Cuba mulls foreign buyout after worst sugar harvest in a century
Published: May 10, 2010 at 4:33 PM
HAVANA, May 10 (UPI) — Cuba is considering foreign — possibly
Brazilian — buyout of its troubled sugarcane industry after the worst
harvest in more than a century cost a minister his job and led to
recrimination and government threats to punish other officials suspected
of poor performance.
The upheaval over the sugar harvest began as statistics of the sector's
poor yields reached President Raul Castro's ear. News of the sugarcane
industry's woes had circulated for some time but failed to make it to
the state-controlled media.
Then Granma, the Communist Party daily newspaper, broke the news that
the yield was the worst since 1905, but only after the senior official
responsible, Luis Manuel Avila Gonzalez, was dismissed from his post as
Jorge Luis Sierra Cruz, minister of transport and vice president of the
Council of Ministers, was also sacked, Granma said, quoting an official
note. Neither of the officials will lose official privileges, however,
and will be assigned other posts.
The duties of Jorge Luis Sierra Cruz will be taken over by two people.
Antonio Enrique Lusson Batlle, a veteran member of the Central Committee
of the Communist Party, takes over as vice president of the council of
ministers, though it isn't certain if he will give up responsibilities
for renovating the railroad system.
The new minister of transport, Cesar Ignacio Arocha Masid, was
previously in charge of bulk food transport. Orlando Celso Garcia
Ramirez becomes the new sugar minister.
Officials quoted in the media said Castro would no longer protect
officials if they were found to be wanting in their performance. It
warned that mistakes blamed on the weather or other external factors
wouldn't be tolerated.
With the two officials gone and replaced by new people, albeit all
members of the ruling communist elite, the sugarcane industry's severe
difficulties are nowhere near resolution.
The Granma report, reflecting government opinion, said the Sugar
Ministry had failed to implement changes that were needed to address
Details of the difficulties facing the sugarcane industry weren't
revealed but the newspaper said the both the ministry and industry
sectors under its control suffered from poor planning. It cited a
chronic failure to project key developments in the transition from
sugarcane plantation to harvesting and transportation.
Cuba's harvest in 2009 suffered a major shortfall. The actual yield was
more than 850,000 tons short of the official forecast, after a period of
relative growth that lasted from 2005-08.
Industry analysts said the problem began after the government embarked
on a major reorganization of the industry in 2002 that went on for more
than two years. The state-led reforms reduced the number of refineries
from about 160 to 61 but also laid off more than 100,000 people.
Although Cuba produced 1.4 million tons of sugar in the 2008-09 season,
earning more than $600 million from exports, that figure was less than
one-fourth of crop yields before the Castro takeover.
Brazil's dramatic success with its sugarcane crop and diversification
into producing biofuels has drawn Cuba to the possibility of involving
Brazil in some form or other, including investment and management of
parts of the industry.