BIRAN, Cuba — Not long after Fidel Castro’s new government began seizing farms and cattle ranches in a voracious expropriation campaign, his mother, Lina Ruz, looked out the window one day in 1960 and saw bearded soldiers in her orange groves. She went outside to confront them with a rifle.
They asked her to put the gun down and call her son. Castro had nationalized his own parents’ land.
Castro replaced the old order in which his father had thrived with a state-dominated Soviet model that became one of his government’s most chronic and costly failures.
Cuba’s rural economy is so dependent today on horse carts and oxen that its farming towns look as if they’re drifting back in time toward the 19th century. Annual sugar production is less than 2 million tons, down from 8 million in 1989. The coffee harvest is one-tenth of what it was in the 1950s. Cuba imports some 70 percent of its food, and one of the primary tasks facing the next generation of leaders will be to figure out how to get the country to feed itself again.