We are talking about a tyrant who rose to power when Cuba was one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America, and turned into one of the poorest and most backward; who murdered or sent to death thousands of Cubans in useless wars; who imprisoned, tortured, or drove out more than one million of the country's citizens, and deprived its people of freedoms conquered by humanity over the course of centuries. And he is also the culprit behind the fact that today's droughts are more severe and prolonged.
It's a tragedy. Cubans were - and continue to be - victims of Communism and of an "enlightened" psychopath who never answered to anyone for his abuses and blunders, and who governed with an iron fist, slammed down on the table, based on his whims and fixed ideas, and disconnected from reality.
If in bygone times it was disastrous that Caligula, Henry VIII of England, and Napoleon ruled without restraint, their every wish indulged, it was worse that this megalomaniac did so in ours. Now his main fanatic and heir, Raúl Castro, in another expression of his inferiority complex with respect to its brother, seeks to impose in Cuba an eternal cult to Castro I.
It is impossible to provide here a complete inventory of the asinine plans concocted by Fidel. Just off the top of my head, his attempt to drain the Zapata Swamp comes to mind, and to cover the island with pangola, to implement the agricultural theories of André Voisín, the sickly “F1” cows that never produced milk or meat, the Zafra de los Diez Millones(a failed and frantic attempt to produce 10 million pounds of sugar), Cordón de La Habana (another ambitious agricultural fiasco), the Onion Triangle in Camagüey, the obsession with the cow Ubre Blanca (White Udder) and the Rosafé Signet bull, the Countryside Schools, the Food Plan, the Zero Option (plans in the event of an absence of petrol from the USSR), the voluntary work plans, the moralizing crusade to build a "new man", the Energy Plan, etc.
I will focus here on one plan that not much is known about, but which did the most damage to the country, and continues to: the deforestation of hundreds of thousands of hectares of land.
In October of 1967 the caudillo had a "brilliant" idea to end hunger and the ration book: he invented the "Che Guevara Razing Brigade." As I said a few years ago, I was an eyewitness to it.
“Fire in the hole!”
In the area of Puente Guillén, about 50 km from Bayamo, Oriente, journalists and Journalism students, myself among them, were invited to be eyewitnesses: Fidel wanted to clear thousands of acres of land to plant pangola, other crops, rice, and sugar cane, to bolster the production of milk, meat and cereals, so as to meet the country's consumption needs, and export the surplus. Castro announced on TV that there would soon be plenty of rice, meat and milk, and that Cuba would be a net exporter of food.
Hundreds of soldiers, operating bulldozers and machines equipped with giant iron demolition balls, like something out of a sci-fi movie, undertook the largest deforestation effort ever on the Caribbean island. I remember that the palm trees and the most robust timber trees were dynamited by military sappers, to the sergeants' cries: “Fire in the hole!”
To create that brigade Castro spent some 500 million dollars, according to subsequent accounts published outside Cuba. A regime commission, made up of Victoriano Parra, the engineer Eduardo Luis, and others, traveled to France and Italy, where they bought 700 dump trucks and 800 heavy earthmoving vehicles, including bulldozers, motor graders, vertical drills and other heavy equipment.
The razers advanced from east to west, leveling everything in their path. It was the largest deforestation since the arrival of Cuba's colonizers. And the regime was not even able to take advantage of the cut wood. In just two years, 215,000 hectares of fruit trees, lush forests, mountains, and even some land already being farmed, disappeared, and, as a result, two generations of Cubans have barely seen a loquat, a soursop, star apple, custard apple or a sugar apple in their lives.
In 2007, 40 years after that inaugural event in Puente Guillén, specialists A. Alvarez, R. Baños, and Lázara Otero, at the Pastures and Forage Research Institute of the Ministry of Agriculture, published a study entitled "Salinity and the use of saltwater for the irrigation of crops and forage in Cuba."
The three concluded that one of the main causes of the soil’s current salinity was the deforestation of lands and the loss of vegetation due to the indiscriminate felling of trees and shrubs. This altered rainfall patterns, and Cuba's droughts are now more intense. There are already more than one million hectares of salinized lands, and another million of cultivable lands could be salinated in the future.
Obviously, the experts did not even insinuate that this deforestation was Castro's fault. In the southern and northern regions of the eastern and central provinces less water falls than evaporates. Cacti, a vegetation typical of very arid and desert areas can already be seen in abundance in areas of Guantánamo. I saw them personally in the early 90s.
Deforestation decreases the volumes of rivers and streams, because it rains less. Cuban ecologist Eudel Cepero was shocked in the late 1960s by a newspaper headline in Granma: "Dormitorio Mountain, in the Cauto Region, Clear Cut."
According to the journalist Rolando Cartaya, Cepero later shared how this indiscriminate deforestation carried out by that military brigade was one of the main causes of the current ecological catastrophe affecting the Cauto River basin. The most beautiful river on the island today looks like a stream in some areas.
Did rice production grow?
After this brushcutting invasion, Cuba did not produce more rice, but less, going from Latin America's fourth leading producer, in 1958, to the bottom of the list among countries in the Americas. Starting in 1967, imports of rice, and food in general, had to be increased.
Half a century after that act at Puente Guillén, in 2006, when Castro I handed over the government to Castro II, the country produced (according to the newspaper Trabajadores) 130,000 tons (MT) of rice, which covered barely 16% of national consumption: almost 800,000 MT. And that represented 37,864 MT less than the 167,864 produced in 1956, when the "bourgeoisie" produced it for half of the current population.
In 2017, 50 years after that project to turn Cuba into an agricultural powerhouse, producing mass amounts of the staple of the Cuban diet, and doing away with rationing books, 256,000 MT were produced, and 195,000 MT were delivered to Internal Commerce for their distribution to the population.
That is, today Cuba produces 32% of the rice it consumes, and has to spend a fortune, which it does not have, to import the other 68%, especially from Vietnam – a nation, by the way, that was destroyed by a war but that recovered, because it liberated its productive forces.
In short, the dictatorial regime constantly complains that, due to droughts, it cannot comply with its agricultural and sugar production targets. But it turns out that that Fidel Castro was largely responsible for these droughts in the first place.
And this is just one example of Castro I's devastating legacy that Castro II wants Cubans to preserve, with love. It is insane.