans with her milk.
Above all, Fidel Castro’s haughty and arrogant face says it all.
This is his story, both a comedy and a tragedy.
About the Cover
List of Tables and Figures
Preface and Acknowledgments
PART I – THE ABSURDITY
1 – Fidel Castro: The Dismal Soothsayer
Never Less than Number One
Feeding the People
The Sugar Industry
A House for Every Family
Paying or Defaulting?
A Final Comment
2 – Leadership Theory and Castro’s Decision Making
Some General Concepts
Castro’s Personality Traits
Posturing as a Man of Science
Prevalence of Politics over Science
Impromptu Decisions with no Prior Studies
Advice is Unheeded and Criticism Forbidden
An Authoritarian and Proprietor’s Attitude
Assuming the Leadership of his Own Opposition
Birán: Fidel’s Early Circumstance
3 – The Search for an Economic Model
1959-1960: The Short-lived Humanistic Revolution
1961-1966: Two Very Distinct Systems
1966-1970: Decentralized Budgetary System
1970-1976: The Institutionalization of the Revolution
1976-1985: Economic Management and Planning System
1986-1991: Process of Rectification of Errors and Negative Tendencies
1991 – ? : Inventing in the Post-Soviet Era
4 – The Lousy Results and the Scapegoats
A Few Words on Performance
The Incalculable Costs
The Alleged Culprits
The United States’ Policy against Cuba
Mother Nature: Droughts and Hurricanes
The Crumbling of the Berlin Wall
PART II – THE WASTE
5 – One Fidel Plan for Each Province and the Isle of Pines
What were Fidel’s Special Plans?
Pinar del Río: San Andrés de Caiguanabo
La Habana: Oca Plan
Matanzas: Zapata Swamp Plan
Las Villas: Plan Banao
Camagüey: The IR-8 Rice Project
Oriente: Vegetable Gardens in Mayarí Pinewoods
Isle of Pines: A Citrus Plan, Communism and a New Man
The Agricultural Prospective Plan
The Isle of Youth is Born
The Ideological Dimension
The New Man
6 – The Obsession with Labor Mobilizations
The Military Units to Help Production (U.M.A.P.)
The Nameless Brigades: «Earning» the Right to Leave the Country
The Centennial Youth Column (CJC)
The Work Youth Army (EJT)
The Production and Defense Brigades
Students in Agriculture
The Ideological Motivation and the Ulterior Motive
The Beginning and End of Student Mobilizations
The School to the Countryside
The School in the Countryside
The «Blas Roca» Labor Contingent
7 – Giant is Beautiful
Havana’s Green Belt
The Piccolino Tractors
Water Works Project
Damns and More Damns
Field Irrigation and Drainage
The Genetic Revolution
Early Efforts: Artificial Insemination
Ubre Blanca (White Udder)
The Midget Cows
The «Che Guevara» Invading Brigade
The Ten-Million-Ton Sugar Harvest
The Pedraplenes (Causeways)
The State Extensive Growth Model of the 1980s
8 – The Last Giant: Food Program – The Project of the Special Period
Micro jet Irrigation
9 – Selected Additional Plans
The Hydroponic Project
Angola Pigeon Pees (Guandul)
The Rectangle and Triangle Projects
The Torula Project
A Final Word
10 – From Giant to Dwarf: The Sugar Industry
The Underlying Reasons
Scope and Regional Impact
Sugar Industry’s Performance after the 10-million-ton Campaign
A Final Thought on Sugar
11 – Management Exceptionalism
The Turquino Plan
Origin and Objective
Pondering about Exceptionalism
The Baby Chick
The Urban Agriculture Movement
PART III – THE PARASITISM
12 – Funding the Follies
Financing Butch Cassidy Style (No Need for the Sundance Kid)
The First Commander and the 8th Commandment
First Source (1959-1960): Misappropriated Assets by Batista’s Dictatorship
Second Source (1959-1963): The Land and its Assets
Third Source (1960): The Urban Housing
Fourth Source (1960): Industrial and Banking Sectors
Fifth Source (1961): Currency Exchange
Sixth Source (1968): Whatever was Left
Deterioration of the Stock of Assets
Borrow → Default → Forgive → Borrow
The Case of the Soviet Union
The Case of Western Countries
Forgiveness and Borrowing Again
Appendix: Negative Environmental Impacts
List of Credits
Author’s Biographical Sketch
Despite the fact that this book contains numerous footnotes, an extensive bibliography, tables and charts, it is not a scholarly publication. It could not be because the real author is Fidel Castro, the Cuban Quixote. Delusional fools do not generate materials for academic books. I organized his projects, selected quotes from his speeches and found data to demonstrate that almost all of them were follies. When faced with such a task, it is very difficult to escape the temptation of using a little Cuban humor. It could not be otherwise. Fidel Castro promised to take Cuba to the top place on this planet. He predicted producing more citrus, fish and other commodities than the United States, more irrigation than the Aswan dam, more citrus than Israel, more milk than Holland, and more everything than the rest of the world, By doing so, he was making fun of his people and the rest of the world. He was offending our intelligence. He was exposing himself to ridicule and scorn. For all those reasons, one cannot write a scholarly piece about his deeds, especially about his destruction of Cuba’s agriculture.
Don Quixote de Birán exercised absolute power over Cuba’s agricultural sector. He did so through the so-called «Fidel’s Special Plans. ». These pages reveal the degree of delusional foolishness shared by Don Quixote de la Mancha and the Cuban leader. Almost all projects were failed follies financed first by several means of expropriation and then by borrowing with no apparent intention of paying back. Soviet subsidies and loans from western countries helped him in his plans.
Rather than explaining the content of the book in this Introduction, I want to describe for the reader the environment surrounding Castro’s follies. Why did they happen in the first place? The foreign photojournalist Lee Lockwood asked him in 1965 why he devoted so much of his time to agriculture. The question arose from Castro’s complaining about his lack of a technical education that had forced him to acquire a basic knowledge of agriculture. His question should have been, «why must a head of State become the unchallenged decision-maker of the agricultural sector? »
It is difficult not to acknowledge Castro’s masterful political adroitness, more than demonstrated during his 50 years in power, turning defeats into victories like in the Mariel exodus and the 10-million-sugar ton harvest, and in his relations with the United States and the Soviet Union. However, most of his agricultural projects failed, and the blame rests squarely on his shoulders. What accounts for the dismal performance of the projects described in this book?
There are two possible answers. The first deals with Castro’s personality traits and the second resides in his management style. In the words of Will Rogers: «What hurts you most is not what you do not know, it is what you think you know, but just ain’t so.» [Lo peor no es dejar de saber, sino creer que se sabe] Despite his confession of ignorance about the process of agriculture, according to French agronomist René Dumont, «Fidel believes he knows everything in several domains much better than the rest. His pride is his worst enemy.» Castro always paid attention only to the recommendations he liked. Once he made a decision, criticism was out of the question. Fidel Castro did not allow dissent from his view and seldom followed the advice provided by domestic (he had several Sanchos throughout the years) and foreign advisors when their opinions contradicted his. Dumont stated that Castro believed to be more capable than other people and that «he should acquire a little of the humility of men who are truly great.» Too often, people could hear in Cuba: « You’re right, but Fidel doesn’t agree.»
The second answer relates to his management style. Castro’s «command and countermand» style while leading the sugar industry, applies to the entire agricultural sector. Such disastrous leadership has never been recognized, despite the fact that his economic record, as French journalist and writer Serge Raffy defined it, «is one of unbroken failure, and many of the mistakes of previous economic campaigns are being repeated».
Depending on the project, two different approaches or tactics hid those failures. In one, his political skills were able to turn setbacks into victories. When Castro went on radio and television to announce the catastrophic results of the 10-million-ton sugar harvest of 1970, he declared, «The people have won a victory. The people have not lost this battle… and [we must] convert the setback into victory. » Reaching the desired production goal became less important than the alleged moral values acquired by the people during the long sugar campaign. An imaginary ideological victory replaced the unfulfilled goal.
The second approach was more typical of bureaucracies everywhere. There was never a report about discarded projects. The results of these failures have been more perverse in Cuba, because there never was a political opposition to contest them or the leader(s) who launched and managed them. The Cuban writer Hugo Luis Sánchez’s describes how it is done in his short story titled «Dulce hogar» [Sweet home]: « Anyone can say the day [a project] started, but nobody the day it was ended, or if it was a success or a failure. It languishes in the memory hoping that forgetfulness takes care of it. »
In order to maintain absolute power, the Cuban regime has exerted complete control over society by means of a ruined economy, and a divided society completely dependent on the State. The situation, according to Raffy, has produced a new literary gender: «tragic unrealism.» This book, despite its touch of humor, appears to belong in that category and hopes to generate enthusiasm to continue this enormous task. Some scholars, like Haroldo Dilla, have shown interest in knowing the cost of Castro’s agricultural follies. He hopes that, in the future, some economic historian will compute their cost, «Probably that is when we may perceive the magnitude of the damage caused by the … many ideas turned into unchallenged policies.»
As expected, the Cuban Quixote never left his imaginary world. During the 100 hours of conversation with Ignacio Ramonet, he confessed: « I’ve made mistakes, but none of them were strategic – just tactical. A person regrets many things, sometimes even in a speech… But I have not one iota of regret about what we’ve done in our country and the way we’ve organized our society.» The reader should keep in mind that lack of remorse while reading the pages that follow.
One of his obsessions, shared by Ernesto Guevara, was the creation of a new man, present in most parts of the book. “Che” was perhaps his most important Sancho in the ideological area. In his farewell letter of 1965, Guevara reminded Castro of «the pride of belonging to our people in the brilliant yet sad days of the Caribbean crisis.» They are proud of having brought the world to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe, which should give the reader an idea of the degree of delusional disorder they shared.
Very few people know about the failure of his obsessive quest. While still in the Sierra Maestra, the Cuban Don Quixote wrote a note to another of his Sanchos, his confidant Celia Sánchez. It was June 5, 1958: «After seeing the rockets fired at Mario’s house, I have sworn to myself that the Americans are going to pay dearly for what they are doing. When this war ends, a much longer and bigger war will begin for me: the war that I am going to wage against them. I realize that that will be my true destiny.» Well, he lost that war. Today, Cuba is more dependent on the United States than when the Cuban Quixote took power in 1959, as revealed by the large percentage of its population receiving remittances, family packages, and visits from the United States, not counting the huge quantities of U.S. agricultural exports.
While researching and writing about the topic of this book, I felt the need to show the relationship of Cuba’s agriculture I was unveiling with the rest of the economic, social and political Cuba. I then recalled a passage attributed to Cervantes. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are riding when a group of barking dogs comes close to them. Sancho, who is sane, captures the reality of the situation, but Don Quixote, because of the chronic enthusiasm resulting from his madness, says, «¡Sancho, if the dogs bark is because we are moving!»
The Cuban Don Quixote has been riding alone for over half a century. Now and then he has done it in the company of a temporary Sancho. For non-Cuban residents, it is very difficult to understand why he does not find multitudes of barking dogs. He rides along the setting he created and that allowed his failures in the agricultural sector to go uncontested. That milieu is similar to the one described by Vargas Llosa in The city and the dogs: closed and oppressive, as the military school of the novel, where the relations among the cadets, and those with their superiors, friends and family are characterized by suspicion (sometimes hate) and helplessness faced with an unfair and seemingly immutable social order. Maybe Castro’s chronic delusion prevented him from understanding that the lack of barking is not a sign of approval but a silent warning that he has been riding along the wrong path.
In Cervantes’s novel, Don Quixote dies after finally recovering his sanity («he died sane but lived crazy»). That is unlikely to happen with the Cuban Quixote.