This paper will review the food security situation in the country and the GAO's efforts to address it. The evolution of Cuban agriculture, as well as the historical and geopolitical frameworks pertaining to it, will also be reviewed.
The Spanish arrived in Cuba in 1511 and ruled the island for more than 300 years thereafter. In 1898, the United States conquered the island in its second war with Spain. Cuba became independent in 1902, and started a democratic system where corruption and U.S. involvement in internal affairs were frequent. Discontent with this regime, together with Cuba's high income disparities and large mass of poor peasants (Alvarez, FE479 and FE480, 2004), led to the Cuban Revolution of 1959, where Fidel Castro and his followers overturned the dictatorial rule of General Fulgencio Batista. Under U.S. pressure, in particular the embargo enacted in 1960, Castro aligned Cuba politically and militarily with the Socialist bloc. A communist regime was installed, with one-party rule by the Partido Comunista de Cuba (Cuban Communist Party).
Cuba benefited from favourable trade agreements with the COMECOM. These treaties allowed it to trade oil for sugar in advantageous terms. According to Alvarez (FE481, 2004), Cuba even sold some of these oil imports to obtain Western currency, and the subvention reached the equivalent of five billion dollars per year. These revenues allowed Cuba to invest in universal healthcare and education, achieving much better social indicators (e.g. low maternal and child mortality, near-universal literacy, high life expectancy etc) than other countries in Central America and the Caribbean, and sometimes approaching those of developed countries (for the data, see CIA World Factbook, 2005).
Changes in agriculture and food production
In agriculture, large farms and sugarcane plantations belonging to U.S. companies or to wealthy Cubans were expropriated and turned into People's farms or into cooperatives. The first agrarian reform initiatives followed the principle that "the land should belong to those who work on it". Sharecropping was forbidden and the land was distributed among the peasants. Subsequent laws made private farms even smaller and further concentrated land in the hands of the state. By 1963, some 70% the land belonged to the government. The Cuban authorities believed that concentrating larger properties in the hands of the State would make farming more efficient because of scale economics. (For the chronology of reforms and distribution of land, see Alvarez, 2004 - FE480 and FE481).
Introduction of food rationing
Cuban agriculture, especially its sugarcane plantations, followed the Soviet model. Production was intensive, heavily mechanized and export-oriented. Use of tractors, chemical fertilizers and pesticides was much higher than in most of Latin America, and often as high as in the United States (Sinclair 2001).
Despite its intensive agricultural production, food has been rationed in Cuba since the beginning of the Cuban revolution. Some reasons were the export-oriented nature of its agriculture, the U.S. embargo, which forced Cuba to import food from half a world away, thereby making these imports more expensive, and the extra income that became