Azcuba seeks to calm workers fears about sugar sector restructuring

7th November 2022

Cuba’s state sugar producer Azcuba has confirmed that the 2022-2023 sugar campaign will  start in mid-November utilising just twenty-three of the country’s fifty-six functioning sugar mills. The objective it said, is to better use limited resources, increase efficiency, and stabilise future levels of production.

In an interview with Granma, Dionis Pérez, the Director of Information Technology and Communications of Azcuba, sought to allay the fears of Cuban sugar workers at some of the country’s largest sugar mills and associated facilities.

On the subject of what will happen to the workers of the mills that do not grind cane, Pérez told the official Communist Party publication that employment will be maintained with some involved in “the conservation and preservation of the mill”, while others will be “incorporated into the maintenance and repair work, after the authorisation of financing for these activities.”

Other workers, he observed, would be “relocated to cane production, food and diversified production” which will become “their main sources of personal income.”  He did not however provide any indication of how this might happen, the numbers involved, or over what period.

“In the plants that do not grind in this harvest, repair, maintenance and conservation work will continue to guarantee the next harvest, based on the management of resources within the national territory,” the Azcuba Director told Granma. Pérez stressed however, this would happen only where financing is available, and must consider present and future linked opportunities for the  production of sugarcane, food, and diversified products.

The article appeared to suggest that some factories will be repaired while others may be dismantled, which if correct would have a significant effect on many of Cuba’s rural communities.

Pérez told the publication that the objective now is to diversify the industry so that it engages in both the planting and processing of cane and growing food. In future, he said, it was envisaged that 45,000 hectares of sugar land will be allocated for the planting of cane and 12,426 hectares for food production. At present, just 16,024 hectares of land are operational, of which 9,837 are destined for cane.

In his published remarks he made clear that the restructuring and future of the industry is now based on what he described as “the real financing that can be made available,” guaranteeing domestic consumption, and obtaining derivatives including animal feed, alcohols, and honey, and if market prices permit, an allied export plan.

Others quoted in the article indicated that some of the country’s biggest mills, including Central Azucarero Uruguay in Sancti Spiritus, will instead of grinding have targets for shipping cane by rail to more efficient plants. They also suggested that workers would be supported economically through a two-year loan for factory repair that would “protect 80% or 90% of workers’ wages” with a possible state loan in 2023, for what was described as “the concept of a paralysed factory.”

The restructuring of the sector comes after years of falling production and was first announced by President Díaz-Canel in early September when he told a meeting of the Communist Party and government leadership in the thirteen territories involved in sugar production, that an innovative approach was required (Cuba Briefing 12 September 2022).

This would involve, he said, milling just 6.6mn tons to produce 0.46mn tons of sugar to meet the requirements of the country’s guaranteed family food basket, tourism, industrial production including rum and alcohol, and for medical purposes. 

The production figures mentioned effectively confirm that little if any sugar will now be available for export to China or elsewhere, and that previous plans to earn about US$150m per annum from such exports are now at an end.

Photo by Victoria Priessnitz 

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