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Cuba no longer the Sugar Bowl of the World

Cuban exile Alberto Gutierrez writes: "According to the World Sugar Situation, published by the US Department of Agriculture, in 1952 Cuban sugar production by the centrifugal process was 7.9 million tons, followed by India with 1.9 million tons and Brazil with 1.8 million tons.A year later Cuba as the major exporter reduced its production to 5.6 million tons in order to control the surplus. At the same time Brazil produced 2 million tons and India 1.7 million tons. Cuba lost its title of Sugar Bowl of the World after Castro rose to power .Che Guevara went to the extreme of accusing the sugarcane of links with the Yankee imperialism! Consequently Cuban freighters went to remote places like Constanta, Rumania,to load all kind of items for an improvised industrialization that finally ended in failure.When the frenzy was over, Cuba remained just a sugar colony of the Soviet Union. In 1997 Cuban sugar production was about 4 million tons,while Brazil produced over 16 million tons and India over 14 million tons. In 2002, according to the Castro government, Cuba produced 3.5 million tons. I think the actual figure was less because of the problems which affect allCuban production. Besides ,some old sugar mills are inactive because of lack of maintenance, and not long ago many workers were sent home indefinitely with nothing to do.

Aldo da Rosa's detailed comment about ethanol from sugar is just right; we must ponder what could be the sugarcane byproducts in Cuba under different conditions. By 1950, beside raw and refined sugar, the Cuban sugar industry also produced alcohol, rum, a brandy equivalent called aguardiente, molasses, syrup, azucar verde "to feed the cattle, glycerine and dry ice. Pure alcohol was mixed with gasoline, and there were plans to produce synthetic wood from sugarcane bagasse. The growing production of wax from cachaza was expected to surpass in a few years the total vegetable wax production of the world.Then in 1957 a paper mill was inaugurated in Cardenas, Matanzas Province, also using bagasse as raw materials.The yearly production capacity of that mill was 25,000 tons of paper, enough to meet the demand of the Cuban domestic market in those days.I took some interest on paper mill because an engineer who had helped me at school was working there.As a matter of fact he promised me a tour of the mill, but I never went there. Setting aside the ups and downs of the world market, today our sugar industry is in shambles Just last night I heard a lady complaining that Castro has dismantled many sugar mills. Perhaps that is an exaggeration, but no doubt our best sugary days are gone. Curiously, months ago I read that Spanish and Castro Cuba interests were involved in sugar mill project in Vietnam,of all places!"

The complexities of Cuban sugar escape me (eg azucar verde, green sugar). More important, Che Guevara did not invent the association of sugar with imperialism. That was the idea of Fernando Ortiz (b. 1883). His book Contrapunteo del tabaco y del asúcar was translated into English and published by Praeger under the title Cuban Counterpoint. I once used it as a text in my class on Latin American civilization. His thesis is that tobacco is genuinely Cuban, while sugar is alien. Castro smoking a cigar is Cuban, but sugar, in addition to being alien, was largely controlled by US interests. The ideas of Ortiz may be compared with those of fanatical Greens who want to expel non-native plants from California. Fernando Ortiz was once famous, but I believe he is now almost forgotten. I would be grateful if Alberto Gutierrez could tell us about the impact of Ortiz and his influence on Castro and his movement. Can he tell us when sugar was introduced into Cuba? We have already posted reports on the closing of Cuban sugar plantations, and their replacement with fruit trees.

Ronald Hilton - 10.02.03