My Father and the Sugarcane Harvest of ‘70

Osmel Almaguer

An old sugar mill in Trinidad, Cuba.

Before my father gave me his version of the story, for me the 1970 sugarcane harvest was a simple incident that gave people something to laugh at. “I haven’t been to a fiesta since the ‘70 harvest,” you could hear any Cuban say with a smile.

The fact of choosing such an event was not by chance, because if it had remained in people’s memories only as a distant occurrence in time, it wouldn’t still be so vivid. The question was the mark that it left on the country, economically but also in terms of our morale.

This was an anecdote to hang onto, equivalent to Mao’s “war on sparrows” [blamed for eating grain and hence hindering the Great Leap Forward]. But on this occasion it wasn’t due to some senile delirium, but the childish arrogance of a leader who was beginning to taste the new honey of power and found it intoxicating.

“The Harvest of 10 million,” as it’s also known, was an idealistic attempt to harvest 10 million tons of sugar in one season, equivalent to almost double what was usually produced in our fields and sugar mills.

To achieve this, the commander-and-chief spared no human or economic resource. It was a huge investment that left the economy even weaker than it previously was, and what was most tragic of all was that the country was unable to reach the projected yield.

My father was part of all that turmoil. He was a grain of sugar, so to speak, in all that sea of sweetness. Yes, sweetness, because the people—like bees—continued following the seductive trail of Fidel’s dreams – however absurd the results.

But not only must the people and Fidel bear the historical responsibility; the rest of our leaders agreed, out of powerlessness or fear or seduction or simple mimicry. No of them demurred.

Imagine the tremendous amounts of food, fuel and shelter that were consumed, and yet despite all that the people ended the harvest themselves drained and ragged.

Trying to be fair, I think that this revolution, at least at that stage, didn’t suffer from any irrationality other than the usual ones during such a movement of vast social change, ones that could almost be expected in a situation like that.

My father, who was an army captain back then, was sent with a unit to participate in the harvest. He held high standards, working almost 20 hours a day with little food, even after the boots of his soldiers had fallen apart, and without anyone to relieve the troops.

My father confessed to me that on several occasions he committed fraud and falsified the output to avoid punishment.  That’s how serious his mission as an officer was.  Not meeting the production quota was out of the question.


Osmel Almaguer:Until recently I would to identify myself as a poet, a cultural promoter and a university student. Now that my notions on poetry have changed slightly, that I got a new job, and that I have finished my studies, I’m forced to ask myself: Am I a different person? In our introductions, we usually mention our social status instead of looking within ourselves for those characteristics that define us as unique and special. The fact that I’m scared of spiders, that I’ve never learned to dance, that I get upset over the simplest things, that culminating moments excite me, that I’m a perfectionist, composed but impulsive, childish but antiquated: these are clues that lead to who I truly am.

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One thought on “My Father and the Sugarcane Harvest of ‘70

  • Ah! “Those wonderful memories of the future:” waking up @ 5:30 a.m. to the raucus strains of “De Pie” over the P.A. system; hacking our way through seemingly endless fields of cane in and around Aguacate; also, as the the two sides reduced the area of standing cane to a small island, then the cane rats hopping out–and sometimes up–our pants’ legs! “!Los Diez Millones Van! The “inspiring” song, “Los Diez Millones…de toneladas…para nuestro futuro…cada dia…cada hora…” etc. Now they are but dim and shadowy memories, replayed from time to time, on the camera obsura of the mind’s eye. Still, we had dreams of storming Olympus. Alas! The gods had other plans in dealing with those who would challenge their dominance. Still, as long as humans live, they will continue to have dreams, even if these dreams oft turn to nightmares!

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