November 11, 2019 / 6:18 PM / 24 days ago

Cuban leaders rally sugar workers to produce more with less

HAVANA (Reuters) - The Cuban sugar harvest gets underway next week with officials blaming stepped-up U.S. sanctions for shortages of everything from fuel to tires and calling on workers to produce more with less in response.

FILE PHOTO: A farmer rides a horse next to a sugar cane field during the passage of the Subtropical Storm Alberto in Las Mangas, Cuba, May 26, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Cuba, desperate to increase exports amid a liquidity crisis, plans to produce around 1.5 million metric tons of raw sugar during the harvest, Reuters estimates, based on nine local media reports of provincial plans and previous production in the remaining five sugar-producing provinces.

That would be slightly more than the 1.3 million metric tons during the previous harvest, one of the lowest in more than a century.

Sugar was long Cuba’s most important industry and export, with output reaching 8 million metric tons in 1991. It now ranks behind sectors such as services, remittances, tourism and pharmaceuticals.

The Caribbean island nation consumes between 600,000 and 700,000 metric tons of sugar a year and has an agreement to sell China 400,000 metric tons annually. It sells the rest on the open market.

“Given the increase in the imperialist blockade and the measures to suffocate our people, the answer is in us, to get even closer together and to exploit our potential to get ahead,” state-run media on Monday quoted Jose Machado Ventura, second secretary of the Communist Party, as stating as he toured mills in the provinces.

Cuba has had problems securing financing for the harvest, according to sources close to the industry, who requested anonymity, at a time when the government has little cash largely due to the crisis in ally Venezuela and recent sanctions by the Trump administration aimed at Cuba’s fuel supply and international finance.

“Brakes and electrical systems to transport cane have not arrived on schedule and in addition the industry will receive only 33 percent of the tires requested for the harvest,” the Communist Party newspaper in eastern Las Tunas, Periodico 26, reported earlier this month in a typical dispatch from the provinces.

“I think the plan is wishful thinking. They are using 10 less mills because there is less cane,” said a local expert, who requested anonymity due to restrictions on talking with foreign journalists.

“They will be lucky if they reach 1.3 million metric tons,” he added.

The harvest usually begins with a few mills operating in late November and the remainder crunching cane by mid-January as dry and cool weather set in. Most mills close by May.

Reporting by Marc Frank; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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