The Lawmaking Process in Cuba: Debating the Bill on Agricultural Cooperatives*

The assumption regarding parliaments in socialist countries, including Cuba, is that they are little more than rubber stamps for the communist parties. A review of the theoretical literature on representative governments in socialist countries, for the most part concentrating on their ineffectiveness and subordination to the communist parties, can be found in my book, People’s Power: Cuba’s Experience with Representative Government.1 It is the purpose of this article to demonstrate how the Cuban National Assembly lawmaking process functions. Although this process differs from the liberal model—using socialist criteria of consensus, consultation and participation—it can be considered both democratic and effective.

Based on my observations and research, the Cuban National Assembly (Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular or ANPP) operates on the basis of five principles. First, it must be representative of Cuban society; thus there are deputies from most sectors of society and walks of life, including experts in economics, farming, health, education, sports, and other areas under the purview of the National Assembly. Second, there must be close contact and connection with the population; this is achieved in great part by having almost half of the deputies also be municipal assembly delegates. Third, it must consult with constituents, deputies, experts, interested parties, government officials, the Cuban Communist Party (Partido Comunista de Cuba or PCC), the Federation of Cuban Workers (Central de Trabajadores de Cuba or CTC), and mass organizations regarding proposed legislation, and to determine lists of candidates. Fourth, it must allow for the expression of opposition with regard to measures under discussion, such as items within proposed legislation, but not as an organized opposition or as an opposition attacking the system. And fifth, its goal is to reconcile differences in order to reach consensus prior to presenting measures to its plenary sessions.3

The attributes of the Cuban National Assembly include approving, modifying and repealing laws. Legislation may be proposed by National Assembly Deputies; the Council of State; the Council of Ministers; National Assembly commissions; the CTC and mass organizations, including the National Association of Small Farmers (Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños or ANAP), from which legislation concerning cooperative farms originates; the Supreme Court; the Attorney General; and by petition of at least 10,000 voting citizens.

The PCC does not have the right to propose legislation. However, general programs underlying the need for new legislation emanate from Party Congresses.4 Such programs are supposed to set the parameters for government policy. In some cases, for example, they set limits, such as the economic resolution passed in the 5th Party Congress in 1997. Referring to private economic activities among Cubans, this resolution did not mention middle-sized enterprises, which were not included in the subsequent legislation on the economy.5 People’s councils for isolated rural areas were called for in the program of the 3rd Party Congress in 1986, and subsequently pilot projects were set up in a few locations in 1989.6 When they were established throughout all of Cuba in the early 1990s, they bore little resemblance to what had been proposed in the 3rd Congress.

Proposed legislation is initially circulated to the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers and to government ministries. Depending on the subject matter, proposals may be sent for consultation to some or all of the following: the PCC, government bodies, mass organizations, specialists, deputies, provincial and municipal assemblies, and relevant sectors of the population. At the end of this process the Council of Ministers sends the bill to the National Assembly.

The National Assembly President then forwards the proposed legislation to the appropriate permanent National Assembly commission. It is also sent to the Constitutional and Juridical Affairs Commission, which determines the constitutionality of the project. The commissions can approve the project with or without amendments, and call for more consultation, recommend changes, or reject the bill. The National Assembly president subsequently sends a copy of the project to all National Assembly deputies at least twenty days prior to the assembly session where it will be considered, and has the option of organizing meetings with deputies in the provinces to explain the project and hear their opinions.

As a final step before presentation to the National Assembly plenary session, the commissions involved write an evaluation (dictamen) which is distributed to the deputies. During the Assembly session, the bill is introduced by the leader of the organization or group proposing the legislation, and the dictamen is read by the commission president, and both are then voted on (usually together) by the National Assembly.

The Consultative Process for the Agricultural Cooperatives Bill7

The Agrarian Reform law, passed in 1959, gave land to approximately 200,000 farmers who had previously worked it as sharecroppers (parceros) or renters, and began to organize them into agricultural cooperatives, called Credit and Service Cooperatives (Cooperativas de Crédito y Servicios or CCS). While the individual farmers continued to own the land privately, the state began to offer them collectively credits and services such as tractors and other implements. The ANAP was constituted at the first congress of farmers in May 1961 and has officially represented Cuban farmers since 1968. In 1977 the Agricultural Production Cooperatives (Cooperativas de Producción Agropecuaria or CPA) were formed. Unlike the CCS, in which each farmer owns an individual plot of land while state credits, aid, and machinery are shared, in the CPA farmers own the land collectively and there are no individual private plots.

The ANAP is not part of the government and is self-financed. Ninety-nine percent of farmers who own land in cooperatives belong to the ANAP. They own about 26 percent of the farmland, and produce 40 percent of Cuban agricultural products. Each cooperative is led by a general assembly consisting of all its members, which has maximum authority over the cooperative’s affairs.

In 1993 much of the rest of the farmland, which is state owned, was converted to Basic Units of Cooperative Production (Unidades Básicas de Producción Cooperativa or UBPC). This land was divided up and turned over to worker collectives in the form of long-term leases, with the state retaining ownership. While in some ways similar to the CPA and CCS, the main difference is that the state has greater control over production and those who work on the UBPC do not own the land. They are considered to be workers not farmers. Orlando Lugo Fonte, the president of ANAP, explained that since the land is state-owned, the UBPC are not considered to be agricultural cooperatives (where farmers own the land), do not belong to the ANAP, and are not covered by the laws regulating agricultural cooperatives.

Law 36 on agricultural cooperatives was passed in 1982. Its main thrust was to regulate the CPA; it infrequently mentioned the CCS. The need for agricultural cooperatives to improve the organization of production and relations with the state sector, and to encourage all private farmers to join cooperatives, was included in very general terms in the resolution on economic plans passed by the PCC 3rd Congress in 1986.8 Subsequently new rules regulating the cooperatives were passed by the Council of Ministers, mainly dealing with the CPA. Responding to pressure from the ANAP in 1996, the Council of Ministers issued new regulations giving more state aid and benefits to the CCS who met certain criteria (CCS fortalecidas), by having the state sell them resources such as machines and tools to be used collectively, and by authorizing the CCS to hire contracted labor (including an economist and vendor for their products), hold collectively owned land, and have bank accounts. However, Cuban agronomist Niurka Pérez Rojas told me that these regulations did not sufficiently meet the needs of the cooperatives, which led to the demand for a new law.Ministerio de Azucar or MINAZ) and the Ministry of Agriculture (Ministerio de Agricultura or MINAG). It first consulted with the PCC leadership regarding the scope and extent of the project.

At the 9th ANAP congress (May 2000), the delegates (elected by cooperative farmers) passed a motion calling on the ANAP leadership to draft and propose to the National Assembly a new law on agricultural cooperatives to replace Law 36. During the debate, the delegates argued that Law 36 was inadequate since it largely ignored the CCS: sixty-five articles covered the CPA but only seven the CCS. It was felt that a new law should treat them equally, and spell out how rules apply to each type of cooperative. Furthermore the process of developing the CCS fortalecidas needed stronger legal backing.

The delegates also pointed out that the old law did not take into account the economic changes which occurred over the previous twenty years, especially with the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the initiation of the “Special Period” in Cuba in the early 1990s to deal with the ensuing economic crisis. They cited many practices for which existing arrangements contradicted Law 36. These included: products sold in the free market, election of the president of the cooperative, housing, and profits.

By the end of 2000, the national leadership of the ANAP made an agreement with the National Assembly to draft a new law, to be presented to the National Assembly in its December 2001 session.9 ANAP formed a task force composed of members of the ANAP leadership and lawyers (led by José Garea Alonso, an ANAP legal counsel), and representatives from the Ministry of Sugar (

The task force wrote a first draft which, according to Lugo Fonte, was based on socialist principles of “voluntarism, mutual aid, contributions to the development of the national economy, cooperative discipline, collective decision-making, territorial rights and welfare of the cooperative members and their families,” and avoidance of exploitation of labor.

By September 2001 four versions had been circulated for suggestions and amendments to the following: forty presidents of cooperatives; the ANAP, MINAZ and MINAG provincial bureaus in Havana Province, Matanzas, Sancti Spiritus and Ciego de Ávila; thirty cooperative members in each province; central government ministries connected with this project, including MINAZ and MINAG, the Central Bank of Cuba, the Ministry of Finance and Prices (Ministerio de Finanzas y Precios or MINFAP), the Ministry of Economy and Planning, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security regarding financial and labor issues, the Housing Ministry and the Housing Institute; and the Ministry of Armed Forces; provincial assemblies and their administrative councils; and the PCC’s provincial bureaus, whose suggestions were forwarded to the party’s Central Committee. A meeting ensued between Lugo Fonte and two ANAP attorneys, and two members of the PCC Political Bureau, to discuss the opinions gathered by the party. Lugo Fonte told me that nothing was imposed by the party, and that ANAP had rejected some proposals made by the party representatives.

In October a fifth version was sent to the Secretary of the Council of Ministers Carlos Lage Dávila, who dispatched it to each government minister, all the central state bodies, and other institutions, such as the national meeting of Cuban Jurists. A sixth version, with adjustments made according to guidelines set forth by the Ministers of MINAG, MINAZ, and MINFAP, was approved by the Council of Ministers and sent to National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón for the Assembly’s consideration.  Alarcón assigned the proposal to the Commissions on Productive Activity, presided over by Leonardo Martínez, and on Constitutional and Juridical Affairs, presided over by Victor Toledo (director of the University of Havana Law School). A working group was constituted composed of the presidents, deputies and auxiliary personnel from these commissions, ANAP leaders, and some presidents of agricultural cooperatives.

The proposed law was sent to all National Assembly deputies, who were asked to consult with their constituents, especially with farmers in rural areas. For example one deputy met with the twenty-three presidents of the cooperatives together with the local ANAP leadership in her municipality, followed by meetings with cooperative presidents and farmers in the rest of the province.

In November and December 2001 meetings were held in the provinces with National Assembly deputies to explain the project and take their opinions and criticisms into account. Participating in these meeting were the Assembly’s President, Vice President and Secretary, Martínez and Toledo from the Assembly commissions, directors and lawyers from ANAP (including Lugo Fonte and Garea) and representatives from MINAG and MINAZ.

On December 14, 2001 the Assembly working group met to analyze all the proposals and opinions, both written and verbal, emanating from these meetings. I attended this meeting, and the discussion was very contentious. The topics that had been most heatedly debated by the deputies (see below) involved housing, road construction and maintenance, relations with the state, marketing of surplus products, distribution of profits, and temporary workers.  The Cuban National Assembly operates on the basis of consultation and consensus prior to submission of legislation for a vote. Taking into account the deputies’ dissatisfaction with the bill, and the number, magnitude, and far-reaching consequences of their proposed changes, it was felt that farmers, deputies and government ministries should evaluate them to reach consensus. Therefore the Commission on Productive Activities and ANAP decided not to present the bill to the Assembly’s December session, but rather, in an attempt to resolve contentious issues, to send it out for further comment and discussion.

Shortly thereafter a new version was sent to all cooperative farmers. From January through April 2002, meetings to discuss the project were held with farmers in all of Cuba’s agricultural cooperatives. In May 2002 a version incorporating farmers’ suggestions was sent to all the deputies and another round of meetings was held with them in the provinces. It was also sent again to the central state organs, and mass organizations. On November 1, 2002 the Commissions on Productive Activities and on Constitutional and Juridical Affairs approved this version with a few changes, which were included in the dictamen submitted to the Assembly plenary session. The bill was approved by the Assembly on November 2, 2002.

The new law deals equally with both the CPA and the CCS. It clarifies housing rights. It regulates the portion of production determined and contracted by the state and the portion which can be sold in private markets. It defines percentages and distribution of profits, allowing for the distribution of up to 70% of the profits to long-time members. It mandates setting aside part of the profits for contingency funds to deal with emergencies such as natural disasters. It regulates the relationship of the cooperatives with the central and local governments and with the ANAP. It defines the leadership structure within each cooperative, and the procedure for resolving conflicts. It regulates the employment, labor rights and social security of hired workers, their incorporation as members of the cooperatives, and their share of the profits. It defines the process of formation and dissolution of cooperatives. 

Inputs by Deputies and Cooperative Farmers10

Among the most contentious topics debated by the deputies and cooperative farmers during the meetings in the provinces were housing, roads, relations with the state, control over production and sales, hired labor, and distribution of profits. The failure to resolve differences on these issues prior to the December 2001 Assembly session, especially regarding illegal housing, led to the decision at the December 14, 2001 meeting of the working group to postpone submission. A deputy from Matanzas emphatically told those present that if certain issues, especially housing, were not settled, the bill as written was unacceptable and submitting it to the National Assembly for the December 2001 session as had been planned, would create a bombshell which would “explode in their faces.” When it was suggested that housing not be included in the new legislation, Commission President Martínez replied that this was impossible since housing had already been discussed with the deputies. Lugo also stated that the PCC Political Bureau had requested that housing be dealt with.

Lugo summarized the housing problem. In the CCS all housing that is constructed on a farmer’s land belongs to the farmer, who owns the land and all its installations. He can allow that housing be built on his land for his children and blood relatives who work on the farm. But his child may not necessarily work on the farm, but rather in a refinery or a bank. So the farmer could be the owner of ten illegal houses on his farm, and there is no way to legalize this housing. It could be that his child is divorced and the former wife continues living in the housing and marries another man who has nothing to do with the farm, and that is illegal. This must be modified.

What is the problem in the CPA? The CPA cannot give land to construct housing to someone who does not belong to the CPA. The land can be used to construct housing for members of the cooperative, who do not become owners of this house with a title until they have lived there and paid for it for twenty years. The problem arises when someone leaves the cooperative but keeps the housing. He lives there but does not work in the cooperative anymore. He should not be simply thrown out of his home. Other housing must be found. What was being discussed with the deputies is the person who leaves the cooperative, and goes to work elsewhere, but tries to remain owner of his house. The new proposal allows the relative who leaves the CCS to keep his home, but with different rights and prerogatives as compared to the farmers. In the case of the CPA, the cooperative repossesses this housing. If a person leaves the cooperative, an inferior house would have to be built for him on another part of the cooperative’s land.

When I asked Lugo why the deputies representing farming districts were so angry, he responded that the farmers had committed what were considered to be illegal acts because the old law did not permit them to legalize the large number of so-called illegal houses. The problem was not dealt with in the proposed new law, because it was not a housing law. The lawyer for ANAP, José Garea, told me that much of the illegal housing had been constructed by people who were not members of the cooperatives and without the permission of the landowners in the case of the CCS, and without the authorization of the general assemblies of the CPA. When I asked him why the cooperative members complained about tearing them down, he replied that the illegal housing usually belonged to their relatives and friends.

The deputy from the local assembly Commission told me, on the basis of her meetings with cooperative leaders and farmers, that they wanted to be able to construct not only their own homes, but also offices and dwellings for family doctors. Much of the older housing on cooperatives was labeled “illegal” due to lack of legal documents and because they were categorized as unfit huts (bohios). The farmers demanded that the law contain a process to legalize these dwellings.

During the meeting in Matanzas Province on December 7, 2001 with deputies, one deputy stated,The law should deal with what happens when those living in housing on land belonging to a cooperative no longer are connected to the cooperative because of emigration or working in another sector. This mess exists in the whole country and affects us greatly in our province. The law should also deal with construction of private housing. Suppose I live in a cooperative and my brother wants to build a house. Who authorizes this? The cooperative’s general assembly? The local government? If the cooperative authorizes construction by non-members, the cooperatives will be finished. Permission to build given by the president of the cooperative has no legal basis. Therefore we have no legal document which enables us to legalize the housing, and the person living there is an illegal occupant. We must find a way to legalize this housing. Nobody should be able to just give a person a piece of paper with permission to construct.

Deputies called for allowing the CCS to construct housing for temporary and permanent workers In a meeting with deputies held in Camagüey Province on November 30, 2001, a deputy, referring to the CCS fortalecidas, requested that the new law “legalize housing built for contracted workers. Sometimes that housing needs to be built on land not belonging to a private farmer but rather held in usufruct, that is owned by the state but used by the cooperative farmers. Legalizing this housing guarantees that the contracted workers will stay.”  Another deputy added that under present law housing built for relatives and other cooperative members could be legalized, but not for a medical doctor or an accountant. Still another added that the CCS fortalecidas are going to need many workers, since members and their relatives are not enough. “We need economists, tractor drivers, truck drivers, teachers, medical doctors. This housing is built on state-owned land held in usufruct, and we must find a legal solution for this problem.” This led to adding Article 44 to the final version of the legislation submitted to the National Assembly in November 2002 (bold means additions, [deletions] are within brackets):

The CCS can construct housing for their salaried workers on land on which the state previously has conceded to them surface rights in accordance with the regulations dictated by the competent state organism. These houses have the characteristics of being connected to the cooperatives or being part of their basic structure.
Article 41 of the new law grants cooperative members title to surface rights to enable them to obtain ownership of housing situated on this land. At meetings held in February and March 2002 at a CPA in Pinar del Rio Province, farmers proposed adding this language to Article 42, to enable those buying their homes on installment plans to be given surface rights and title of ownership when finished paying for them.12 As a result Article 42 was altered as follows:

Cooperative members… have the right to acquire their property by means of payment of its legal [just] price, once the period of stay as established by the relevant legislation has elapsed. The cooperative concedes to its members the surface rights with title to ownership of these houses.13

Changes resulting from farmers’ and deputies’ inputs included eliminating the general assemblies’ right to approve new housing occupants without regard to legal procedures in Article 43:
Ownership of houses, exchange or ceding of any other right [and the incorporation of new occupants], should be previously approved by the General Assembly without violating (sin perjuicio) the fulfillment of established legal procedures.14

Additional changes resulting from deputy demands involved the ownership of housing situated on cooperatives; the process of dissolving cooperatives; procedures for liquidating assets in cases where housing was located on cooperative land; and making the government responsible for solving the problem of illegal houses.

Article 2.- Agricultural Property [includes, inter alia] housing connected to [the cooperatives]…, as long as the property is not transferred to its occupants.

Article 81.- To carry out the liquidation of the assets of a cooperative in process of being dissolved a Liquidation Commission with representation from… the Provincial Housing Authority when there is housing on connected lands…

FOURTH: The National Housing Institute together with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Sugar, taking into account the opinion of the National Association of Small Farmers, will decree within ninety (90) days of publication of the present law in the Official Gazette, the Regulations for illegal houses constructed on land belonging to or in usufruct to the cooperatives of agricultural production and to the small farmers.15           

Another hotly debated issue concerned road construction and maintenance on the cooperative farms. In the version sent to the deputies in November 2001, under “Relations with the local organs of People’s Power,” Article 23 stated: “The cooperatives and the local organs of People’s Power will be able to offer mutual collaboration for the construction and repair of roads and rural projects which benefit the community or the cooperative in conformity with the relevant legal stipulations and with what is stipulated in the regulations.”16   Lugo told me…

The principal roads for the cooperatives are the responsibility of MINAG, but for rural roads it depends on their usage. Those used to transport cane are repaired by MINAZ. If it is an internal road within the cooperative, the cooperative pays. However, the cooperatives do not want to pay for the maintenance of internal roads. This is very expensive and earnings do not provide enough funds, and I am in agreement with them.

At the meeting in Camagüey Province on November 30, 2001, deputies insisted that MINAZ and MINAG build and maintain all internal roads. They were told that the state would provide machinery and materials but that the cooperatives would have to build and finance the roads out of their profits since the internal roads were only for the use of the farmers. One deputy complained that in the proposed law it was not clear what constituted an internal road used to transport agricultural production. Article 23 did not clearly define the help to be provided by local governments.

Other deputies pointed out that to transport milk produced in Camagüey internal roads are essential and only the state is capable of financing them. Furthermore, road repair is among the problems most frequently brought to the attention of the municipal assembly delegates by their farmer constituents.

Garea responded that cooperatives help repair internal roads that serve small settlements, and the local governments help the cooperatives to resolve problems related to transporting production. However, the exact forms of collaboration and the procedures should be specified in the regulations drawn up after the law is passed.

In the session held with deputies in Camagüey Province on June 4, 2002, the Camagüey Provincial Assembly President agreed:

In some cases it is better not to produce sugar cane than have to pay to maintain the roads. If the cooperatives have to maintain them then the price of sugar must be adjusted so that the harvest can finance the roads. Sugar cane production is the objective, it must be transported on these roads and it must finance road repair. It is in the interest of the state to transport the cane to the railroads. There are now parts of the roads which have been abandoned and are impassable. This must change because in this way we are creating a new culture which holds that if one considers it to be the state’s responsibility then it is not mine. The people always kept their roads clean, fixed up the sides of the roads, which now we are abandoning.

In the final version the word “rural” was removed at the request of a deputy from Havana Province, as was the reference to road construction, presumably to provide more flexibility with regard to state aid. Article 23 reads as follows:

The cooperatives and the Local Organs of People’s Power will be able to offer mutual collaboration for the construction of [and repair of roads and rural] projects which benefit the community or the cooperative in conformity with the relevant legal stipulations and with what is stipulated in the regulations.17

Another issue that was extensively debated by deputies and farmers concerned relations with the state. As a result of their input, state aid for the constitution, development and strengthening of the cooperatives was defined more precisely and expanded. Changes in the bill resulting from suggestions made by deputies and farmers clarified which and how much of the agricultural production would be sold to state enterprises, thereby freeing up more production to be marketed as decided by the cooperatives; included the cooperatives in the approval process for production plans and programs; and specified that cooperatives can acquire directly from state organizations all products and services necessary for the fulfillment of their economic and social activities, and not be limited to state-mandated production. 

Deputies and farmers debated articles which required that certain types of production be determined by and contracted to be sold to the state instead of being sold privately. I asked Lugo whether this limited the cooperatives’ autonomy; he replied, “No, because that is what we have been doing in practice. For example, we cannot let milk be sold at market prices, since Cuba guarantees milk for all children at a minimum price. The farmer can consume personally what he wants and the rest is sold to the state. The same goes for tobacco, honey, coffee, all of which are for export.” Article 2 was revised as follows to grant more autonomy to the cooperatives:

Mandated production
: that portion of agricultural and forest production whose cost and destination is determined by the State to cover part of the basic needs of the national economy and which is contracted with the cooperatives with this objective. Other agricultural and forest production: that which the cooperatives can sell to state entities or to others who have been authorized, offer at the Agricultural Markets, or designate for their own use or that of other cooperatives.

Social Objective: encompasses the fundamental line of production… and commercialization linked to agricultural production.18

In the version sent to the deputies prior to the meeting held in Camagüey Province on July 7, 2002, Article 16 (regarding cooperatives’ obligations to the state), part d (regarding sale of mandated production to the state) had first been changed to read, “Sell products contracted as decided.” A deputy from Camagüey Municipality complained that the recommendation to add “as decided by state organisms,” made in the November 30 meeting, was not included. In the National Assembly plenary session debate on November 2, 2002, this deputy recommended adding “determined by the organisms of the Central State Administration,” arguing that what is most important is “the control that should be exercised regarding the fulfillment of the contracts in order to avoid diversion of products to destinations other than those projected. One should ask if the mandated production is done … with attention paid to soil quality, the existence or non-existence of an irrigation system, and seed quality, or does empiricism prevail?” His amendment was accepted and the final version of Article 16d was changed read “Sell the mandated products as determined by the competent agency.19

A deputy from Camagüey suggested that the law explain the steps to determine and authorize each cooperative’s  “social objective,” which defines its authorized productive and service activities. Giving each cooperative a say in determining its social objective was brought up at the March 29, 2002 meeting at the CPA Héroes de Yaguajay in Havana Province. One farmer stated, “The social objective should result from something official and the cooperative should approve the objective in its assembly, not like it is now, where the state authority approves it.”20 Article 19a was altered to reflect this demand, stating that it is the responsibility of MINAG and MINAZ

To authorize [approve] the social objective of the cooperative as proposed by the General Assembly taking into account the opinion of the National Association of Small Farmers, and to oversee its fulfillment.21
Complaints registered by farmers at the meetings held on February 2, 2002 (CPA Eliseo Caamaño) and on March 15, 2002 (CPA Rafael Morales) involved the language in Article 19b, which had originally allowed the state alone to approve and oversee production plans. One advocated that the cooperatives’ general assemblies, rather than MINAG and MINAZ, “approve” production plans.22 The approval process in Article 19b was modified to also involve the general assemblies. MINAG and MINAZ are responsible

To approve [and oversee] together with the cooperative production plans and development programs of the cooperatives, as well as controlling their implementation.23

The language was also changed in Article 16c, to have the cooperatives “propose” rather than “submit” their production plans to the state. Cooperatives must “Elaborate and propose [submit] for approval annual production plans and development plans.”24

A farmer from CPA Carlos Baliño, proposed “that the state guarantee to supply us with the minimum of supplies necessary in order to guarantee that we will meet the conditions necessary to fulfill the contracts.”25 This resulted in obligations by the cooperatives (article 16e), and by MINAG and MINAZ according to Article 19c and Article 20,

Article 16.e.- Contract with, acquire [receive] and utilize rationally supplies and other productive and financial resources.

Article 19.c.-To establish state policy and decree the regulations for the designation and acquisition of supplies and other resources of production destined for production, internal consumption and social projects of the cooperatives, and to oversee their implementation [To designate the supplies and resources of production].

Article 20.- The relations of the cooperatives with the state enterprises are contractual with the goal of selling mandated products [and] other products mutually agreed upon, and receiving supplies and resources for production and other productive resources necessary to fulfill their economic and social activities. D eputies and farmers sought changes in the articles on the distribution of profits. According to Lugo, “The new law states that the person with more seniority gets a higher percentage of the profits. A farmer who has worked twenty years on the cooperative has contributed more than has a new member to the creation of capital on the cooperative. At first there was some opposition to this new proposal by some very good and very rich cooperatives, but not the majority.” 

In the new legislation up to 70% of the profits may be distributed to the cooperative members (an increase from the 50% in the previous legislation) if the reserve fund for contingencies has been funded. Both deputies and farmers demanded that this reserve fund be a percentage of a cooperative’s assets, and in the final version it was set at 10%. They also insisted that in order to distribute up to 70% of the profits to the farmers, at least half of the reserve fund must be funded, and that, in any case, at least 50% of the profits be distributed. These changes were accepted in the final version.

Article 2.- Reserve fund to cover contingencies: a compulsory financial fund, not for distribution, which each cooperative should create and maintain, to come from its profits, whose total cost should be not less than ten percent of [be in direct relation to] the value of its assets, which is destined exclusively to resolve difficult economic situations due to natural catastrophes or other causes not covered by insurance [to guarantee the economic life of the cooperative].

Article 51.- When the cooperative has completed the payment for goods distributed to its members, and has set aside more than half of [stabilized] the reserve fund to cover contingencies, it can distribute more than fifty percent, up to seventy percent of the profits [among members and workers].26

The original version of the bill gave a larger share of the profits to farmers with at least five years seniority to encourage them to remain, and to retired founders of the cooperative who had contributed land or other items, such as machinery, to the cooperative (jubilados aportadores). During the March 15 CPA Rafael Morales general assembly, a farmer proposed that the rewards be given to all retired members, and not just jubilados aportadores, since all “had contributed to the economic stability, to the creation of its assets.”27 The language in Article 53 was changed to include all retired founders:

“These cooperatives also dedicate part of their profits to reward the retired contributors and founders, depending on years of work and merits earned.”28

Debates involved workers contracted by the CPA and the CCS, some of whom are needed only a few months per year. Lugo told me,

The CPA has contracted workers who have to work for a relatively short trial period. If they want to be members they must be brought immediately to the general assembly of the cooperative. There are many members of the cooperatives who do not want them to become members, because if they are not members they cannot share in the cooperatives’ profits. But this is exploitation. The new version of the bill states they must be considered for membership by the general assembly within three months, and, if accepted, have a right to share the profits from the first day of employment prior to becoming members. There was protest on these matters from the deputies. There are many members who have a lot of money and don’t want to share this with non-members, but that is exploitation, which cannot be permitted. In the general sense sharing profits in this manner has been accepted. There was also discussion regarding the distribution of profit. In the CCS fortalecidas thecontracted labor also shares in the profits. But some of the farmers hired labor on their own, and these workers did not receive social security, maternity benefits, or accident insurance, as do other Cuban workers. The Revolution cannot permit this. The new law says that in the CCS only the cooperative, and not individual farmers, can hire labor. The farmer who uses the labor pays the worker and also pays the CCS for the worker’s social security and taxes. Thus the contracted worker will have pension rights and disability insurance. This covers about 100,000 workers. This has not been a problem with the CPA, which pays social security for all members and contracted workers.

Those workers hired by the CPAs who become members were granted the right to receive part of the profits, starting from their first day on the job. The original bill’s language granted profit-sharing to all workers contracted by the cooperatives, but farmers objected to including short-term workers (such as during the harvest) who do not become members. Several farmers emphasized this point at the March 7, 2002 CPA Niceto Pérez general assembly. One pointed out that some hired workers come to their province during their vacations and work for one or two months and then disappear. Another argued that allowing short-term workers to share in the profits constituted a disincentive to members, by granting the short-term workers excessive rights without the obligation owed to the cooperative and to ANAP. A third farmer added that if approved as written, no worker would be motivated to become a member.29 At the CPA Carlos Baliño general assembly, a farmer argued that short-term contracted workers should not share in the profits, since by law they work 8-hour days and would not have the same love as the members, who work 10 or 12 or more hours since their work is for their own benefit.30 Article 65 was changed as follows: “Workers who become members of the CPA, have the right to participation in the profits from the first day of their incorporation as workers”.3133

While these were items that were not covered in the pending legislation, they were dealt with in the subsequent formulation and approval of regulations needed to implement the new law, to be formulated and presented to the Council of Ministers within ninety days after its passage. From January to March 2003 Cuban farmers in meetings at their cooperatives presented their opinions regarding commercialization, prices, illegal middlemen, and agreements with the state regarding harvests.34 Consultation with constituents, when it takes place, usually involves those sectors of the population linked to proposed legislation, such as cooperative farmers.

In all versions of the bill, contracted workers and all CPA and CCS members are covered, as are all workers in Cuba, by existing legislation regarding retirement age (60 for men, 55 for women), social security and disability insurance.

In heated debate in Pinar del Rio Province in December 2001, some deputies took the position that the UBPC be included in the legislation. This was rejected by the ANAP leadership. One deputy argued that the UBPC, while having distinctive origins and characteristics, are based on cooperative production. “Why then,” he asked, “if we are dealing with a law on cooperatives, do we not include them in this law in a separate chapter? It seems to me that due to the importance of the UBPC they should not be excluded.” Another responded that since the UBPC do not own the land, but rather use state-owned land, the farmers were workers, analogous to factory workers, rather than cooperating farmers. Lugo was adamant that since the UBPC farmers were not cooperativists in the true sense (because they did not own the land, and therefore represented a different type of socialist enterprise), most provisions of the new bill would not apply to them. Furthermore, any implication that the private cooperatives represented a transitional phase of socialism and did not represent the true socialistic future, was vehemently rejected.

Deputies’ proposal to change the title from “Agricultural Cooperatives Law” to “Law of Agricultural Production and of Credit and Service Cooperatives” was accepted. This was meant to clarify that both types of cooperatives were covered, but not the UBPC.

 As noted above, during the National Assembly plenary session debate on November 2, 2002, a deputy’s recommendation to amend Article 16d (regarding sale of mandated production to the state) was accepted. The changes recommended in the Productive Activities Commission’s dictamen included the new title, and the inclusion of the Provincial Housing Authority among the commissions overseeing the dissolution of cooperatives. The dictamen and the bill, as amended,passed by a unanimous vote.32

President Castro participated in the debate regarding prices, transport, and the role of middlemen in private agricultural markets. He complained that many of those transporting and selling agricultural products in private Havana markets, supposedly reserved for farmers, were not connected to agricultural cooperatives, but were rather parasitical merchants charging confiscatory prices. He pointed out that many cooperatives, referring especially to the CCS fortalecidas, lacked trucks and gasoline to transport their goods to market. State payments to the farmers and transportation were usually delayed, causing the produce to rot before it got to market. Thus they turned to the illegal middlemen, who provided efficient transportation and immediate payment.

In conclusion, the main parts of the process involved consultation and consensus. ANAP was the major player in drafting the legislation. Modifications came from consultations with ministers, specialists, the PCC, and deputies and cooperative farmers in the provinces, who were not hesitant to voice their opposition to certain parts of the bill. The suggested modifications had to be accepted by the ANAP leadership and by the National Assembly commissions. When consensus was not achieved prior to submitting the bill to the plenary session in December 2001, ANAP and the Productive Affairs Commission decided to withdraw the bill temporarily and dispatch it for more consultation with farmers, deputies and state organs. The plenary session debate in November 2002 did not involve much substance, since most of the contentious issues had been dealt with previously. By the time the bill was submitted, an apparent consensus had been achieved, which accounts for the unanimous vote. Neither the PCC nor President Castro played a dominant role during the whole legislative process.

Clearly, opposition by deputies and farmers had been voiced and taken into account, and had brought substantive changes. In housing, a major stumbling block, mechanisms making it possible to adjust the legal status of existing housing were included. Farmers were granted increased rights of ownership and increased authority to determine who could live in their houses. In addition, housing for essential non-farm workers, such as physicians and accountants, was provided for. Demands also led to increased state aid and to more autonomy regarding production and commercialization. Deputies and farmers won their demands for distribution of profits in relation to the contingency fund and to provisions for retired farmers and hired laborers. Some demands, such as those pertaining to road maintenance, were not accepted. The issue of local government aid for the maintenance of internal roads was not resolved but rather postponed, to be dealt with under future regulations.

Not every bill passed by the National Assembly goes through this lengthy consultation process. The Law Against Terrorism, passed in December 2001, was discussed at the same meeting with deputies as the Agricultural Cooperative bill, but was not discussed directly with constituents. The economic measures taken in 1994 were debated in “workers’ parliaments” held in all workplaces throughout the country.35

Not only did suggestions made by deputies and farmers contribute to substantive changes made in the final version of the bill, but the debates also demonstrated that these participants had studied the bill, and were familiar and knowledgeable regarding its content. I noticed the same when deputies were debating the Law Against Terrorism.  Compare this with the United States Congress whose members passed the Patriot Act in 2001 without having read it, and passed the 2005 budget (over 1000 pages weighing fourteen pounds) the day after receiving it at the end of November 2004, admittedly and obviously without having time to read it, much less debate it.


* Paper presented at the Symposium “Cuba Today: Continuity and Change since the ‘Período Especial’,” Cuba Project, Bildner Center for Western Hemisphere Studies, Graduate Center, City University of New York, October 4, 2004. Research for this article was supported by grants from the City University of New York PSC-CUNY Research Foundation

1. Peter Roman, People’s Power: Cuba’s Experience with Representative Government, updated ed. (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 49-54. Works discussed include: Neil Harding (ed.), The State in Socialist Society, Albany: SUNY Press, 1984; Theodore H. Friedgut, Political Participation in the USSR, Princeton University Press, 1979; Stephen White & Daniel Nelson (eds.), Communist Politics: A Reader, New York University Press, 1986; Christopher Pierson, Marxist Theory and Democratic Politics, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1986; T. H. Rigby & Ferenc Fehr (eds.), Political Legitimation in Communist States, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982; Stephen White John Gardner, & George Schopflin, Communist Political Systems: An Introduction, 2d ed., London: Macmillan Education, 1987.

2. Peter Roman, “The National Assembly and Political Representation,” in Cuban Socialism in a New Century: Adversity, Survival and Renewal, ed. Max Azicri & Elsie Deal (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004), 209.

3. Roman, People’s Power, 89-95.

4. “Resolución Económica del V Congreso del Partido Comunista de Cuba,” Granma, November 7, 1997, 1-8.

5. Resoluciones Aprobadas por el III Congreso del Partido Comunista de Cuba (Havana: Editora Política, 1986), 18-21.

6. For a discussion of the consultative process preceding the Law on People’s Councils in 2000, see Roman, “The National Assembly and Political Representation.”

7. Resoluciones Aprobadas por el III Congreso del Partido Comunista de Cuba, 57.

8. José M. Garea Alonso, “El ejercicio de la democracia en Cuba en el proceso de elaboración, discusión y aprobación de las Leyes por el Parlamento,” paper presented to the Congreso Internacional de Derecho Agrario, Holguín, Cuba, October 2002, 8.

9. In December 2001 I attended the meetings with deputies where the Agricultural Cooperative bill was discussed in the following provinces: Havana, City of Havana, Pinar del Rio, and Matanzas. In June 2002 I attended a meeting with deputies in Camagüey Province which included deputies from Sancti Spiritus Province. I was also given the tape recordings of the meetings in Camagüey Province held on November 30, 2001, and of the meetings held in May and June 2002 in Santiago and Holguín Provinces. I was given the minutes of general assembly meetings held at five CPA and one CCS in Pinar del Rio and Havana Provinces.

10. Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular [hereafter, ANPP], Proyecto, Ley de Cooperativas de Producción Agropecuaria y de Crédito y Servicios (Law #95), November 2002 [hereafter, Law #95], 16.

11. Acta Nro. 2, Asamblea General (extraordinaria), CPA Eliseo Caamaño, February 2, 2002, 3; Acta Extraordinaria, CPA Rafael Morales, March 15, 2002, 3; Acta, Asamblea General (extraordinaria), CPA Carlos Baliño, 3.

12. ANPP, Proyecto, Ley de Cooperativas Agropecuarias, November 2001, 14; ANPP, Law #95, 16.

13. Ibid.

14. ANPP, Law #95, 3, 28, 30.

15. ANPP, Proyecto, Ley de Cooperativas Agropecuarias, November 2001, 11.

16. ANPP, Law #95, 11.

17. Ibid., 3 .

18. Ibid., 9 .

19. Acta No. 3, Asamblea General, CPA Héroes de Yaguajay, March 29, 2002, 2.

20. ANPP, Proyecto, Ley de Cooperativas Agropecuarias, Nov 2001, 10; ANPP, Law #95, 9.

21. Acta No. 2, Asamblea General, CPA Eliseo Caamaño, 3; Acta Extraordinaria, Asamblea General, CPA Rafael Morales, 3.

22. ANPP, Proyecto, Ley de Cooperativas Agropecuarias, Nov 2001, 10; ANPP, Law #95, 10.

23. ANPP, Proyecto, Ley de Cooperativas Agropecuarias, Nov 2001, 7; ANPP, Law #95, 9.

24. Acta, Asamblea General Extraordinaria, CPA Carlos Baliño, 3.

25. ANPP, Proyecto, Ley de Cooperativas Agropecuarias, November 2001, 7, 9, 10; ANPP, Law #95, 9-10.

26. ANPP, Proyecto, Ley de Cooperativas Agropecuarias, November 2001, 8, 16, 19; ANPP, Law #95, 3, 23.

27. Acta Extraordinaria, CPA Rafael Morales, 2.

28. ANPP, Law #95, 19.

29. Acta No. 2, Asamblea General, CPA Niceto Pérez, March 7, 2002, 4.

30. Acta Asamblea General (extraordinaria) CPA Carlos Baliño, 3.

31. ANPP, Law #95, 23.

32. Acta: ANPP, Noveno Período Ordinario de Sesiones: Quinta Legislatura, Nov 2, 2002, 1-22.

33. Acta: ANPP, Noveno Período Ordinario de Sesiones: Quinta Legislatura, Nov 2, 2002 13-15.

34. Raisa Pages “Elaboran reglamentos para implementar Ley de Cooperativas,” Granma Internacional, (December 24, 2002).

35. Roman, People’s Power, 249-263.

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