14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, September 23, 2018 — This September the sugar that has been distributed in the “basic basket” of the rationed market doesn’t come from Cuban fields, but rather from far-off France. The poor performance of the last sugar harvest forced the Island’s Government to import a product that, until a few years ago, was the symbol of the country.
In impeccable white bags, the sugar that has arrived in Havana stores is bringing satisfaction to consumers for its quality and cleanliness. “It’s fine, it’s not damp, and it doesn’t have any dirt,” is how Norberto, a grocer from Havana’s La Timba neighborhood near the Plaza of the Revolution, describes the product.
“We’ve had sugar from Brazil but this is the first time that we’ve gotten it from France,” adds the state employee, a fact confirmed to this newspaper by a worker from the Sugar Business Group (Azcuba) who prefers to remain anonymous. “We’ve had to buy French sugar because we’ve committed the majority of the national sugar harvest to international buyers,” he details.
Cuba has a high sugar consumption and needs around 700,000 tons annually to satisfy the demand of the rationed market, local industries, and the self-employed sector. The Island has a commercial agreement with China to sell it 400,000 tons each year, but this year the production wasn’t enough to cover both internal consumption and exports.
In the 2017-2018 sugar harvest the Island produced a little over one million tons of raw sugar, far from the 1.6 million that sector authorities had forecast. “Which didn’t permit the fulfillment of what was planned,” indicated the president of the state-controlled group Azcuba, Julio García.
The Cuban sugar industry, for decades, was the flagship of the Island’s products and the leading export. In 1991 it reached 8 million tons just before the collapse of the Soviet Union sank the Cuban economy and caused particular damage to that sector.
In the present, sugar production has been lagging, far behind tourism, remittances from emigrants, and the sale of professional services, principally in healthcare, which have displaced the former economic driving force of the Island.
In 2002 and under the mandate of Fidel Castro, a process of dismantling of dozens of sugar production centers began, under the argument that the fall in prices of the product in the international market was making the industry unsustainable. In 2011 the Ministry of Sugar was eliminated and its functions were assumed by Azcuba.
Three five-year-periods after that offensive, 64% of the centers remain closed; their workers were relocated to other positions, and the majority of the sugar plantations have been directed to other crops.
In the previous sugar harvest only 54 centers operated and the rains affected the harvest that should have finished before what was predicted, due to intense precipitation in the spring, which made the harvesting of the cane in the fields more difficult and contributed to a rapid deterioration of the product.
Translated by: Sheilagh Carey
The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.