Blackouts Have Reduced Sugar Production by Half in the ‘Colossus of Cuba’

So far, the Antonio Guiteras sugar mill has ground only 3,954 tons of the 39,000 tons that were planned.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 March 2024 — The Antonio Guiteras sugar mill in Puerto Padre (Las Tunas) has lost 75% of grinding time due to the prolonged blackouts suffered in Cuba. The lack of electricity interrupts the process of receiving and cleaning the cane every day for between four and five hours, before it is transferred to the industry. This has caused only 48% of the potential daily standard to be ground, as reported this Friday by Periódico26.

The official media spells out all the calamities that affect the sugar harvest for the Antonio Guiteras mill. In a visit, Manuel Gallego, secretary of the Communist Party in Las Tunas, “indicated” to the directors a need to “continue implementing alternatives” and “improving attention to the staff.” He hopes that granting better conditions in the workers’ dining room and cafeteria will give the necessary impetus to overcome the failing harvest.

After 50 days of the campaign, this mill is very far from reaching the more than 39,000 tons of sugar that were planned for it. So far, at a production rate of 84 tons per day, it has accumulated only 3,954 tons.

After 50 days of the campaign, this mill is very far from achieving the more than 39,000 tons of sugar that were planned for it

Juan Carlos Molina Diéguez, director of the sugar mill, puts leaks in the pipes and “other operational obstacles” at the top of the list of problems in the industry. According to the official, these problems have not been “resolved” because the contracted workforce does not have the necessary experience to fix them.

There are additional impediments to the current harvest. Only 40% of the trucks that transfer the cane to the mill are working. Accidents on the railway tracks are not taken care of promptly, and, in addition, there are not enough rail cars to transport the cane.

The result is the decrease in industrial efficiency of a sugar mill recognized in its best years as the “Colossus of Cuba”. Rafael Pantaleón Quevedo, director of the Antonio Guiteras Agroindustrial Sugar Company, said that “the sugar now arriving from the field has a better quality but is not in the quantities needed.”

Pantaleón Quevedo also stressed that they are paying “permanent attention” to equipping trucks with a global positioning system (GPS) “to prevent labor indisciplines.” Given the shortage of spare parts for the vehicles, drivers usually buy parts on the black market at exorbitant prices and also use the trucks to offer transport services that are paid for privately.

In Las Tunas, the 2023-2024 harvest began on January 7 at the Majibacoa sugar mill, the other mill in the province. The two mills have, together, the highest sugar production plan on the Island – 61,500 tons – a goal that, as the 77 days of milling approaches, is moving further and further away from the boilers of the Las Tunas sugar mills.

Only 40% of the trucks that transport the cane to the mill are working

When the incorporation of Majibacoa into the national harvest was announced, Periódico26 explained that this sugar would be destined for the standard family basket (under the rationing system). However, once again, plans give way to the harsh reality of the country. In the Mexico neighborhood of the municipality of Las Tunas, to date the ration stores have sold only one pound of sugar per person, and no one knows when the rest of the food included in the basic basket will arrive.

It’s the same situation in Granma province. On a tour of the Enidio González sugar mill in Campechuela, Yudelkis Ortiz Barceló, first secretary of the Communist Party, learned that the planting of cane is at 51.4% of a plan that was not mentioned in the official newspaper La Demajagua.

Ortiz Barceló called for raising the awareness among workers to “be more efficient by superior efforts for recovery and progress in the production of sugar” for the family basket. The leader stressed “there is a need to continue adopting measures to ensure that productuon is where it should be.”

In addition to the technical problems that affect Cuban sugar mills, the lack of spare parts and the loss of highly qualified workers, the late start of the 2023-2024 harvest predicts that, once again, it will be a disaster.

The late start of the 2023-2024 sugar harvest predicts that it will, once again, be a disaster

At the end of November 2023, the official press announced that of the 25 sugar mills involved in the current harvest, only two would start late. However, when Periódico26 announced the start of the harvest in Las Tunas, it said that “the Majibacoa is part of the group of 15 sugar mills in Cuba that are now working, of the 25 that will participate in this campaign.”

The newspapers of Granma and Las Tunas have not said anything about what the fuel deficit implies for sugar production. On March 4, an official of the agricultural sector in Las Tunas confirmed to 14ymedio that the province had not received fuel for 19 days, and “it is not even for sale in dollars in the gas station.”

Translated by Regina Anavy


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