August 6, 2008 / 6:44 PM / 12 years ago

Following Fidel's lead, Cuba cuts ethanol plans

HAVANA (Reuters) - Following denunciations of the use of food for fuel by former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, a Cuban official said on Wednesday the Caribbean island is modernizing its sugar industry but that plans to increase ethanol production have been scaled back.

Sugar cane is harvested in Quivican south of Havana April 4, 2008. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa

Luis Galvez, director of the sugar ministry’s Sugar Cane Derivatives Research Institute, said as sugar output increases, so will derivatives, but in no case at the expense of food.

“We are modernizing the sugar industry but in no moment are we going to compete with food,” he said in a news conference.

Galvez, who announced plans for a derivatives conference in October, refused even to use the word ethanol, stating plans for “alcohol” were reduced due to the market, land use and the country’s strategy.

“We are producing around 100 million liters and with modernization we are going to double production,” he said of the derivative which is used in rum, medicines, cosmetics and as fuel additive.

Two years ago, Galvez, opening a conference on ethanol in Havana, was more upbeat about Cuba’s ethanol future.

“Our country has begun an accelerated drive to increase alcohol production, modernizing existing distilleries and installing new ones to increase by five times installed capacity,” Galvez said at the time.

But that was before Castro, who underwent intestinal surgery in July 2006 from which he has not fully recovered, denounced in the newspaper columns the use of food for fuel, charging it was a crime against humanity and billions might starve as a result.

Galvez said on Wednesday plans to install new distilleries were scrapped and Cuba would now focus on modernizing seven existing ones, four of which operated this year.

Castro resigned as president in February, but remains influential with his brother Raul who took his place.

Raw sugar production was 1.5 million tonnes for the just concluded 2007-2008 harvest, compared with 1.2 million tonnes the previous harvest, refined sugar doubled to 200,000 tonnes and molasses for animal feed increased 300 percent, the first increases in output since the industry was downsized by more than 50 percent in 2003.

Additional reporting by Esteban Israel; editing by Jeff Franks and Mohammad Zargham

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