Cuba: Private enterprise grows

The effects of the continuing US economic embargo are most apparent in the countryside, where farming cooperatives rely on outdated tools and processing plants can’t obtain spare parts, Will Grant reports for the BBC.

Whether filling their favourite sugary treat – guava pastries – or turned into jams and preserves, Cubans consume tens of thousands of tonnes of guava every year.

Said by generations of Cuban grandmothers to have curative and digestive qualities, guavas thrive in the perfect balance of heat and rain found in Mayabeque province, outside Havana.

Finca Santa Rosa, in the verdant municipality of Quivican, is an especially good spot.

“We’re looking for fruit that is mature and has a good colour,” says Onil Beltran, the owner of Finca Santa Rosa, as he picks the ripest guavas from his rows of trees.

‘Business is good’

Even in the lush countryside of Quivican, the growth of private enterprise in Cuba is apparent. Mr Beltran’s family owns around 50 hectares in total, employing 20 people as part of a state-approved private cooperative system.

Reliable figures can be hard to come by, but government statistics suggest this bucolic corner of the country saw its fruit tree harvests almost double between 2012 and 2014.

Mr Beltran’s cooperative is doubtless responsible for a significant part of that improvement.

For turning idle land into productive crops of mango, avocado, papaya, coffee and peanuts, the state gave the Beltrans more fields. Under the rules of the Cuban economy, they must sell their entire harvest to the state. Only the surplus can be sold in the open market.

Mr Beltran is generally happy with that arrangement as it guarantees a fixed income for him and his employees. But he is also keen to take advantage of new business opportunities as they arise.

“We can now sell direct to the tourism sector and to the hotels,” he explains. “Our cooperative should start looking into that soon. It’s another way for us to trade our produce.”

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