The View from the North: No Sugar in Cuba
By SILVIO CANTO, JR.
Years ago, my mother got a letter from her sister in Cuba complaining about the lack of food. and especially seafood.
So my mother said to her Cuban friend, “Can you believe that? No fish in Cuba.”
And her friend said, “How can that be? It’s an island. I remember going fishing and catching everything.”
And my mother responded, “Yes, I remember that, too. But this is Cuba comunista and the fish have all gone to Miami.”
Wonder what my late mother would say about the shortage of sugar in Cuba today?
Yes, there is not enough sugar in Cuba today.
This is the report via my friends at the Diario de Cuba (DDC):
“The production of the 2021-2022 sugar harvest was the lowest in the last 150 years, only 480,000 tons of sugar, not even covering the average annual consumption on the island, which is around 600,000 tons. Of the 35 sugar mills that participated in the harvest, which ended on May 20, only three fulfilled their production plan.”
The Diario de Cuba went on to note that the increasing scarcity of sugar on the island nation “could force the temporary closure of small, private cafés, where almost all of their offerings are juices, soft drinks, coffee and homemade sweets.”
“Such closures would entail an increase in unemployment and a drop in income for those families that are sustained, directly or indirectly, by private activity,” it said.
In Cuba, where, according to the
The price of sugar has hit 100 pesos a pound, and you can’t find it easily, either,” says Marbelis Gallardo, who for more than five years has been making sweets for three small cafés in her Lawton neighborhood.
“The prices of flour and cornstarch have also skyrocketed, but not as much as sugar, which, in just three months, rose from 50 to 100 pesos. To compensate for the investment costs, I would have to almost double the prices of my sweets. We are talking about neighborhood cafés where the customers are everyday Cubans: old timers having a coffee; juices, soft drinks or sweets for children’s snacks…” adds Gallardo, who plans to sell her sweets herself ― which would be illegal, since she does not have a license to do so, “and the inspectors are swarming like flies, always looking for someone to bite.”
Juice producers, although they do not have to invest in large quantities of sugar like candy makers, are also affected by the exorbitant increase in sugar prices on the informal market. As a result, their supplies for small coffee shops have been considerably diminished, and thus, these establishments′ offerings.
“Rationing has even reached the black market,” said Tomás Bravo, the owner of a small café near the William Soler Pediatric Hospital in Havana.
“The truth is that we′re at a crossroads: Either we close the business, or we raise prices even more, which would affect, in my case, those family members who have their children in the hospital. They comprise the majority of my customers, and it would be a crime to raise their prices. But then there is my family, and the business is our only source of income.”
“Incredible as it may seem, the sugar I have at my house, which I don′t sell, is thanks to two users who travel abroad frequently and leave me their rationing books. I have no sugar to sell under the table, and the reason is simple: There is none. In reality, the quota arrives, and nothing more; and no bodeguero is foolish enough to sell sugar when not all of what should have arrived has in the last few months,” another vendor said. adding that he thought the the situation will continue despite the package of measures announced by the communist regime to boost the country’s economy.
According to the DDC, in his speech at the Ninth Ordinary Session of the Unicameral Parliament, Cuba’s Minister of Economy and Planning, Alejandro Gil, announced a package of more than 70 measures “to revitalize the Cuban economy,” but made no mention of the 2.1 billion-peso debt the regime has with the island’s producers.
“What makes them think that we will have any confidence in this combination of measures when they can’t even guarantee sugar to sweeten the lemonade?” remarked Zoe Álvarez, owner of a small café in Centro Habana, who is looking for other alternatives “to stay afloat.”
“Raising prices is not viable, at least for those of us who support this type of business, which is more for people with limited resources. Changing the offerings won′t benefit them either, but somehow I have to support a family and a business,” said Álvarez, who decided to start selling lunches because “it′s easier to get rice, beans and some fiber.”
“Who could ever have imagined that sugar, with which everything is sweetened, could lead to unemployment and the bankruptcy of small businesses like mine?”
Once upon a time, Cuba had no problems growing sugar cane, turning it into sugar for domestic consumption or exports. It was a forgone conclusion that every Cuban would sweeten his strong coffee and light up a cigar, something I saw my father do often. I can still smell my mother’s Cuban coffee and my father’s cigar!
But that was then and this is now-
According to Reuters, “Cuba’s emblematic sugar harvest topped out at just over half of the communist-run government’s target this year, according state-run newspaper Granma, representing another major blow to the country’s already crisis-racked economy.”
The Reuters reported noted that Cuba’s 2021-2022 sugar harvest hit just 52 percent of the goal for the season, approximately 474,000 tons. That is nearly half of last year’s crop of 800,000 tons, which was already the worst harvest since 1908.
So what went wrong? The answer is that these sugar mills were once privately run and incredibly efficient. Today, they are state-run and incredibly inefficient.
It’s as simple as that! Welcome to socialism, where inflation is running at a jaw-dropping 91 percent per annum.
The U.S. haters will blame the embargo. So what’s new?
But the U.S, trade embargo does not stop Cuba from selling sugar to any other country or attracting investment to improve the sugar mills.
So you can’t blame the embargo.
Last, but not least, once upon a time, Havana had a professional minor league baseball team called The Sugar Kings. They were an AAA team in the Cincinnati Reds organization and they were called the Sugar Kings because sugar is one of the symbols of Cuba.
Well, the fish moved to Miami, as my mother said. Maybe the sugar cane did too!