Whenever I read the excuses offered by the Castro regime about hurricanes and rains to justify the country's paltry sugar production, I recall what in the late 60s the Director of International Organizations at the Ministry of Foreign Trade (MINCEX), Mario García Incháustegui, told me, off the record.
The former ambassador to the UN, who in 1962 made the ridiculous assertion that there were no nuclear weapons in Cuba, confessed to me that at the International Coffee Organization (ICO) in London they no longer believed the excuses given to justify the dearth of exports from Cuba. Said entity assigned export quotas to member countries to prevent a global coffee glut from driving down prices. Incháustegui blamed cyclones and other climatic effects. "I repeat the same arguments, but they don't believe me anymore," he told me. The ICO ultimately abolished the quota for Cuba and distributed it among other countries that asked to export more.
We ought to remember in the 40s and 50s Cuba was one of the leading exporters of coffee worldwide. Between 1928 and 1948 the island produced an annual average of 30,000 tons (MT). In fact, in 1960, the last year of capitalism on the island, it produced 60,000 MT. Of course, when Communism was implemented, everything changed. In 2016 5,687 MT were produced, and for 2017 there are still no statistics available, but it seems that the figure was 5,500 MT – ten times less than 58 years ago.
I point this out because if in the International Sugar Organization (ISO), also based in London, had export quotas for sugar, as in the last century, Cuba would have lost its some time ago.
Excuses and pretexts
The 20th century featured International Sugar Agreements between exporting and importing countries, with export quotas to prevent price drops. The last agreement with quotas was in 1987. In 1993 another was put into effect, but without them. Today the ISO functions only as a provider of data.
A few days ago the Government of Raúl Castro reported that the rains in November, December and January had affected 70% of the country's total sugar cane growing area, and that of the 53 sugar plants available, only 26 are operating, and at half of their capacity.
Juan Carlos Pérez, Director of Assistance to Producers at AZCUBA, spoke to the newspaper Granma of "climatic stress" and the "ravages of the drought in the months of June to September of 2017, the greatest growth period for the [sugarcane] crop."
Dionis Perez, also an official with AZCUBA, blamed the sugar problems on the rain, although he did also recognize some bad industrial handling of the crop. Another State official, Sergio Guillén, stated that the sugar’s sucrose content today is between 15% and 16%, when 18% is required.
Certainly sugar cane needs water to grow, but by November it should stop growing, to mature and accumulate sucrose. If it rains, the cane resumes its green growth and does not develop enough sucrose, and the yield decreases.
Were there no untimely rains before 1959?
All this is understandable, but certain questions arise: Is Cuba the only producer of cane sugar affected by hurricanes, and where it rains during the periods when the cane matures? Were there no cyclones, excessive rains or droughts before 1959? How, then, was Cuba the world's largest exporter of sugar?
Despite rains, cyclones, cyclical droughts, plagues and other hazards, Cuba was the world's sugar supplier for more than 160 years, since the revolution in Haiti at the end of the 18th century. In 1894 it reached 1.1 million MT, one third of all the sugar produced in the world. In 1925 it produced 5.1 million MT – triple the amount produced in 2017.
But, as occurred with coffee, under Castroism Cuba went from being the world's largest exporter of cane sugar, to importing it from Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, the USA and even Europe (Belarus), during the first decade of this century, to cover national consumption needs and meet export commitments. To make matters worse, Fidel Castro actually ordered the destruction of two thirds of the sugar industry, one of the largest in the world.
No, it is not a question of Mother Nature being bent on unleashing its wrath on the Pearl of the Antilles. The problem is not the weather, or global warming (which affects everyone equally). It is somewhat less complicated and easy to solve: the problem is political.
As soon as Fidel Castro seized power, at gunpoint, incited by confessed Stalinist Che Guevara, at the end of 1960 the regime nationalized the sugar industry. In just two years, production plummeted from 6.8 million MT to 3.8 million in the 1962-1963 harvest.
The Soviet Union, for Havana to give it something back in exchange for its maintenance of the dictatorship and a parasitic economy receiving massive subsidies, then turned Cuba into the sugar mill of the USSR and Eastern Europe. It sent equipment, fertilizer and all the necessary supplies to the Caribbean island, and even built new sugar mills. With these subsidies from Moscow production rose to six and seven million MT annually. Did it not rain then in the winter? Were there no cyclones?
When the USSR disintegrated, sugar production dropped to levels equivalent to before the War of Independence. While in the 50s the Island imported only 4% of materials for the harvest, according to the Cuban Statistical Yearbook, under Castroism it depended completely on the USSR.
By suppressing free enterprise and administrating the economy as Marx and Lenin had taught, Cubans forgot that in 1940 Cuba boasted the world's most efficient sugar industry. That year it registered an industrial yield of 13.17%. For every 100 parts of the sugarcane’s green weight more than 13 parts of sugar were obtained, something never achieved before in the world. In the 50s Cuba posted an average industrial yield of 12.7%, the highest in the world.
Embarrassing sugar cane yields
After the fateful mark left by Castro and Guevara, Cuba's per-hectare sugar cane yields became humiliating. Since the same year that Che died, 1967, Cuba has posted the lowest sugar cane yields in the world. They range between 24 and 42 tons of cane per hectare, according to the National Statistics and Information Office (ONEI), which places them well below the world average, which varies between 65 and 72 tons.
Before 1959 Cuba was the Latin American leader in these agricultural yields. The current leader is Peru, with 128 tons of cane per hectare, according to FAOSTATS, the FAO database. It is followed by Guatemala, with 95 MT. The Dominican Republic, more similar to Cuba, reports 80 MT.
The last straw is that even impoverished African countries are beating Cuba. According to the FAO, in 2014 Senegal obtained 117 MT of cane per hectare; Malawi, 107; Zambia, 104; Chad, 102; Burkina Faso, 101; and Ethiopia, 99. Does it, magically, never rain at the wrong time for sugar cane growers in those African countries?
The famous slogan of Bill Clinton's campaign, when he defeated George H.W Bush back in 1992, was: "It's the economy, stupid." Bush had enjoyed an approval rating of over 80%, but went on to lose the election due to the recession.
In the Cuban case, the dictatorial elite must be told the exact opposite: "It's politics, stupid." We have to dismantle the absurd socialist economic model, and this can only be achieved through thorough political change.