Land reform in Cuba

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The agrarian reform laws of Cuba sought to break up large landholdings and redistribute land to those peasants who worked it, to cooperatives, and the state. Laws relating to land reform were implemented in a series of laws passed between 1959 and 1963 after the Cuban Revolution. Che Guevara was named head of the INRA as minister of industries and oversaw the land reform policies.


The first liberating revolutions never destroyed the large landholding powers that always constituted a reactionary force and upheld the principle of servitude on the land. In most countries the large landholders realized they couldn't survive alone and promptly entered into alliances with the monopolies — the strongest and most ruthless oppressors of the Latin American peoples. U.S. capital arrived on the scene to exploit the virgin lands and later carried off, unnoticed, all the funds so 'generously' given, plus several times the amount originally invested in the 'beneficiary' country.

— Che Guevara, Marxist revolutionary, 1961[1]

Law no. 3 of the Sierra Maestra[edit]

Law no. 3 of the Sierra Maestra was enacted in the fall of 1958 by the rebel forces under the command of Fidel Castro and implemented only in the liberated territories of Eastern Cuba under their control.

First agrarian reform law under Che Guevara[edit]

In most of Cuba the peasants had been progressively proletarianized due to the needs of large-scale, semi-mechanized capitalist agriculture. They had reached a new level of organization and therefore a greater class consciousness. In mentioning this we should also point out, in the interest of truth, that the first area in which the Rebel Army operated was an area inhabited by peasants whose social and cultural roots were different from those of the peasants found in the areas of large-scale, semi-mechanized Cuban agriculture. In fact the Sierra Maestra, the site of the first revolutionary settlement, is a place where peasants who had struggled against large landholders took refuge. They went there seeking new land — somehow overlooked by the state or the voracious landholders — on which to earn a modest income. They struggled constantly against the demands of the soldiers, always allied to the landholders, and their ambitions extended no further than a property deed. The peasants who belonged to our first guerrilla armies came from that section of this social class which most strongly shows love for the land and the possession of it; that is to say, which most perfectly demonstrates the petty-bourgeois spirit. The peasants fought because they wanted land for themselves and their children, to manage and sell it and to enrich themselves through their labor. Despite their petty-bourgeois spirit, the peasants soon learned that they could not satisfy their desire to possess land without breaking up the large landholding system. Radical agrarian reform, the only type that could give land to the peasants, clashed directly with the interests of the imperialists, the large landholders and the sugar and cattle magnates. The bourgeoisie was afraid to clash with those interests but the proletariat was not. In this way the course of the revolution itself brought the workers and peasants together. The workers supported the demands of the peasants against the large landholders. The poor peasants, rewarded with ownership of land, loyally supported the revolutionary power and defended it against its imperialist and counter-revolutionary enemies.

— Che Guevara, April 9, 1961 [2]

On January 27, 1959, Che Guevara made one of his most significant speeches where he talked about "the social ideas of the rebel army." During this speech, he declared that the main concern of the new Cuban government was "the social justice that land redistribution brings about."[3]

On May 17, 1959, the Agrarian Reform Law called for and crafted by Guevara went into effect, limiting the size of farms to 3,333 acres (13 km2) and real estate to 1,000 acres (4 km2). Any holdings over these limits were expropriated by the government and either redistributed to peasants in 67 acres (271,139 m2) parcels or held as state-run communes.[4] The law also stipulated that sugar plantations could not be owned by foreigners. A new government agency, the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA), was established to administer this law, and quickly became the most important governing body in the nation, with Guevara named Minister of Industries.[5]

For lands taken over compensation was offered in the form of Cuban currency bonds to mature in 20 years at 4.5% interest.[6] Bonds were based on land values as assessed for tax purposes.[6] During Batista's reign American proprietors had lands assessed at very low rates.[6]

INRA established its own 100,000 person militia, used first to help the government seize control of the expropriated land, supervise its distribution, and later to set up cooperative farms. The land confiscated included 480,000 acres (1,942 km2) owned by U.S. corporations.[5]

Soon after Guevara trained these forces as a regular army, while the INRA also financed most of the highway construction in the country, built rural housing and even tourist resorts per Guevara's industrial plans.[7]

Second agrarian reform law[edit]

The Second Agrarian Reform Law was enacted in October 1963.


See also[edit]


  • Kellner, Douglas (1989). Ernesto "Che" Guevara (World Leaders Past & Present). Chelsea House Publishers (Library Binding edition). p. 112. ISBN 1-55546-835-7. 

External links[edit]