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Cuba Produced Less Sugar This Year Than During the Ten Years' War

Along with the island's tobacco and nickel results, this debacle constitutes yet another 'achievement of the Revolution'.

Los Ángeles
Sign at the entrance to the Boris Luis Santa Coloma sugar plant.
Sign at the entrance to the Boris Luis Santa Coloma sugar plant. EFE

The "achievements of the Revolution" just keep on coming: the most recent harvest yielded less sugar was produced than during the Ten Years' War … which began in 1868.

In the latest campaign (2021-2022), 473,000 tons of sugar were produced, while in the turbulent decade of the first independence movement the mills of what was then still a colony produced between 720,250 and 553,364 tons of sugar annually, according to historian Julio Le Riverend in his work Historia Económica de Cuba (An Economic History of Cuba).

And, after the war and the Pacto del Zanjón, the treaty ending the conflict, the 1879 harvest produced 608,364 tons. This last "revolutionary" harvest did not even match the 502,000 tons produced in 1864, four years before Carlos Manuel de Céspedes took up arms in La Demajagua against Spanish colonialism.

It gets worse. In 1894, a year before the landing of José Martí and Máximo Gómez in the East to commence the second and definitive War of Independence, the harvest in Cuba produced 1.1 million tons, more than double what was just achieved, in the third decade of the 21st century.
This has, undoubtedly, been the biggest sugar disaster Cuba has ever seen. In a single year production plummeted from the 816,000 tons produced in 2021, with the yield falling 48% short of the target set, something that has never happened, as far as we know, in any other sugar-producing country not affected by a severe natural disaster or pest crisis.

This time, the official designated to face the press was Dionis Perez, a bureaucrat with the AZCUBA monopoly, who told Granma that only 3 of the 35 plants that ground cane in this harvest met the targets in the plan:  the Melanio Hernandez, in Sancti Spiritus; the 14 de Julio, in Cienfuegos, and the Boris Luis Santa Coloma, in Mayabeque.

The national plan called for 911,000 tons of sugar. with 500,000 allotted for domestic consumption, and 411,000 for export, of which 400,000 tons were shipped to China to comply with an ongoing agreement with Beijing.

Coming through for China and the ration book

With national consumption at approximately 700,000 tons, it is clear that Cuba will be unable to export sugar, so it will have to import it in order to cover domestic consumption and follow through on its commitment to China. If Cubans in the 1950s had been told that Cuba would have to import sugar, they would have laughed heartily at the joke.

Dionis said that "raw sugar for family groceries is guaranteed (...) Cubans can rest assured, as the product will be in stock at stores."
False. This would be possible if Raúl Castro hired a sorcerer or a magician, as the harvest came up  227,000 tons short of the nation's total consumption needs.

According to official data, 250,000 tons are needed to cover stores' ration book quotas. To this must be added consumption at hotels, restaurants, hospitals, schools, workplaces, by the self-employed, etc. And then there is the 400,000 tons for China.

In short, it is impossible to deliver the necessary sugar to China and the amounts entailed by the ration book while satisfying the nation's demand for the product. The numbers do not add up, and the State does not have anything close to the $2.704 billion that it would cost to import 627,000 tons of sugar to satisfy domestic demand, assuming a price of $431.22 per ton of raw sugar, as registered on June 6 (19.56 cents a pound) in New York.

It is a question of mathematics. To honor its agreement with Beijing, and meet the demand for sugar within Cuba, 1.1 million tons are required. So, either the regime leaves its Chinese partner in the lurch, and imports 227,000 tons to cover all domestic consumption; or it does not import that amount, only partially supplies China, and guarantees the volume required by the ration book, but drastically reduces the rest of the country's consumption (and what about tourism?)

There may be other alternatives, but, in any case, a lot of sugar would have to be imported, and there is not enough money to do so. The regime will not have the 650,000 or 700,000 tons for domestic consumption without shorting Beijing, nor will it be able to fully deliver the amounts required by the ration book without the rest of national consumption being affected. As the saying goes: "You can't have your cake and eat it too."  

Dionis, of course, blamed the disaster on the "blockade" and repeated the usual excuses, saying nothing about the real causes. In passing, he mentioned that at half of the country's sugarcane plantations agricultural productivity was 30 tons of cane per hectare, a figure so low that it is unheard of.

According to the FAO,  Peru produces up to 128 tons of cane per hectare; Guatemala, 95 tons; and the neighboring Dominican Republic, 80 tons. Even many poor African nations surpass Cuba: Senegal produces 117 tons of cane per hectare; Malawi, 107; Zambia, 104; Chad, 102; Burkina Faso, 101; and Ethiopia, 99.

And there is another key fact to mention here: this sugar nosedive is not due to the fact that the Government has reduced sugar production to devote sugarcane fields to producing more food for Cubans, or ethanol for export, or for other agro-industrial purposes. Rather, sugar remains one of Cua's four main exportable goods, along with tobacco, nickel and rum.

With the dramatic downturn in sugar, rum exports will fall too.

Obviously the production and export of rum is going to plunge, as this alcoholic beverage is obtained from cane juice, through either fermentation or distillation.

According to the marketing director of the joint venture Havana Club Internacional, Sergio Valdés, that entity sold more than 4.4 million boxes of rum in the fiscal year culminating in June 2020, of which 1.7 million were sold in Cuba and 2.7 million  were exported to Germany, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Russia, China, and other countries.

Havana Club Internacional, created in 1993, is made up of the French giant Pernod Picard, and the Castroist state monopoly Ron Cuba. According to its president, Juan González, Havana Club rum is sold for 36 dollars for a nine-bottle box, and is produced in what he said is the largest rum processing plant in the world, located in the province of Mayabeque.

But now these two bureaucrats will have to come up with an excuse, if they haven't already, for their partner Pernod Picard for the huge shortfall in the raw material necessary to make rum.

If 4.4 million boxes were sold in 2020, with a volume of cane that produced 1.1 million tons of sugar, now, with the drop in cane production in this last harvest, the export of Havana Club is going to fall. "Elementary, dar Watson," as Sherlock Holmes would say.  

To make matters worse, it turns out that another mainstay of Cuban exports, tobacco, will also drop, as the Tabacuba monopoly admitted that in 2022 the tobacco harvest will yield less than 30,000 tons —the worst in 41 years. To give one an idea, 53,396 tons of tobacco were produced in 2000. And there is more (or less): Cuba cannot take advantage of soaring nickel prices today because production of the precious mineral on the island, instead of being ramped up, is dropping.

Undoubtedly, these are all great "achievements of the Revolution."

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