Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

There's No Sweet Answer to Castro's Sugar-Cane Dilemma

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

There's No Sweet Answer to Castro's Sugar-Cane Dilemma

Article excerpt

CUBA is currently facing one of the most critical tests of its existence under Fidel Castro.

The issue is how to harvest the sugar crop. Sugar is the lifeblood of Cuba's economy. With sugar Cuba must pay for desperately needed imports like oil and spare parts. The sugar crop has become even more significant now that the former Soviet Union has turned its back on Cuba, abandoning its purchase of sugar at artificially high prices, and its sale of oil to Cuba at artificially low prices. From here on, Mr. Castro must sell every precious ton of sugar at competitive prices on the open market to pay for essential imports.

But in deciding how to gather in the harvest - usually collected between November and April depending on climate and the rains - Castro faces a dilemma.

At Soviet urging, he mechanized the sugar harvesting operation back in the '60s, slashing the work force from 300,000 to 60,000. But now, with the squeeze on the Cuban economy, there is no fuel for the mechanical harvesters. Does Castro divert oil from his precious strategic reserve to get the harvest in mechanically? Or does he dragoon several hundred thousand city workers and send them into the countryside to cut the crop by hand?

Neither alternative is attractive for him.

If he burns up precious reserve fuel, he denies it to other essential services. Havana already looks as though it is being thrust back into the 19th century as fuel and energy supplies dwindle. A million bicycles imported from China have replaced many cars. There are long lines for fewer buses. Electricity is rationed, TV stations are limited to four hours of programming a day, movie houses have had their hours of opening curtailed. Even the official party daily newspaper "Granma" has just announced it will publish only three days a week, and then with some issues of only four pages.

But if Castro recruits cane-cutters from the urban work force, he must send them into the countryside with little prospect of proper transportation, housing, or food. …

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