14ymedio, Havana, 20 January 2021 — A few months ago, the Empresa Integral Agropecuaria de Las Tunas was distinguished with two awards, one last October and the other in December. Judging by recent statements from the charcoal workers, the authorities do not seem disposed to let the awards be joined by an improvement in the workers’ income.
Several employees in the sector have gone on strike after having received wages of 113 pesos this January, to which should be added the advance of 1,000 pesos received in December. The sum of both amounts is just over half the minimum wage announced by the Government for 2021: 1,910 pesos for 40 hours and 2,100 pesos for 44.
14ymedio tried to find out the reasons why company would pay such a meager amount, but the official who answered the call refused to provide any information and maintained that it’s “something la gusanera* is saying,” a falsehood, according to his version, about which they have already posted something. “If you are a journalist, come and talk face to face, if that’s not the case, search for information on Google,” he said.
This newspaper has checked the internet and has not found the alleged information “on Google.”
In addition to the announced strike, the charcoal workers also plan to denounce Jaime García Oquendo, director of the company, official of the Ministry of the Interior and former head of prisons in the province, and Vladimir Rodríguez Acosta, representative of the workers, for theft of wages and corruption.
On Tuesday, Radio Televisión Martí broadcast the statements of Luis Silva, one of the striking workers who announced his intention to stop working until he received a decent payment. “I [am not going to] work any more until they resolve the salary. With 113 pesos it is not enough for anything. There are four of us, my wife and two children,” he said.
According to the Miami-based media outlet, charcoal makers usually receive an extra payment for exports at the end of the year but the company did not do so this year on the grounds that sales had plummeted as a result of the pandemic.
The workers of the Empresa Integral Agropecuaria de Las Tunas deny the company’s sales data and insist that they exported more than 15,000 tons of the product for a price of about $432 per ton, according to the apostolic pastor Yoel Demetrio, president of the Missionary Church of Cuba, speaking in an interview with the Miami-based Radio Televisión Martí.
“In January they only paid 113 pesos. That is not enough to live on, and then those workers have decided not to work anymore until the authorities increase their salary. Here, in the protest, there are 22 charcoal makers, but there are others in different municipalities. For example, in Jobabo they are also protesting, because they are from the same company,” added Pastor Yoel Demetrio, who supports the complaint.
There are still no official consolidated data for the year 2020, but there are some partial figures that indicate good production and even higher exports than the previous year. For example, as of June of last year, only the Agroforestry Company of Matanzas had produced almost 534 tons to export, “a figure that exceeds forecasts,” according to the official press. For 2020, company had planned to produce about 1,650 tons to break the record of 1,614 that it reached in 2019.
The 16 companies of the Ministry of Agriculture in Camagüey dedicated to the export of charcoal, managed to sell three million dollars worth in the first four months of 2020, a figure similar to the same period of 2019. As of April, they had sold more than 9,390 tons on the international market, less than the 11,914 planned.
The Ceballos Agroindustrial Company, from Ciego de Ávila, is the entity that exports the most charcoal in the country, and as of August 2020 had sold more than 25,000 tons destined for Italy, Greece, Portugal, Spain and other European nations. Its director said a year ago that since 2005 the company had exported more than 266,100 tons of the product, bringing about 100 million dollars to State coffers, about 700 million of which was in 2019.
In February 2020, the Villa Clara company Valle del Yabú exported its first 16.8 tons of charcoal to Europe, the newspaper Trabajadores highlighted.
According to official figures, Cuba annually produces about 40,000 tons of charcoal each year to satisfy national demand and cover exports, mainly to the European market. Cuban charcoal — made from the invasive marabou weed — is sold mainly to Europe and several Asian countries and, in 2017, it became the first product, in more than half a century, to be exported to the United States.
*Translator’s note: Gusano literally means ’worm’ and in this context la gusanera refers to ’counterrevolutionaries’, government opponents, and Cubans in exile.
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