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FBIS-LAT-95-028-S Daily Report 28 Jan 1995 CARIBBEAN Cuba

Mexican Newspaper Interviews Fidel Castro

Part III Analyzes Sugar Production

PA0102195895 Mexico City EL SOL DE MEXICO in Spanish 28 Jan 95 Section A, pp 1, 20 PA0102195895 Mexico City EL SOL DE MEXICO Spanish BFN [Part III of nine-part "exclusive" interview with President Fidel Castro by EL SOL DE MEXICO Director General Mario Vazquez Rana in Havana; date not given -- first three paragraphs are EL SOL DE MEXICO introduction]

[FBIS Translated Text] Havana, Cuba -- Sugar, the honey and treasure of Cuba, has dropped to intolerable levels and still Cuba continues to resist. In 1968, the great goal of the Cuban revolutionaries was to harvest 10 million tons of sugarcane annually. They came close to achieving that goal and for decades were able to maintain production at over 7 million tons yearly. Today, in a troubled world, Cuba is only able to produce a little over 4 million tons per year.

Some people have suggested that there should not be so much reliance on monoculture, but President Castro explained why Cuba continues to harvest sugar: The climate, the winds, the land are not appropriate for other crops. Sugarcane, in turn, is food and foreign currency, but is also a shortage when petroleum does not arrive and sugar mills stop working. Of the 350,000 sugarcane cutters that there used to be, only 50,000 are left.

Nevertheless, Cuba resists. They say hunger is no fad, but in Cuba a new fad has appeared, some sort of a free produce market that allows every cooperative, association, or farmer to sell 20 percent of his produce to the highest bidder, while petroleum begins to flow once more.

[Vazquez] Mr. President, I have noticed many changes in Cuba. We have seen that in economic arena private produce markets have already opened.

How are you going to stimulate these markets?

[Castro] "Listen Mario, we cannot produce all the food we need, because for centuries now we have been forced to import products, for example, like wheat. This grain cannot be grown in our climate; many of the grains we need are not appropriate for our climate. Therefore, we are forced to resort to foreign trade. We cannot even dream of the utopia where we would produce our own foodstuffs; we must necessarily import some.

"Our main product was sugar, as a staple export and for commercial exchanges. We could get a lot more from one hectare of sugarcane than we could from a hectare of corn, wheat, beans, or sunflowers.

"One of our most economical crops from all points of view was sugar. Thus, for over 100 years Cuba specialized in sugarcane cultivation.

"We would have to consider different factors. Let's say we have a cyclonic climate. Cyclonic climate means that specific crops suffer tremendously from the winds. We do not have problems with earthquakes, like Mexico City, but we have problems with cyclones. We also have another problem: Tropical land is rocky and rugged; weeds grow faster, and plagues abound -- all those things.

"The plows that plow the land in France, in Europe, do not work in Cuba. We have to use much stronger plows.

"It is best for us to plant sugarcane because it is a permanent crop that may last eight to 10 years. Historically it lasted longer, but mechanization has reduced the life span of a sugarcane field.

"But our climate and our soil are not appropriate for specific crops like corn, which entails breaking up the soil every time you go to plant. Also, if there is drought you're going to lose your crop, but here we have dry and rainy seasons. Corn is less productive than crops like sugar. We produce corn, but not enough to meet all our needs for fodder and food. We cannot produce wheat; we also produce a limited amount of beans.

"In other words, these are natural phenomena. It's not like in your country, where you have a widely varying climate: high plateaus, dry climate, rainy climate. I mean to say that we cannot aspire to a food autarchy. This is a dream, a utopia; therefore, we must import a number of products, but we can produce other foodstuffs here. There are other tubers, vegetables, that type of food, some animal husbandry.

"We cannot return to the days of the 17th century, when there was a small population that produced all the pork and poultry the country needed in the yards of its houses.

"Family self-production helps or could help a lot, but the big cities cannot be adequately supplied with this type of production. If we want to produce, for example, 100,000 tons of pork, you need to know how many hundreds of tons of corn, wheat, soybeans, grease, and other food is required. And this pork supplies the people with only a modest amount of the lard they need.

"If you want to produce 100,000 tons of poultry, you again need to know how many hundreds of thousands of tons of fodder is required, how many chickens, and how many genetic farms.

"In the tropics, a cow in a natural pasture produces from five to eight liters of milk per day. If you want a 20-liter cow you have to give her fodder composed of soybean, corn, and wheat.

"We had all that. As a result of trade with the socialist bloc and the USSR we used to get significant amounts of those grains. This allowed us to produce pork, poultry, and milk. We had a growing and noteworthy production in this area. This has been lost.

"Of course, we had also been using molasses and sugarcane. But molasses made of sugarcane is rich in calories and deficient in proteins and does not enhance production of meat, milk, and all that. Grain is required in this instance.

"It would not be reasonable for us, in this climate, to use our sugar land for production of these two grains. Anyway you look at it, this would be economically counterproductive.

"Our agriculture provides some of our food requirements; we must import the rest. The food we import is rationally distributed among the population at modest prices."

[Vazquez] Lower than import prices?

[Castro] "In some cases, yes. Some products are subsidized. Our agriculture and livestock sector could never produce hundreds of tons of beef, poultry, pork, and other products without fodder, unless we were to destroy the entire sugar industry and use 1.7 million hectares of our best land to produce something else -- cereals -- which are less efficient economically and the production of which is more expensive than sugarcane. We have to acquire the required amounts of these goods through foreign trade.

"People from the countryside can be self-sufficient because they can raise poultry or pigs in their yards, but in Cuba only 20 percent of the population is rural, the opposite of what it is in China and Vietnam. In Cuba 80 percent of the population is urban. That is, four-fifths of our population lives in the cities. The revolution created migration from the countryside to the cities.

"We had 350,000 sugarcane cutters, now there are 50,000 or 60,000. The rest moved on to other activities. Many of the younger people became doctors, teachers, coaches, skilled workers. Many became officers in the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Interior Ministry since we have had to pay special attention to defense during all these years of confrontation with the United States.

"We must say that our productive processes in agriculture, construction, ports -- everywhere -- were mechanized.

"We had been steadily producing 8 million tons of sugar annually, remarkable production, but this meant mechanization.

"Mechanization meant investment: machinery from the Socialist Bloc, raw material, fertilizers, and fuel.

"If you take our sugar production into account, our country had one of the highest per capita indices of food production in the world. Throughout the revolution we exported some of our production in order to import food whose production here was not practical or reasonable because of our climate.

"Sugarcane is more resistant to drought, winds, hurricanes, and all other upheavals in the climate, which are becoming increasingly severe.

"Sugarcane did not have to be planted every year. A population of 1 million, that can live off very little, is not the same thing as a population of 11 million people who live for the most part in the cities.

"I have not mentioned that our state enterprises had achieved high and increasing production of rice, citrus, and other agricultural products, as had been happening with dairy, poultry, and pork products.

"When the Socialist Bloc and the USSR collapsed, we were left without fuel, fertilizer, raw material, spare parts, and tractors. We had to return to animal traction to work the land and perform agricultural tasks. In the cities we had to resort to bicycles to guarantee transportation. We had Hungarian buses that used too much fuel. But there was fuel available from the Soviet Union, every year, without any problem. Then we were left with the buses but without parts and without fuel. We had to resort to bicycles, to heroic deeds, to animal traction, and to many other things. This is what we have been doing.

"Of course, this all, especially the lack of fuel, fodder, and fertilizer, affected our agriculture. This all affected irrigation and agricultural activities. Our per capita food production was among the world's highest.

"The measures you mention solve part of the problem; that is, we have adopted measures to encourage agricultural production under these conditions as much as possible. Mechanization, production components, fertilizer, pesticides, all that, has suffered a lot. We have had to resort to the most rudimentary forms of food production.

"This production is in the hands of small farmers. There are from 70,000 to 80,000 of these people, who own from three to four to five hectares, up to a maximum of 65 hectares each. It has always been this way.

"We used to have agricultural production cooperatives and in addition we had state enterprises that produced most of the country's food and sugarcane. I tell you, Mario, we -- myself in particular -- always thought and still think that the solution to the agricultural problem requires the intense use of technology and machines.

"I believe in exploiting large landholdings. I do not believe in small farming. I am sincere. Small farms can supply a family but cannot satisfy the food needs of a growing population, of a large population.

"If you have a small farm you cannot take advantage of sugarcane and rice harvesting machinery; you cannot build large irrigation systems, you cannot very productively plant, cultivate, and harvest large areas of land.

"When the crisis in the socialist camp burst, we were making an ambitious effort to intensify and increase productivity in the agricultural sector, in the sugar fields, in pastures, in rice, in all crops.

"We were using science and technology more and more.

"For sugar, we were building what we call parcel irrigation and drainage systems and leveling surfaces as much as possible, and we secured a big production increase with high-efficiency and low-cost irrigation.

"We were working on rice and other crops too. Trickle-type irrigation was being used for citrus and plantain. In other words, we were looking for higher productivity per man-hour, per hectare, on the basis of intensive and large-scale production.

"Now, with the new situation, we have had to adopt some measures. Individual peasants must help supply the population, but they can do this only in a relatively modest way. How is the city of Havana, with its 2 million people, going to be adequately supplied?

"You cannot suddenly decree liberalization of prices to supply Havana because no one's salary would be big enough to buy products.

"You must guarantee the population a minimum amount of food at prices within reach of their salaries. We cannot liberalize prices because food would become extremely expensive.

"What we have established is that 20 percent of the production be placed freely on the market, the agricultural and livestock market. We have done this because individual peasants also have production plans to partially supply the cities.

"Now, peasant farmers aren't the only ones who go to the farmers markets; agricultural production cooperatives that didn't go before now do. Peasant farmers from agriculture and livestock production cooperatives now go. These people used to be peasants, owners of small farms, who joined in cooperatives. About half of the former peasants' land was integrated into these cooperatives, which generally work very well; they didn't go to the farmers markets before, and now they do. Now, state-owned companies, which represent 20 percent of agricultural production, also go to the farmers markets, like everybody else. We define farmers markets as free markets for agricultural products in which all farmers participate with a share of their products. It didn't use to be that way.

"We have done even more. We have converted the large state-owned companies into basic agricultural and livestock production units in which the workers -- not peasants or laborers -- the workers are the owners of production; have free use of the land, the machinery, and all its resources; and are the owners of agricultural production.

"We did that more than a year ago. We created the basic agricultural production units and transferred over 2.5 million hectares of land to them. They maintain the land extension they require, they can use the machines, they can use the technology. That is one of the important changes we have introduced, compelled by the situation we are going through. All this has been done to cultivate the largest quantity of food possible, which is what the people need.

"Going without imports would be impossible. We are not going to destroy the sugarcane. Sugarcane is a source of income needed to buy raw materials and above all to buy fuel.

"Our most important expense is the cost of fuel. If hydrocarbon fuels cost what they did when the revolution succeeded, we would not have this special period.

"But the price of fuel -- at least now that it is not exceedingly expensive -- is seven or eight times more than it was in the days when the revolution triumphed. At the time of the revolution's triumph, we could get all the fuel we needed with a relatively small percentage of sugar. Now the greatest expense for our economy is the cost of fuel. Sugarcane is also an important factor which has been affected, because it has suffered the consequences of the shortages of fertilizer, irrigation, and fuel.

"For example, we had 201 brigades working on parceled irrigation and drainage of sugarcane. With that technology we could have incorporated 100,000 new hectares per year.

"All that had to be stopped after the catastrophe in the Socialist Bloc and the USSR."

[Vazquez] How many tons of sugar do you now produce?

[Castro] "We used to produce an average of approximately 8 million tons. After the 1992 harvest, in which we still produced 7 million tons, in 1993, there was a significant decline due to the lack of means to repair the sugar mills, fuel, and other things necessary for production.

"We have reached production of approximately 4 million tons. We intend to increase production. We are now struggling to increase sugar production."

[Vazquez] What are the statistics for internal consumption? What are the export statistics?

[Castro] "Internal consumption must be between 600,000 and 700,000 tons. We currently export 3.5 million. Obviously, we are committed to this, and we are searching for the means to recover our sugar production. We are now involved in this task of restoring production of between 6 and 7 million. The country is now making a big effort toward this goal.

"We had to suspend many of the programs to intensify production and increase productivity in the agricultural sector when our imports dropped 70 percent.

"I tell you all this so your readers may understand, more or less, the type of problem we now face.

"Well, I have told you about the agrarian and livestock market. This can be expanded even further. You can increase it 30 or 40 percent in the measure that production increases, meaning you can increase the percentage that goes to the agrarian and livestock market. But all agricultural enterprises, individual peasants, agrarian and livestock cooperatives, those who till the land together, as well as the state enterprises, basic agrarian and livestock production units -- they all go to the market with 20 percent of their production. You must guarantee food for the people at accessible prices with the remaining 80 percent.

"That's the agrarian and livestock market, so you may understand what we have established.

"We have adopted other measures in the economic sector, but I have answered you question about agrarian and livestock markets."

[Vazquez] Mr. President, in the oil sector, how much do the agreements for Mexico to manage the oil refinery here help Cuba?

[Castro] "Well, we have discussed that joint venture, but we have not come to an agreement because we have a great new refinery that we have not been able to operate due to lack of raw material.

"We have offered it to Mexico. That is one of the enterprises we have offered as a joint venture because Mexico has some problems: It must export oil, import gasoline, things like that.

"We built that factory with the Soviets; it cost hundreds of millions. It is a great refinery, but that refinery still needs some investment to reach its highest refining capacity.

"That is one of the enterprises we have discussed with Mexico, but the idea has not been totally settled. We are also involved in discussions with other countries.

"In other words, there are proposals in this regard, and we have worked on this. They have been studied, but nothing has been decided."

(To be continued)