A restructuring that began in 2002 saw thousands of people lose their jobs, though they were offered employment in other agricultural sectors or job retraining programs.
A sweet future?
Now with sugar topping 20 cents a pound worldwide, Cuba is newly motivated to revive the industry and stimulate production.
Authorities have begun overhauling the Brasil and other mills, paying farmers more for cane and handing over fallow land to private growers and agro-cooperatives.
As with other sectors of the economy, efficiency is the buzzword, and officials hope Azcuba will be more nimble than the ponderous Sugar Ministry.
Wilson Morell, vice president of Azcuba, set a goal of returning to 4 million tons per year by modernizing the 56 refineries still online, though he did not set a date. That would achieve half of Cuba’s historical peak output with about a third of the facilities.
Cuba acknowledges it still must address issues such as installing modern irrigation systems, improving the supply chain and guaranteeing quality of cane sent to the mills.
Foreign investment in the sector is nonexistent, though Mr. Morell and Mr. Perez said negotiations are under way on possible British investment in a bioelectrical plant at one refinery.
Mr. Lopez-Levy, whose father was an engineer in the industry, applauded measures such as Azcuba’s financial independence.
But he cautioned that it’s too early to brag about a major comeback, saying it remains to be seen whether the sector can overcome the stubborn bureaucratic mind-set that has long plagued Cuba.
“After so many disasters, a measure of skepticism is realistic,” the economist said.