Professor Hamilton Leads Delegation of Agricultural Law Students to Cuba
In early January 2012, 18 Drake University Law students, accompanied by Prof. Neil Hamilton
, director of the Agricultural Law Center
, spent a week in Cuba studying agricultural law reforms. The Drake delegation was the first U.S. legal group to visit Cuba to study agricultural law. The students were hosted by the Union National de Juristas de Cuba (UNJC) (the Cuban bar association) and spent days meeting with officials from the Sociedad Cubana de Derecho Agrario (the Agricultural Law Society of Cuba). The students were accompanied by Matt Russell, food policy coordinator in the Center and Emiliano Lerda a 2010 Drake law graduate and consultant to the Center on Latin American agricultural law. This was Professor Hamilton’s third trip to Cuba, following visits in February and May of 2011 to finalize plans for the students’ visit.
The Drake delegation met with Cuban legal scholars and government officials, in sessions covering the Cuban Constitution, Legal Education in Cuba, the History of Agrarian Reforms, and Current Issues in Agricultural Law. A topic of special focus was the process underway in Cuba to make idle stated owned farmland available to individual farmers under 10 year leases. This reform began in 2008 under Law 259 as part of the efforts by Raul Castro to create new economic opportunities, expand food production and reduce public employment. Since the campaign began over 178,000 individuals have signed agreements involving more than 1.34 million hectares (3.35 million acres). These new farmers are helping increase Cuba’s food production, in particular of vegetables, fruit and livestock.
The Drake students visited several farms and urban gardens in the Havana area, to learn how farm businesses are organized and to see how urban agriculture is used. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cuba entered a period of economic hardship – called the Special Period, when shortages of food, fuel, and electricity led to hardship and spurred local innovations. One effort still promoted today is growing produce on vacant urban land. Cuba created thousands of urban gardens or “organiponicos” and a new form of cooperative farming enterprise – the Unit of Basic Production Cooperative or UBPC to expand the efforts. Today, each of Cuba’s 168 municipalities has a program to expand urban farming. The Drake delegation toured the Alomar UPBC, which covers 25 acres and employs 120 cooperative members. While food production has increased, especially for eggs and vegetables, Cuba imports large quantities of food, notably rice, beans, poultry, corn and soymeal. Cuban officials estimate 75% of food is imported, but the goal is to reduce imports and increase local production.
The Drake delegation concluded the official visit with a joint session on agricultural law with the Cuban Agricultural Law Society. Prof. Hamilton gave a lecture on U.S. agricultural law and the parallels with Cuba, the first talk on the topic by a U.S. professor. Officials from the University of Havana Law School invited him to teach an agricultural law course in early January 2013, when Drake Law School plans to send a second delegation of students to Cuba. Prof. Hamilton said, “Our trip was an invaluable opportunity for Drake students to visit a country with a unique political and legal system and to experience the friendship of Cubans. Someday soon the U.S. will have more normal relations with our neighbor to the South and these Drake Law students will be prepared to help build that new future.”