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Cuba’s sugar production getting back on track
President Raul Castro created Azcuba as part of his effort to stimulate the farm sector and streamline a fossilized Marxist economy that even he says doesn’t work anymore.
Unlike virtually every other part of the state-dominated economy, Azcuba gets to keep 65 percent of its revenues and make decisions about reinvesting without having to ask permission from the central government.
The comeback cane
At the Brasil refinery, the mammoth rust-covered sheds installed by American Sugar Refining Co., which launched the plant in 1921, still stand.
Although surrounded by the twisted carcasses of machinery ripped out of the structures, the Brasil is expected to be ready for the upcoming annual harvest and start milling cane by February.
That would have seemed an unlikely prospect during most of the last decade. The plant mostly sat idle or was intermittently used as a grain depot, with only 50 employees remaining from a workforce that once numbered 500.
The refinery came back online briefly in 2008, only to be shuttered after two years because it was so inefficient.
The Brasil’s near-demise mirrors sugar’s decline from the times when it accounted for 80 percent of Cuba’s export income, principally from the nearby U.S. market before relations between the two countries soured in the 1960s.
The crop fueled Cuba’s rum industry and permeated popular culture. Iconic singer Celia Cruz was famed for interjecting cries of “Azucar!” (“sugar”) in her songs.
Over the decades since Cuba’s 1959 revolution, bureaucratic mismanagement created a slow-growing crisis that exploded in 2002, said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a Cuban economist at the University of Denver.
At that time, sugar sold for just 6 cents a pound on world markets.
Cuban officials mothballed much of the industry, shuttering 100 of the island’s 156 refineries and converting some 3 million acres of cane fields to other crops.
Production plummeted. From a peak of approximately 8 million tons in 1989, sugar output hit a 105-year low of 1.1 million in 2010.
It was a black eye for a country where Fidel Castro once sent brigades of soldiers, students, homemakers and bureaucrats from the cities to the countryside in an ill-fated drive to reap 10 million tons of cane.
Each year, the government welcomed foreign sympathizers to visit Cuba and cut cane in solidarity with the socialist revolution.
By Tom Fitton
New photos confirm the attack's coordination and its cover-up
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