‘The Best Thing is For the Russians to Come’ to Save the Colossus of Jatibonico

The Uruguay sugar mill, in Jatibonico, Sancti Spíritus, was built in 1905. (Escambray)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 10 October 2022 — Four months after 14ymedio reported the closure of the ’Uruguay’ sugar mill, located in Jatibonico (Sancti Spíritus), the news was confirmed by the provincial newspaper Escambray on Monday. According to the note published today, “technological obsolescence and lack of investment have become, together with the shortage of cane, dangerous threats to the continuity of the industry.”

The hope, for hundreds of workers who right now see their jobs in danger of the plant cannot be restarted, is in Moscow. According to the newspaper, a Russian delegation visited Jatibonico during the last harvest and intends to create a joint venture that would save the dying plant and other plants whose names are not known.

“We are among the nine mills in the country chosen for these businesses,” reveals Eddy Gil Pérez, director of the Uruguayan Agroindustrial Sugar Company.

“The best medicine for the ’Uruguay’ plant is for the Russians to come, because it would be new technology, costs would be cheaper. But if the Joint Venture does not come to pass, we have to continue with the current equipment; I trust that the mill will whistle again because we have human capital, which is what sustains us, knowledge, good practices and desire”, adds Vladimir Gómez Morales, director of the industry.

The last sugar harvest, which left disastrous global figures in Cuba (barely 473,720 tons of the 911,000 expected were produced, insufficient even for domestic demand), Uruguay, formerly known as Coloso de Jatibonico, milled at 32% of its capacity, although this was not the only drama. The note details that, in addition, it delivered part of its cane to the Melanio Hernández sugar mill (former Tuinucú), production decreased, “the crude oil separated from the parameters of exportable quality” and therefore the harvest was inefficient and left great losses. Despite this, it manufactured more sugar than four provinces.

The directors explain that the decision to stop this year is fundamentally due to the bad data from the last harvest, but that the lack of cane has also contributed. “Someone forgot to put money into the plant, many good harvests have been made and a lot of money that Uruguay plant has given, but no financing was put in, I’m not talking about paying for repairs, but about technology; they left us because it produced sugar, but there comes a time when the factory does not give more. That it not do the harvest, it seems to me a well-made decision, because if there is no cane, why start, be inefficient and incur in a waste of resources for pleasure; it is up to us learn the lesson and move on”, says Pedro Pérez García, head of the boiler area.

Of the 424 workers at the plant, attempts have been made to relocate as many as possible, with relative success. 192 of them undertake repair work to improve the industry in this year of paralysis, and 102 joined other “eight labor groups with payment systems adjusted to activities that generate income for them and the company.” These areas range from the carpentry to the paint, sheet metal or ice factory, all of them dependent on the central.

In addition, there are 124 who requested leave without pay and others were placed in food production farms, sugar cane production units and workshops. Four found different jobs through the Municipal Labor Directorate. Managers speak of a painful process, particularly since many of the workers have been grinding sugar all their lives. “We cannot pay a salary without productive support, but there is no unemployment in the Uruguay plant,” he says, despite the fact that there are dozens of people looking for a life in the private sector.

The text addresses the possibility that the investment in repairing the plant is unproductive and the lock must be permanently locked, but the management initially denies it. The business plan foresees grinding in December 2023, even producing 3,000 tons of sugar that same month, since the projection is to have 400,000 tons of cane. In that harvest they have projected to cut only 49%, leaving some 5,000 hectares of saplings. “Although the availability of fuel for planting does not improve, we are going to have more cane than this year because there will be a better composition of strains,” the director believes.

In addition, they have another factor that the authorities consider infallible: the heart. “We are making the repairs with quality and with love, as if the plant were going to grind now,” says Adalberto Rodríguez García, shift manager at the mill during the harvest and a mechanic now during the repairs, who has 47 years of work at the mill.

That labor force and the cane will be capital, along with the Russians, according to the directors. “When we have that amount of raw material, the whole world is going to turn to Jatibonico because it will already have cane to grind. If we gather that level of raw material that can give us a not inconsiderable sugar production, we take care of the industrial strength and repair the factory , we can guarantee the future and Uruguay is not leaving the map,” they affirm.

The article reviews part of the history of the plant and quotes Fidel Castro on several occasions, in addition to insisting on the pain of the closure.

On June 23, 14ymedio brought forward the end of operations at the Uruguay mill due to constant mechanical failures. The mill, which began grinding in 1905, has been transformed and repaired many times, but in recent years the stoppages due to failures and maintenance have multiplied. After a shutdown in 2021, the plant started up again in December of that year, leaving behind the dire harvest already known.

In a meeting with representatives of AzCuba, when those responsible for the mill were informed of the closure, they were notified of the capital repair that would come. “Faults are constantly occurring. I assume they are going to get their hands on everything, but without resources we will see how they botche it up,” a specialized source told this newspaper.

According to his testimony, the constant shutdowns are carried out because the maintenance cannot be carried out properly without the tools and conditions. Sometimes, simply because a cable is not sealed well, it will leak and that can end up causing a general shutdown,” he said.

The financing could come from Russia if the plan announced this Monday by Escambray materializes, although in 2020 the Russians suspended a multitude of projects reached with the Island Government due to lack of financing, defaults and lack of interest on the Cuban side. The war in Ukraine, which has left Moscow isolated, can change things and Russia is encouraged to engage in diplomacy in the Caribbean through these investments. Time will tell.


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