Producing 1,700,000 tons of sugar, and doing so efficiently, is the avowed objective of the current sugar crop. Ideally, explained the president of the AZCUBA business group, it would start on November 1 and finish on April 10.
On October 25, 2018, the second secretary of the Communist Party (PCC), José Ramón Machado Ventura, said: "We will have to grind as much cane as possible, with figures estimated above the previous harvest." On December 2 he stated: "The current sugar crop has to be better than the previous one, because the country needs it ...". And the next day he stressed: "A good harvest is a must. There are no other options".
Everything was ready for the "victory": the commitment and slogan.
On November 1 the milling was inaugurated at the Argeo Martínez plant in Guantánamo. On December 31, at the conclusion of the so-called small harvest, 250,000 tons had been produced and 10 of the 15 provinces exceeded their calculations. "The result," said AZCUBA's institutional representative, "has a sweeter taste, due to a record for the stage."
But the forecasts faltered. On February 28, the plan had to be reconsidered. Inefficient plants were at a standstill, the links between plantations and provinces between provinces were reorganised, and monitoring at the plants was reinforced. In early March the Vice-president of the Councils of State and the Ministers, Salvador Valdés Mesa, had to ask the sugar mills in Cienfuegos for an additional contribution: "That extra is necessary, because there are technical complications in the far east of the country."
Given the imminence of the shortfall, and the danger of the harvest dragging on until May, Machado Ventura said in Sancti Spíritus: "We cannot count on May here", and explained that, despite the tense situation, that province could meet its sugar plan, although he clarified that he was referring not to the original plan, but rather the revised one.
At the meeting of the first secretaries of the PCC's provincial and municipal committees, and the provincial and municipal presidents of the Popular Power, on March 11 and 12, the president of AZCUBA reported: "to date less cane has been milled than was planned, and we are at 82%." Among the causes were noted breakdowns and interruptions, a delay in the arrival of spare parts and tires, inefficiency, and rain in some regions of the country.
On March 20, at a meeting to evaluate the progress on the harvest, President Miguel Díaz-Canel said: "We must work to make the most of the yield in the remainder of March and the month of April [...] We cannot miss even one day. "
Failure to meet these targets will have an impact. Anything short of the 920,000 tons slated for export will affect the dwindling imports. Therefore, the current shortage of products from abroad will worsen.
A look back shows that:
- In the 17th century sugar ranked first in total value of commercial transactions. At the end of the 19th century, one million tons were produced, six million in 1948 and 7.13 million in 1952.
- In 1970 an attempt was made to produce 10 million tons. Despite the slogan "not one pound less", the result was 1.5 million less. In 2001 production fell to 3.5 million. A general was then appointed to head up the Sugar Ministry. However, the 2002-2003 sugar harvest only brought in 2.1 million tons, that of 2004-2005 saw 1.3 million, and in 2009-2010 Cuba hit rock bottom: 1.1 million tons, the worst in the last 100 years.
- In 2011 the Ministry and the general were replced by AZCUBA. Annual growth of 15% was projected, up to 2.4 million tons in 2015.
- The 2011-2012 harvest did not meet this forecast; the 2012-2013 plan, calling for 1.7 million tons, was not complied with either; the 2013-2014 plan, announced as the best of the last decade, was not followed through on either, so the 2.4 million project for 2015 fell apart too; the same was true for the harvests of 2016-2017, and the one for 2017-2018, which, due to weather conditions, produced just over one million tons.
Weather factors, run-down industrial and agricultural machinery, rampant corruption, and the ineptitude of bosses and administrators combine to suppress sugar production. However, the main causes of the persistent failure –the subordination of the economy to ideology, the current property structure, the producers' lack of autonomy, and low salaries, rooted in the country’s nationalised and planned economy– have been enshrined in the Constitution that will come into force on April 10.