Cuba Has Its Sweet Dreams

Fernando Ravsberg*

In an effort to recover its sugar industry, Cuba has partnered up with a Brazilian company and asked it to manage one of its sugar refineries.
In an effort to recover its sugar industry, Cuba has partnered up with a Brazilian company and asked it to manage one of its sugar refineries.

HAVANA TIMES — The news that Brazil is managing the 5 de septiembre sugar refinery in Cuba’s province of Cienfuegos appears to be stirring up the passions and interests of Cubans living at either side of the Strait of Florida.

This is the first time since the nationalizations of the 1960s that a foreign company has been authorized to manage one of these sugar refineries, part of an industry that was the country’s economic locomotive for a long period of time and is today a mere rear coach.

Though Cuba continues to be the proprietor of the mill, the whole affair causes discomfort among those who regard these changes as ideological threats and constantly alert us to the dangers of returning to a past which, in their eyes, entails the loss of national sovereignty.

They had every opportunity to do things better themselves but, despite this, it must be very frustrating for Cuban high agriculture officials to see a “contractual clause which grants foreigners autonomy in terms of management and prevents interference in administrative affairs.”

Brazil can triple production at the 5 de septiembre refinery thanks to a US $120 million investment, technological upgrading and the fact the new managers can skirt all of the obstacles set down by a bureaucracy that has the rest of the agricultural sector bound hand and foot.

Today, Cuban-American magnates produce sugar in the Dominican Republic, a country where the methods used to achieve efficiency in the industry have been widely denounced.
Today, Cuban-American magnates produce sugar in the Dominican Republic, a country where the methods used to achieve efficiency in the industry have been widely denounced.

Cuban high officials in the sector have been promising improved harvest results and mechanically repeating self-criticisms for improvisation, disorganization, inefficiency and indiscipline for decades, but have consistently failed to increase yields.

The failure of the Stalinist agrarian model became evident long ago. In the 1970s, Fidel Castro advised French Communist Party leader George Marchais to never nationalize the countryside, lest they lose their cheeses, wines and foigrass (1).

Protecting the “Back Yard”

Abroad, the move has also angered those who were once the owners of Cuba’s refineries and practically the entire country. They proudly repeat that they produced millions of tons of sugar without the need to call in any foreign managers.

Cuban-American sugar magnate Alfonso Fanjul put aside his anti-Castro rhetoric and rushed to Cuba to explore the possibility of doing business there. The US press is saying he wants to prevent Brazilians from settling in his family’s “back yard.” (2)

Though it is true Cuba’s sugar industry was extremely productive before 1959, it was only making life sweet for a handful of Cubans. “Agricultural workers lived in sub-human conditions. Anyone can be efficient that way,” an economist tells me and suggests I read a survey conducted in 1957 (3).

According to the Catholic Youth University group, more than 40% of Cuban farmers were illiterate, 99% lived in hovels made of guano and wooden boards, more than 90% lacked water and electricity, 80% didn’t even have a bathroom and only 8% had access to public health.

Despite this, Fanjul told the Washington Post: “Do I have a weak spot for Cuba? Of course, it’s my country.” He does not, however, let this weak spot get the better of him and immediately sets down conditions, adding, “Particularly if the investment will be profitable and its security is guaranteed.” (4).

In 1957, 40% of Cuban farmers and farm workers were illiterate, 99% lived in hovels, 90% lacked water and electricity, 80% had no bathrooms and a mere 8% had access to public health.

Some time ago, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told émigrés living the United States: “I don’t know how many Cubans you know who could invest 200, 300, 500, 1,000 million dollars in Cuba. This is the investment Cuba needs.” It looks as though the first one’s turned up.

It won’t be easy to convince farmers to accept going back to the old system of production, the same one endured by the sugar cane cutters of the Dominican Republic, where some of these Cuban sugar magnates have set up camp.

Cuban agriculture is still an unresolved issue, and the answers aren’t likely to come from the senseless “resolutions and circulars” issued by a bureaucracy that would be able to ruin Argentina’s livestock industry and France’s cheese production.

The problem, however, cannot be solved by returning to a past when the sugar industry reaped efficiency by sowing human misery.

(1)   100 Hours with Fidel, Ignacio Ramonet




(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published  in Spanish by BBC Mundo.

16 thoughts on “Cuba Has Its Sweet Dreams

  • Reflect on that image a while: worker ants toiling under the guard of soldier ants, all in the service of some fat queen…

    Hmmm… that sounds just like Cuba!

  • It will take time to for Cuba to develop economically. The Castros have spent the past 54 years attempting one get rich quick scheme after another, the end result of which is a thoroughly impoverished nation. For whatever personal reasons,
    Dilma, like Hugo before her, has agreed to throw away Brazilian treasure on Cuba’s desert island. I have yet to see a sane business model for how the port of Mariel is supposed to turn a profit. It’s just the latest Bolshevik boondoggle by the boys from Biran and the Bolshie broad from Brazil has fallen for it hook line and sinker.

  • Are you kidding? He doesn’t know if his mom is going to buy Cap’n Crunch or Trix for his breakfast cereal next week let alone the fate of mankind. I guess it is all the same thing when you live in your parents’ basement and read leftist material all day.

  • Griffin, the question remains as to how Cuba will attract the tens of billions of dollars in capital investment without using property as collateral. Foreign government-backed loans also come at a price. Brazil paid a huge political price to back the $600+ million in loans to Cuba for the Port of Mariel project including the questionable tactic of hiding the terms of the loans behind the guise of national security. Cuba needs ten times this amount and there are no more Brazils out there to help. Once projects are funded, a worker-controlled co-op makes sense for Cuba, but the elephant in the room is the initial capital investment.

  • 20 years? …you use to quote the demise of capitalism in 15? Adding a cushion now?

    It must be quite a burden to know the future as you do?

  • You’re suffering from a bad case of denial. You should read some Shakespeare or perhaps some Aeschylus or Euripides to get an idea of human nature. Besides you should be happy with capitalism, it’s given you all those wonderful technological toys you love to talk about.

  • Kropotkin is Russian for Crackpot, isn’t it?

    Sociologists and biologists have learned quite a bit more since his day. For example, ants are organized into strict social classes, with worker ants under the control and protection of soldier ants. Ants are highly imperialistic and a given colony of ants will invade, conquer and enslave another colony.

    John, you can go live in an underground tunnel serving the procreational activities of a massive Queen, if you’re into that sort of thing. But don’t expect many other people to join you.

  • We have heard it all before. Your ‘utopian’ society that never was. It always starts out with the best of intentions to spread democracy to every nation. Then comes the French wine and German cars. The Swiss watch and Cuban cigars. The Italian shoes and Russian caviar. Before you know, the only thing ‘international’ about your utopia are the charges on your black AMEX card.

  • You must understand that communism is a future democratic society and has nothing to do with all the facets of capitalism and investing you went into.
    Capitalists will invest as they will until capitalism dies of inherent causes within 20 years. Investing is set up to enrich the wealthy and is part of the problem of capitalist-caused world-wide poverty. As such it is just one more brick in the wall.
    IMO, you’re making a big mistake thinking that what has been must be . Capitalism has been sowing the seeds of its own destruction through alienation of the workforce but the combined forces of globalization and automation will be the final nails in capitalism’s coffin.
    After that demise, the world may decide to run with a more logical and humane means of distributing goods that will center on human need rather than profit.
    Of necessity, that means of distribution will be equitable
    and democratically decided upon .
    That’s communism
    Good news for democrats
    Bad news for totalitarians.

  • I.C.,
    My understanding of human nature is based upon the thinking and scientific evidence of Peter Kropotkin .
    He went through all the highly successful species from ants to humans and showed that they all were mutual aid societies, meaning that they helped one another .
    This was human nature until the advent of the state and capitalism some few hundreds of years ago.
    You’d have to read Kropotkin, Bakunin to get all the underlying facts.
    About investing in a business where you are not the boss:
    Of course you wouldn’t under capitalism -it would be cutting your own throat to own a democratically run business.
    Investing is all about making money and not about helping one’s brothers and sisters . It is legal and considered right under capitalism .
    Socialism and communism , being democratic would not allow the profit motive to supersede the human need motive in any business.

    I’m talking about a democratic society.
    You’re talking about totalitarian capitalism .
    They are two different things .
    Capitalism and democracy are mutually exclusive .
    If you have one, you cannot have the other.
    You have to learn this and the fact that you cannot claim to stand for democracy if you support capitalism .

  • Is this a smart path to modernize the Cuban sugar industry, or is the regime merely selling Cuban slave labour to a foreign sugar corporation?

    The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    I find I have to agree with Johh: an independent worker controlled co-operative would be better than this new scheme, and better than what existed before. However, I would suggest the co-operative model would have to accept the reality of modern economics and negotiate contracts for the sale of their sugar, and for investment in new equipment. Modernizing a large industry takes a massive level of capital investment, and the investors will want to make their money earn a decent return.

  • jG If your model of “bottom up” business why would anyone invest in and start a company? I suspect very few business would ever get started as everyone stands around and looks at everyone else. And that wonderful technology you love to enjoy.would simply not exist.

    Your lack of understanding of human nature is the failing of every communist.

  • Exactly what Cuba needs, modern manufacturing methods that do not exploit the worker. Automation has changed agriculture. Making Cuba more productive even if requires foreign investment is not a negative.

  • Where in your fantasy world of involving the workers as equals would the infusion of new technology and equipment come from? If you are suggesting that the capitalist investor give 50% of his investment to the workers for free, you are as nuts as I suspected. If you are suggesting that since the workers contribute the labor, then you are assuming that labor is equal in value to the up front technology and equipment provided by the capitalist investor. Again, nutso! Finally, if you assume that the capitalist “loan” the workers the initial capital to be paid back over time, then the capitalist assumes all the risk of his investment and should be additionally compensated likely leaving little for the workers to profit. No matter how you “cut the cane” it doesn’t add up. That is the fundamental problem with wacko communists. You can’t do math very well.

  • This “reform” is nothing more than changing the totalitarian state management of the plant for the also totalitarian private-sector (capitalist) management.
    Were this a communist society and manufacturing facility, the workers would be involved -as equals- in the operation of the plant from the bottom up and by majority rule which is what democracy is.
    To go from one less efficient dictatorship to a more efficient dictatorship is nothing to get really excited about.
    What Cuban workers and the workers and poor of the world need is more democracy……….. not just a different form of dictatorship.

  • Ravsberg, despite his exposure to international norms, continues to seem to see changes in Cuba as black or white. He fails to see the gray. Why can’t he imagine the Brazilian-run sugar mill operation using modern technology and practices AND respecting the rights workers to receive a decent wage and work in safe and sanitary conditions? His either/or views reflect the years of “brainwashing” he received at the hands of the Castro propaganda regime that instilled in him that outside control is always bad. The truth is that Cuban control has destroyed the sugar industry in Cuba. Could Brazilian control really be any worse?

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