Martes, 24 de Octubre de 2017
02:33 CEST.
Agriculture

Going after the whistleblower rather than the culprits: the tobacco conflict continues in Mayarí

Criminalizing the disclosure of violations to the public, rather than those who perpetrated them, seems to be the approach taken by the authorities in the conflict between producers in Mayarí, Holguín, and the state company Cubatabaco for unfair payments for crops.

In previous articles I have discussed the plight faced by we producers as a result of the prices of so-called "affected tobacco," or category-3 tobacco, a completely useable and marketable class of the plant that generates major profits for Cubatabaco, but is paid for as if it were garbage, at just a third of its production cost.

The situation has worsened because the volume of this type of tobacco increased in the last harvest due to the adverse effects of a mysterious and unavoidable malady called "green spot."

Attempts to seek redress undertaken by the cooperative of producers from the state company's management and technicians have all been in vain, with no grievances properly channeled. The agreement of the Assembly of Members ((Asociados)) not to sell the tobacco until the problem of unfair prices was solved, was violated by all of them - beginning with the president of the cooperative, who evidently feels a greater allegiance to the interests of the State than those of the farmworkers.

In the midst of this controversial situation, a rumor spread that the authorities were finally taking the price problem seriously. Unfortunately, this was not due to the fact that the payment was, in fact, unfair, but rather because of the coverage of the issue in alternative media.

Of course, the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), charged with detecting any injustices suffered by farm laborers, and fighting for a solution, has done nothing, despite the fact that we producers support the organization with levies on our income.

The municipal managers of the ANAP and those of the cooperative are grappling with "the problem of Osmel Ramírez," not that of the unfair price. They are proceeding cautiously, because they know that I am advancing a whole collective's complaint, and any move against me would put me in the spotlight.

In mid-May a commission came to my home to analyze my articles on nonconformities in the harvest price. It was made up of the director of the tobacco company in the municipality, along with the deputy director, deputy agricultural director, and legal counsel, all at the provincial level. They were all very friendly and receptive.

It was a heated but respectful exchange in which the initial disagreement evolved into tacit consensus. "Do you think that the price of 292 pesos per quintal of category-3 tobacco is fair, when it is paid for at just 30% of its production cost, and the product generates thousands of pesos in profits?" was my question.

First they tried to change the subject to avoid the heart of the matter, but they ended up recognizing reality, and promised to pass on this source of discontent to their superiors. They called the situation a "problem," while I insisted that it was an "injustice" and assured them that I would continue to fight for our interests.

I defended my right to freely write about the reality around me and to publish it on the Internet. They did not overtly question that contention. And I stressed my commitment to the strictest ethics of honest writing, and being true to the facts.

Minutes after the meeting, several farmworkers came to my house. One of them, coincidentally, had come by in the middle of our talk, and told the rest. They wanted to know what had happened and, to my surprise, they knew about my articles, because the rumors had circulated widely.

Of course, they do not surf the Internet, as this is something inaccessible for most people, due to the high prices of Wi-Fi hotspots. Those who do, usually use it to communicate less expensively on IMO, or check Facebook, not to read news and, much less, articles. This is why it is easy to distort and stigmatize anything that is published, and to frighten many people. But this issue is very sensitive because it affects income that is vital of thousands of families, while swelling state coffers with undeserved profits.

This issue shall be addressed again at a meeting of the cooperative. Although it seems very difficult to win this battle, it is a duty to fight for a fair price for all the tobacco we harvest.

We are required by law to negotiate with Cubatabaco, the only company of its kind existing in the country. The alternative we have is to live in dishonorable complicity with injustice, an option that we cannot consider. Hence, the conflict continues.

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