Archive for June, 2012

The Harvest of 2012 or the Last Call

June 17, 2012 Leave a comment

“It seems that every year is the first harvest the country has ever done. Every year we start fresh, even though we’ve been producing sugar for more than 200 years. If we are talking about the need for change, the first thing we have to change is the routine.” So begins, “Attacking the problems and not waiting for the autopsy,” a report by Sheyla Delgado Guerra, published on Monday, May 30th, in the newspaper, Granma.

The Guidelines of Economic and Social Policy, adopted at the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party in April last year, set out among the central tasks, to increase the production of sugar  and the derivatives of the cane, a branch of the economy where it is assumed Cuba has long experience. However, the results of the 2011-2012 harvest confirmed the failure of that purpose.

The harvest, programmed to produce 1.45 million tons of sugar (a figure that was produced in the late nineteenth century), finish milling on April 30th. There was enough sugar cane and 98% resources needed to produce the programmed amount of sugar but, according to Sheyla, the same problems occurred as in previous years: industrial breakdowns, operational disruptions, difficulties in the supply of cane, unstable grindings, aging of the raw material, poor quality of repairs of agricultural machinery, late harvesting, poor technical skills of staff and poor utilization of potential capacity. As a result the milling did not end on the date set by central planning, not was the programmed figure for tons of sugar achieved.

This was confirmed at the meeting to review the results, held 29 days after all the plants should have completed the milling. Although as in previous years, the amount of sugar produced has not been published, in the meeting it was admitted that the setbacks of this season were higher than results obtained. According to Sheyla’s report, the cane not ground because of the late harvest in 21 of the 46 centers participating, together with the low capacity utilization and  failure of planned efficiency are among the main causes of the terrible result.

This time, although all the cane needed was grown, to the point where they could have crushed more than the planned amount, the production of sugar fell short again. In the industrial phase only 60% the capacity is used, a figure even lower than the harvest of 2010-2011, and of course lower than was planned for this crop. While there was a modest over-fulfillment in the production of white sugar, in terms of direct target it barely reached 8%. In addition, seven of the mills which after being inactive for several years, produced 54% of their potential, which is why some 27,500 tons of sugar was not produced.

To this is added the low yields due to weather conditions in May, for 29 days after the scheduled closing several plants were still milling in the rainy season, which accentuates the sugar decline, which is nothing new, the same thing having gone on more than two decades; the 1998-1999 harvest could not exceed 3.8 million tons of sugar, a figure lower than that produced in 1920, when it exceeded 4 million tons.

The failure is higher if one considers that the country has dozens of schools and agricultural research centers throughout the country, which have graduated thousands of engineers and technicians in these fields, and that this time, from the beginning of the harvest, nearly all the resources were available to fulfill the plan, all of which indicates we should look elsewhere for the source of the failures.

Reforms related to sugar production, like the rest of those that have been implemented, do not have the depth required, nor do they move at the speed that the situation demands. Clearly, the lack of interest of the producers — the workers because of low wages and the proprietors because of the constraints imposed on them — is present in the results of the current harvest as in the previous failures.

The essence of the problem is that the reforms introduced by the Cuban government start life subordinated to the ideology and the interests of power, so the proposals therefore perversely preserve an obsolete model that has consistently proven to be nonviable.

Adverse outcomes of central planning, manifested in the 2011-2012 harvest, should be the last call, which will definitely draw attention to the aspects that the reforms have ignored so far. I am referring to the urgent need for profound changes to include, once and for all, the ownership structure. Since half a century seems sufficient to indicate the gap between managers and owners, between command and control and employee participation, aspects which in turn imply reforms in the area of rights and freedoms, to validate the previous.

It would be useful to proceed with these changes and not continue pointing fingers at the “deadbeats” as one of the senior officials did when he appeared on May 29 on Cuban television. Having participated in the meeting to review the harvest, he said, “I’ve told you, they have to change,” something that has become the custom year after year.

Posted in June in Diario de Cuba.

Translated by: Hank Hardisty

June 11 2012

Ladies in Black, An Ignored Antecedent

June 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Berta Soler,leaders of the Ladies in White, speaks with a group of reporters after her meeting with Cardinal Jaime Ortega. (Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo 7 June 2012)

In 1915, the wives of the members of the Independent Party of Color managed something the Ladies in White have been denied in the 21st century. Article originally published in Diario de Cuba.

Marking the 100th anniversary of the crime committed against black Cubans in 1912, data and facts previously relegated to history have come to light. These information — in addition to showing how the conflict was mishandled — offer evidence of various similarities with the present, such as the chapter in which black women played a starring role, which allows me to nominate them as the Ladies in Black.

The story of the massive rebellion of blacks in Cuba started with the uprising of the slaves in the El Cobre copper mine in 1677, repeated in the same place in 1731, manifested in the insurrection led by Jose Antonio Aponte in 1812, and in the Ladder Conspiracy of 1844. Later, blacks fought in the Ten Years War in 1868, in the Little War in 1879, and the War of Independence in 1895. Nevertheless, in the Republic, this group continued to be the victim of social injustice and racial discrimination.

With peaceful roads closed to them, blacks chose violence. They participated in the Little War of 1906 against the reelection of Tomas Estrada Palma, and in 1907 founded the Independent Party of Color (PIC). The reasons for its founding were expressed in Prévision (Forecast), its official organ, with the following words: “Cubans of color can expect nothing from the procedures used to date by the political parties because nothing significant has been done for us… We are going to show that an election in which all the candidates are people of color, outside the political parties, no one will be able to deny that however small the minority may be the result will always be better than what has been achieved until now…”

In 1910 the Congress of the Republic adopted an amendment to the constitution, according to which, “In no case will any association made up exclusively by individuals of one race or color, nor by individuals of one class with regards to birth, wealth or professional title, be considered as a political party or independent group.”

In response to this the PIC developed a campaign directed at repealing the Law, which came to a head in an armed uprising on May 20, 1912. The response of the government was to mobilize the Rural Guard, the Standing Army, and paramilitary forces, united under the command of General Jose de Jesus Monteagudo.

A little over a month after the start of the uprising, on June 27, Evaristo Estenoz, its principal leader, died. From that moment the movement, already weakened, lost control to the government forces. The Constitutional Guarantees, which had been suspended, were reestablished on July 15. On July 17, the mambí (War of Independence) General Pedro Ivonnet, another of the most important figures in the uprising, was captured and killed, which put an end to the insurrection. According to Cubano Libre, of the 6,000 insurgents, 3,500 had fallen in the conflict and 1,500 were put to death by the public forces in ambushes and along the roads.

The Ladies in Black

Once the movement had been suppressed, the civil struggle began for the release of those imprisoned who, indiscriminately, had been detained because of their relationships with a rebel, had taken up arms, or had been captured during armed encounters. At this time the women’s movement, arising in Europe at the end of the 19th century, had been felt in Cuba, where women, despite having participated in the political processes — as shown by their presence in the War of Independence where some 25 achieved military rank, among them one general, three colonels, and more than 20 captains — where they were almost always subordinates in roles defined and planned by men.

Thus, consistent with the patriarchal and macho culture, the PIC’s program did not contemplate issues of gender, but many black women identified with the aspirations of their peers, which was expressed through the establishment of women’s committees of women in all provinces. These committees, like the women’s clubs of the Cuban Revolutionary Party of the late nineteenth century, had a male president of honor, which was no impediment to their meetings and rallies, women pronounced themselves in favor of women’s rights such as the vote and divorce, which places them within the feminist movement in Cuba.

In September 1912, these black women, relatives of the rebels, including some who had faced legal charges, began a campaign for the adoption of an amnesty law, that is, extinction of the liability incurred in the uprising. This initiative had at least two antecedents in Cuba: one, when in 1861 the Spanish government granted amnesty to the conspirators and allowed the return of exiles to Cuba; two, when in the amnesty after the Pact of Zanjon Cuban exiles were allowed to return to Cuba, including key figures such as José Martí, Juan Gualberto Gómez, Antonio Maceo and Calixto Garcia.

One of those women, Rosa Brioso Tejera, wrote to the special judge of Santiago de Cuba denouncing the mistreatment of prisoners in the Moncada Barracks, appealed to the Attorney General, and chaired a committee of women who requested that Governor Rafael Manduley, mediate before Congress for the issuance of an amnesty for the prisoners and prisoners. Rosa traveled to Havana, where she met with several representatives of the Senate. The amnesty was not approved until March 10, 1915, but it was approved (!), something that has not yet been achieved for the current political prisoners.

The Ladies in White

Similarly, possibly without knowing these antecedents, wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts of the 75 prisoners imprisoned in March 2003 — not for taking up arms, but for exercising the right to freedom of expression — immediately after the arrests, still in the 20th century, began to denounce the conditions of confinement, and the impoverishment suffered by their relatives, in the interrogations and trials without due process. These women have emerged as the Ladies in White.

The main difference between the scenarios that led to the actions of black women at the beginning of the century, and the Ladies in White (of all races) at the end of the century, is that civil liberties in Cuba have suffered a considerable setback during that period. Now the Ladies in White, plus their families have not been granted amnesty, they are victims of acts of repudiation, something that — at least to date — historical research into the massacre of 1912, has produced no evidence of.


14 June 2012

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Is the Cuban Sugar Industry Facing Extinction?

Cane cutters in Mariel Province. Source: Diario de Cuba, from Getty Images

The 2011-2012 sugar harvest carries the same difficulties as those of the past two decades. Although this time enough cane has been planted to fulfill the production plan and from the start of the contest they could count on almost all of the resources planned for, the problems were repeated from previous harvests. The 2011-2012 sugar harvest carries the same difficulties of the past two decades. Although this time is enough cane planted to fulfill the production plan and counted from the start of the race with almost all of the resources employed, the problems from previous harvests were repeated.

The milling should have ended on 30 April, is still not complete. In an article by Pastor Batista Valdes, about the harvest in the province of Las Tunas, published by Granma newspaper on March 30, 2012, he said that because of industrial breaks, operational disruptions and difficulties in the supply of sugarcane, the unstable ground and the aging of the raw material, the province failed to produce about 2,835 tons of sugar and had to grind about 26,800 more tons of cane, so that in the first 80 days after harvest, the province just reported 67% of sugar scheduled for that date.

The second secretary of Communist Party of Cuba, on a visit to the municipality of Campechuela on April 29, 2012, said that “While nationally the industry response has improved a lot this year, shortcomings still attached to the mishaps in the cuts require a thorough diagnosis of the problems to give special attention to the stage to come.” Exactly what was said at the end of each previous crop.

Journalist Ana Margarita Gonzalez in “A better harvest?” published on May 14 in the weekly Trabajadores — Workers — explained that although the harvest should have ended on April 30, still grinding at that time were 29 of the 46 plants. According to her, “The yield which was set at 71.5% is 10 points below, and the industrial performance of 10.57% reached only 10.20%,” to which she adds that the “poor quality of repairs agricultural machinery caused a decreased in the capacity of the operations of cutting, loading and firing of the cane.”

Meanwhile, in An X-ray of a harvest: the leap that’s wasn’t,” published in Granma on May 18, 2012, Juan Varela Pérez and Sheyla Delgado Guerra recognize some modest achievements, but consider that “the dissatisfactions are many.” According to them, the Sugar Group executives said that by the target date of closure of the harvest it was at 94%, because in the 20 days lost due to late cutting and poor utilization of the capacity potential, there were still 534,892 tonnes of cane left to grind, equivalent to 66,502 tons of sugar. They added that among the underperforming provinces, Las Tunas provinces represents 31% of the failure of the harvest in the country.

To this, is now added the low yield of the crop because of the rains in May and the practice of moving men and equipment of the provinces finishing in time to those that have not finished, as is the case in Spiritus, where they completed their production commitments in the first week of April and so will now travel to other regions, thereby increasing costs.

The collapse of the Cuban sugar industry is best understood by comparing the totals of tons of sugar produced in the last 117 years. In 1895 it reached 1.4 million ton; in 1919 it rose to over 4 million; in 1925 the figure was 5.3 million; and in 1952 reached 7.2 million.

In 1970, after a colossal effort, the figure rose to 8.5 million; but went on to fall to below 3.8 million ton in 1999.

To address this decline, a Minister of sugar, Major General Ulises Rosales del Toro, was appointed in 2001; he predicted a quick recovery in that year that would reach 5 million tons. To this aim he announced two projects: 1 – Restructuring of the Sugar Industry, aimed at achieving an industrial yield of 11% (meaning extracting from each 100 tons of cane, 11 tons of sugar), and 2 – The Alvaro Reynoso [1] Task, in order to achieve a yield of 54 tons of cane per hectare (the world average, according to FAO, is about 63 tons).

The results of the announced projects, in millions of tons were approximately: in the 2000-2001 harvest, 3.5 million; 2001-2002, 2.2 million; 2002-2003, 2.1 million; 2003-2004, 2.52 million; 2004-2005 1.3 million;, and 2005-2006 failed to exceed that figure.

In a report by journalist Juan Varela of the latest harvest, published in Granma on Tuesday June 27, 2006, wrote: “The sugar harvest just completed showed that there are the efforts and bottom line do not always correspond…the initial delay could not be overcome… three-quarters of the syrup was not produced because of the delay in the startup of 28 of the 42 companies that opened capabilities… the rest was due to breaches of the standard potential and performance industrial.”

It was not until the 2008-2009 harvest that a slight increase was achieved (it reached 1.4 million tons). This suggests, given the above difficulties, the plan for this crop to produce 1.45 million tons of sugar — a figure produced in Cuba in the late nineteenth century — is not going to be achieved.

In none of these projects designed to reverse the production decline is there any contemplation of the structure of property ownership, the low salaries paid in the industry and in agriculture, or of the major automation of the producers, with the exception of Decree Lay 259 which timidly adventures offering in usufruct one caballería of land — about 33 acres — infested with the marabou weed. All of these issues have a great deal to do with the results of this and previous harvests.

As on this occasion they had counted on the contracted resources and on having sufficient cane, one could now accentuate any other particular aspect, such as the startup date to avoid the dampness on the ground in May. However there will be no solution until the relationship between declining production, the ownership structure and other elements mentioned is established. An approach that goes beyond sugar and points to the structural reforms demanded by the country; facing up to these needs requires a political will that put the needs of society above the ideological interests.

Havana, 24 May 2012

[1] Alvaro Reynoso, a leading Cuban scientist, when Cuba was the first in the world in sugar production and contradictorily, the last in agricultural productivity, fully analyzed every one of the operations related to the cultivation and harvesting of the grass and published these in his “Essay on the cultivation of sugar cane” (1862).

Published in Diario de Cuba, 30 May 2012:

June 1 2012

Categories: Dimas Castellanos