Cuban Towns where the “Peoples Power” is No Longer So Popular

Daniel Valero  (Progreso Semanal)

The Sierra de Cubitas (Lugareño) sugar mill. Photo:
The Sierra de Cubitas (Lugareño) sugar mill. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — Miguel Angel Rivero, 83, has lived long enough to prove that most of the time it isn’t worth getting worked up over something.

He still remembers the exact day that he learned this lesson. It was in the afternoon when they told him, along with many others, that the Sierra de Cubitas sugar plant would no longer mill.

A hundred and ten years after its machines first started running under the name Lugareno, and having survived many political and technological changes, while having fostered all of its identity around sugar cane and the regular rhythm of its mallets, it was time for this sugar factory to disappear.

It’s been thirteen years since that happened. His past of over four decades as a puntista (somebody who makes sugar crystals) isn’t too different from that of others; maybe it’s just their ages that make them different. When he turned seventy, life took a path without a lot of uncertainty: retirement and directing his efforts to cultivating a small neighboring field, where most of the root vegetables and fruit that they eat in his home are grown.

The solitude of those below

Miguel Angel lived this experience firsthand. He was one of those present the day that the MINAZ bosses (at that time, the Ministry of Sugar) came to give the news and their dictates for the immediate future. He was one of those workers who raised his hand to ask why they were doing this. Apart from the many promises and calls for commitment, they didn’t get a reply.

In the end, nothing or very little happened. In the following years, the town gradually sank into a lazy drowsiness which took over every corner. For years nothing was heard about the farming machines and irrigation equipment that were supposed to arrive, and the land was slowly taken over by weeds due to the missing sugar plantations and the slow but unstoppable migration of the former sugar mill/plantation workers.

Miguel Angel tells us the most painful thing was the feeling of having been abandoned.

Odlanier Matos, who at the time was a delegate at one of the People’s Councils agreed with him.

The “La Tarea” program helped people out for a short time, however in a sugar producing town the sugar plant resolved many other problems that didn’t just have to do with workers’ paychecks. Even chairs for homes were made in the sugar factory’s workshops. All of these facilities disappeared overnight.

The other thing was watching how some “genius” figured that these fields could be maintained by using just oxen, hoes and buckets of water – without machines or power. You didn’t have to be a psychic to imagine what was going to happen without the prioritized equipment that MINAZ had promised. If those who were calling the shots had taken the time to come here, anybody could have told them that.”

After the sugar plant closed down, social problems such as alcoholism and violence flourished; the theft and killing of livestock also spiked, as well as house burglaries.

“It was as if they’d taken life away from us,” complained Maritza Herrera, the manager of one of the town’s bodega ration stores. “Why didn’t they go to the government’s local or provincial authorities or to the National Assembly even?”

None of those interviewed knew how to answer this question. Not even Odlanier, who back then could have demanded reasons as a delegate of the local People’s Power Assembly. “The first thing they told us at a municipal meeting, a short time before they told the whole town what was going to happen; was the idea that other sources of employment would be established once the “Noel Fernandez” (Senado) and the “Sierra de Cubitas” (Lugareno) sugar mills closed down. “These measures that the central government takes aren’t normally argued, somebody makes the decision and that’s that.”


Stories like that of the Lugareno sugar mill town have been repeated, with their differences and defining features, throughout the entire country. Miguel Angel, Odlanier and Maritza could have been called a hundred different names. Of course, another part of the story is that they no longer wait for answers from any local government authority or the National Assembly.

Therefore, the situation and representation of these government authorities has done nothing but exacerbate the problem. Even when they haven’t served even half of their terms, today many delegates at the Municipal Assemblies of the People’s Power in Camaguey have had to be replaced.

They don’t give up their responsibility because of corruption scandals or abuses of power. It’s rather the opposite. Even though there are no official statistics about the subject or an institutional opinion, the fact is that many leave because they’re fed up, which is a direct result of the impotence they face.

This is a phenomenon that is becoming more and more common throughout the country, regardless of people’s financial standing or professional level. Its effects are so marked that it has been the subject of analysis at various meetings between the presidency of the National Assembly and delegates from different areas on the island.

There is a great distance between the authority that theoretically these people representatives have and their real power to make themselves heard. Local government institutions haven’t taken a turn for the better either. Neck deep in dealing with everyday emergencies, municipalities only have time to meet the orders that they receive from higher authorities and to keep society’s most essential institutions running.

The Peoples Power delegates were and continue to be the last card in the deck. They are aware of the people’s needs but have no resources to resolve them. Decisions continue to come from above; it doesn’t matter how deeply they affect the lives of the communities who reside there. They are still made by the same central authorities that closed down the Lugareno Sugar Plant and sentenced the town to death by decree.

7 thoughts on “Cuban Towns where the “Peoples Power” is No Longer So Popular

  • You are so right too many people from Canada invested money in Cuba after Russia stepped back in the last 25 years. When they stood up to the Castro regime their assets were taken or they were put in jail.

  • They need to make major changes in the way things are done. A friend in 1988 looked at building a joint cell phone factory with Canada and Russia providing the capital and the manufacturing process. This was before cell phone manufacturing went to China. Certain conditions were to placed on pay and treatment and payment of staff and being able to get the money back through exports. The Cuban gov. did not want to come to the table. Cuba has taken assets that foreign investors put into Cuba, when complained Cuba jailed some of these investors.

  • It will take more than an end to the US embargo to improve Cuban agriculture in general or the sugar industry in particular. Both will require massive increases in investment to fund equipment, seed stock, fertilizers, irrigation improvements & etc. But where will these investments come from? Pre-revolution, US businesses invest in Cuban plantations, with the expectation of making a good return on their investment, at a reasonable risk.

    So long as the Castro regime continues to seize the assets of foreign partners, there will be very few investors willing to risk the capricious nature of the Cuban business climate.

    To fix that will require significant changes to Cuban property laws, tax laws and labour laws. The Cuban legal system will have to be reformed to make it less an instrument of the Communist Party. In short, the Castro regime will have to reform itself out of existence. I don’t see them doing that.

  • I agree with your point regarding centralized command economy. But in this case this wasn’t the reason, but the fact that the Soviet block stopped buying Cuban sugar overnight. Cuba isn’t the only country to suffer changes in the world market. Take the devastating effect the oil price hike had on western economies or the decimation of the coal industry in the UK or the failure of the motor industry in the US. As for your second point, Cuba doesn’t have a free run to trade with China. The embargo blocks many things. Check out the petrol platform which was boarded by the US in order to check for tiny percentages of American parts.

    But I agree wholeheartedly with your comments on greater autonomy and small private business.

  • The Ministry of Sugar oddly enough was a subsidiary of GAESA.

  • Centralized command and control economies do not work. The end of the US embargo will not change that fact. Cuba has been able to trade with other nations for decades. The Soviet Union was it’s own failed basket case, but China is a friendly nation to Cuba that can meet all it’s equipment needs. The country needs to modernize with more autonomy provided to state companies and more small private business as a start.

  • One of the reasons I am fascinated with Cuba is having spent ten years living around the farmlands of Oahu. Sugar plantations along with pineapple farms were everywhere. I’m amazed how Cuba has faltered in growing and harvesting sugar however I do believe the ending of the US embargo could be instrumental in a revival. Supercede the horrific state run system and create incentives would light speed the process.

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