14ymedio, Havana, 6 October 2022 — The agricultural landscape of Pinar del Rio is one of devastation in the wake of Hurricane Ian. Speaking with unusual candor after a helicopter tour over the province’s farm fields, Felix Duarte, a member of Cuban Communist Party Central Committee, observed, “We didn’t see any food [there].”
Duarte, who headed the party’s agriculture and food department, claimed in a meeting with local Pinar del Rio farmers that more than 12,000 hectors had been impacted. When asked what residents would eat in the coming days, he responded, “We will eat what we ourselves are able to grow, with a commitment to plant food crops.”
Duarte emphasized the need for crops with “short growing cycles” such as vegetables, legumes and other fast-growing plants that can be harvested quickly. “We have to commit to reversing the situation,” he emphasized. Some of the farmers attending a meeting with Duarte raised questions about problems such as being able to lease farmland and the limits on rice cultivation.
It was learned at the meeting, which was also attended by deputy prime minister Jorge Luis Tapia Fonseca, that the state-owned company Frutas Selectas had failed to abide by its contract with farmers from San Juan y Martinez. “They haven’t been paid for the beans they sold the company in February,” explained reporter Lazaro Manuel Alonso in a report on the national nightly news program.
The situation is especially tense in Pinar del Rio, where 63,133 homes have been damaged, 7,107 of which have been totally destroyed. Many residents are without access to food due to spoilage, crop loss, road closures and damage to more than 429 neighborhood stores selling rationed products.
“All our banana, papaya and tobacco crops have been destroyed,” says Norges Valenzuela, a farmer from San Juan y Martinez. “My house suffered roof damage but what’s even worse is what’s happened to the crops. They’re totally wiped out.” Valenzuela’s family still does not have electricity and has moved to the city of Pinar del Río.
“The worst is yet to come: the robbery and looting,” says the farmer. “My two brothers are staying at the farm to keep an eye on the house, the water pump and what little we have left, but I had to come to Pinar with my father because he has Alzheimer’s and we couldn’t take care of him under those conditions.”
The family also lost animals, some of which were knocked down by the winds. “There are always people who take advantage of situations like these to steal what doesn’t belong to them” says Valenzuela. Among his missing animals are chickens, a ram, at least two pigs and a calf. “We’re looking at thousands and thousands of pesos which we won’t get back. But even worse is our situation right now. We basically eat what we produce on the farm and I don’t think we’ll be able to harvest anything any time soon.”
The sudden arrival of government officials has annoyed farmers like Valenzuela. “We’ve spent years trying to get paid for our products. The state doesn’t pay well and it doesn’t pay on time. We had to wait till a hurricane passed through this area and destroyed everything for senior officials to meet with the guajiros,” says Luis Gonzalez, a tobacco farmer who recently describes the situation in the province as a “complete disaster zone.”
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