The Spanish-Cuban company Habanos made $507 million in profits last year, 4% less than in 2019. The figure was provided by the company this Tuesday, at the inauguration of the virtual event Habanos World Days, which replaces the Festival del Habano, whose twenty-third edition was canceled due to the Covid 19 pandemic. The official press is upset about the cancellation.
For the State media, the company “consolidated its international leadership in premium cigars (made entirely by hand)” and the 2020 revenues are quite an achievement “despite the circumstances of the pandemic and the ban on selling its products in the United States due to the laws of the economic blockade”.
It is not the first time that the authorities use the US embargo as the cause for the decline in production. They already did it a few days ago, at a time when dire forecasts were starting to be heard for the 2020-2021 tobacco operations, which began last October.
The 2020 revenues are an achievement “despite the circumstances of the pandemic and the ban on selling their products in the United States due to the laws of the economic blockade”
José Liván Font Bravo, first vice president of the Tabacuba Business Group, declared then that a portion of the plantations will not receive fertilizer “due to the brakes imposed by the ‘roadblock’,” in clear reference to the embargo.
However, far from the focal point of the propaganda provided by the festival, in which the State media declared that more than 5,000 companies from more than 120 countries around the world participate, and the justifications of the authorities, the peasants are clear that the main problems of tobacco production are rather the consequence of economic “mismanagement” and the implementation of the so-called Ordering Task*.
So thinks Nestor Pérez, from the Plantation La Isleña, founded at the end of the 19th century in San Juan y Martínez, in Vueltabajo** (Pinar del Río).
In a conversation with 14ymedio, Pérez explains that they have not had problems with fertilizer in his territory, and that the doses they have bought have allowed them and many producers to “develop the operation.” But in addition, the producer, who is 37 years old and has been working in the fields since he was 15, details: “The United States is not the supplier of fertilizer.” In his farm, for example, they use fertilizers from other countries, such as China or the Netherlands.
The producer concedes that Covid 19 and the weather had “adverse effects” on the operation. “In Río Seco, which is part of the tobacco chain that was quarantined for a long time,” he says, “entire plantations were lost.” Also, in November, “there was heavy rainfall” when the seeds were planted. However, these were not the primary pitfalls.
“There are a growing number of cooperatives in Vueltabajo that have been incurring debts from past periods, due to their mismanagement or company demands, something that affects the running of the same cooperatives with their resources and supplies,” he explains to this publication.
Added to the debts, he says, “is the deficient management of the seedbeds by the State,” a task that, though the producers are taking it on, “is still in the hands of the State, for the most part.”
In the midst of all this, he continues, comes the ‘Ordering Task’, which, for him, “is the most important point.” He says, “For the farmers, the so-called Day Zero was not Day Zero; we had not gotten a price ready, and a price was decreed without having the token cost” — that is the model where the data necessary to calculate the planned unit cost of a product or service provision is collected.
“For the farmers, the so-called Day Zero was not Day Zero; we had not gotten a price ready, and a price was decreed without having the token cost”
Pérez says that they were assured that prices would be established in about two months, but in January and February, when the peak of the harvest occurs, they were hit with them “without a token cost, without an extension of credit.” The main consequence was that the producers could not pay the workers “because they did not have the credit extension until the beginning of April.”
When they finally had the cost card, they saw that the credits were increased, but that the dry tobacco prices doubled, from 2,560 to 5,700 per metric quintal [one metric quintal is about 220 pounds].
The generalized increase in prices from the Ordering Task, he insists, was of great importance for the farmers. “There are the inputs, which increased 10 and 15 times their value and that cost was like a shock for the producers. They [the company] said they were going to make a new price proposal, but still nothing, it continues the same as they established at the beginning of the year,” he complains.
“In my opinion and that of many in this area,” he summarizes, the Ordering Task has been “disastrous” and “catastrophic,” since “it has led us to face the peak of the operation with credit based on previous prices, and 70% deficient.” He concludes that, as a result, “People were left without money, that is the biggest obstacle, not the blockade [US embargo].”
*The so-called ‘Ordering Task’ (Tarea ordenamiento), is a collection of measures that includes eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and other actions.
*Vueltabajo: Literally, the downward curve. Geographically situated at the westernmost end of Cuba, in the Pinar del Río province, it is the most important and best known of the five tobacco producing regions in Cuba.
Translated by Norma Whiting
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