Tag Archives: Sugar Sector

LA AGROINDUSTRIA CAÑERA CUBANA: TRANSFORMACIONES RECIENTES

Mario González-Corzo, Editor, con la asistencia de Rosalina López

Bildner Center for Western Hemisphere Studies, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York

 This volume presents an analysis of the evolution and recent transformation of the sugar cane industry in Cuba from the fallout of sugar production during the Special Period to the creation of AZCUBA in 2011 to face new challenges; it also covers the potential use of sugar as energy and the behavior of the commodity within the global market economy.

 Complete document here:  La agroindustria cañera cubana

zz

CONTENIDO

Introducción, Mario González-Corzo

1 Importancia económica y estratég ica de la agroindustria cubana, Armando Nova González

2 La agroindustria bioenergética de la caña azúcar: retos y pers-pectivas, Federico Sulroca Domínguez

3 Las agroindustria cañera cubana: desempeño y tendencias recientes, Mario González-Corzo

4   AZCUBA: un modelo de la agroindustria cubana, Federico Sulroca Domínguez

5 La inserción de la agroindustria en la economía internacional, Lázaro Peña Castellanos

Bibliografía

Sobre los autores

13901904956_a530d3c152

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

U.S.-CUBA AGRICULTURAL TRADE: PAST, PRESENT, AND POSSIBLE FUTURE

Full Document Here: US-Cuba Agricultural Trade, Past, Present and Perspective, USDA,2015

By Steven Zahniser, Bryce Cooke, Jerry Cessna, Nathan Childs, David Harvey, Mildred Haley, Michael McConnell, and Carlos Arnade, all from the United States Department of Agriculture

Abstract

Establishment of a more normal economic relationship with Cuba has the potential to foster additional growth in U.S.-Cuba agricultural trade. Prior to the Cuban Revolution of 1959, bilateral agricultural trade featured large volumes of Cuban sugar and smaller volumes of molasses, tobacco, and pineapple from Cuba and rice, lard, dried beans, wheat, and wheat flour from the United States. In 2000, the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba was loosened to allow for U.S. exports of agricultural products and medicine. As a result, the United States soon became Cuba’s leading supplier of agricultural imports. The remaining prohibitions on issuing credit to Cuba, however, give other exporting countries a competitive advantage in the Cuban market, and the United States slipped to being the second leading supplier in 2013 and the third leading supplier in 2014. A more normal economic relationship between the two countries would allow Cuba to resume exporting agricultural products to the United States, while U.S. agricultural exporters would be able to develop commercial ties in Cuba that approximate their business relationships in other parts of the world.

Capture.PNG111 Capture.PNG112 Capture.PNG113 Capture.PNG114

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NEW BOOK BY JOSÉ ÁLVAREZ: FIDEL CASTRO’S AGRO\ICULTURAL FOLIES

[The following materials are from the Press Release accompanying the publication of the book. I will try to review this book later.]

FIDEL CASTRO’S AGRICULTURAL FOLLIES: ABSURDITY, WASTE AND PARASITISM, by Emeritus Professor José Álvarez, documents Fidel Castro’s responsibility for Cuba’s economic disaster. Using the agricultural sector as the analytical framework, the book  evaluates Castro’s absolute power in decision-making.

NEW BOOK FLYER

Oct. 1, 2014WELLINGTON, Fla.Contrary to what the title implies, this book is not about agriculture; rather, the author uses examples from agriculture to make the point that Fidel Castro is a delusional fool, a modern Don Quixote, who has “sunk Cuba into a sea” of misery and despair.

Agriculture in this book is loosely defined.  Can one say that building a room where only the heads of cows are exposed to air conditioning so as to increase their milk production is an agricultural activity? Can one claim that a single cow can provide milk for thousands of people? In fact, one must forgive the reader who concludes that the follies described in this book are the fictional musings of the author. They are not; these follies actually took place and they are very well documented.

It has been said that the problem with a socialist economy is that the leaders eventually run out of other people’s money. However, time and again, as shown in the book, the Castro brothers have managed to find the money to subsidize Fidel’s follies. By theft, charity and defaulted debt, they have kept their failing socialist experiment afloat for over fifty years.

The time has come to evaluate Castro’s performance in the economic field. On July 31, 2006 Vice-President Raúl Castro assumed the duties of President of Cuba’s Council of State in a temporary transfer of power due to Fidel Castro’s illness. On February 24, 2008 the National Assembly of People’s Power unanimously chose General Raúl Castro as his brother’s permanent successor. Although Fidel Castro has partially recovered, he will not resume his former duties. His complete control over the economy in general, and the agricultural sector in particular, during nearly fifty years ended with his illness.

The book contains 12 chapters (under three parts: absurdity, waste and parasitism), an appendix and an afterword. Additional materials have been placed on a website devoted exclusively to the book. (www.cubanquixote.com ).

COMMENTS:

The book, published in paperback and electronic formats by the Amazon Company CreateSpace, has received numerous acclaims from a wide array of Cuba specialists

. Luis Martínez-Fernández, Professor of History at the University of Central Florida, states that the book «is thoroughly researched, written in exquisite prose, and sprinkled with the characteristic irony and irreverent humor of the Cuban intellectual. »

Tom Gjelten believes that, «in choosing Cuba’s disastrous experience with agriculture to illustrate some of Fidel Castro’s bizarre delusions, José Álvarez has found a novel way to tell the familiar story of the failure of Castroism.

Zane R. Helsel, Professor and Extension Specialist in Agriculture Energy at Rutgers University; expressed: « Dr Álvarez’s book is insightful across a broad scale of political, cultural and economic aspects. Aspiring politicians, leaders, and anyone with an interest in understanding Cuba or other attempts at such totalitarian governments will benefit from reading it. »

Juan M. del Águila, Retired Associate Professor of Political Sciences at Emory University believes that «in this appraisal of socialist Cuba’s economic development, Dr. Álvarez shows how and why Fidel Castro’s unbridled megalomania devastated the country’s political economy and stifled its social progress. The interconnectedness of charismatic rule, narcissistic personal traits and autocratic decision-making form the pathological matrix defining Fidel Castro’s behavior. As the cause of colossal blunders and irreversible damage to the economy and social system, that matrix drove Castro’s wretched choices and ignorant decisions while the arrogant leader exercised direct power. And Dr. Alvarez properly attributes Cuba’s economic ruin and descent into insolvency and mendicancy to Fidel Castro’s quixotic fixation with himself. »

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Economics and Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh declares: «This book by one of the world’s experts on Cuban agriculture has an amazing amount of information, but Álvarez manages to make it extremely interesting and with frequent touches of humor. It is a wonderful reading, which I recommend for experts and the general public alike. »

Jose de Cordoba, Latin America correspondent for The Wall Street Journal had the following thoughts: « Most people regard Fidel Castro either as a great revolutionary or a bloody dictator. Few know him as a world-class crackpot inventor and frustrated would-be scientist whose madcap ideas destroyed Cuban agriculture and the island’s economy. During his half century in power, Castro experimented with everything from creating a New Cuban Man to cloning his favorite champion milk cow. None of the experiments worked. Now, thanks to José Álvarez, we have an entertaining and encyclopedic history of Castro’s hair brained efforts to re-engineer the island. This book is must reading for anybody interested in Cuba. »

THE AUTHOR

José Álvarez left his native Cuba in 1969, obtaining a Ph.D. in food and resource economics from the University of Florida, where he finished a productive academic career in 2004, receiving the title of Emeritus Professor. A great deal of his time was devoted to study Cuba’s agricultural sector. He obtained private support and was able to pay several professional visits to the island. For his work on Cuban agriculture, Professor Álvarez received the «National Honor Award for Superior Service», the highest honor conferred by the United States Department of Agriculture to an agricultural researcher. Six of the 16 books he has authored or co-authored have received 17 national or international literary awards and recognitions.

JoseAlvarez_TProfessor José Álvarez

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Cuban sugar harvest falters; foreign investment sought

  By Marc Frank

Original here:  Cuban Sugar Harvest, 2014   

HAVANA, March 4 (Reuters) – For the third consecutive year Cuba’s reorganized sugar industry is failing to perform up to expectations, increasing pressure on the government to open up the once proud sector to foreign investment.

Already one mill, the first since the industry was nationalized soon after the 1959 revolution, is under foreign management, with at least seven others on the auction block.

AZCUBA, the state-run holding company that replaced the Sugar Ministry three years ago, announced plans to produce 1.8 million tonnes of raw sugar this season, 18 percent more than last season’s 1.6 million tonnes. But the harvest is 20 percent behind schedule, sugar reporter Juan Varela Perez wrote recently in Granma, the Communist Party daily.

“Continuous and heavy rainfall in almost all provinces of the country has affected the harvest since January,” state-run Radio Rebelde said late last week, reporting on a meeting of AZCUBA executives at the end of February. “To this has been added the habitual problems of inputs arriving late, disorganization and the poor quality and slowness of repairs,” the report said.

Sugar was once Cuba’s leading export, both before the revolution and afterward, when the former Soviet Union bought Cuban sugar at guaranteed prices. Today it is Cuba’s seventh largest earner of foreign currency, behind services, remittances, tourism, nickel, pharmaceuticals, and cigars.

“These days it is a true odyssey to go through a harvest. The mills need more profound repairs, but that costs millions upon millions of dollars,” Manuel Osorio, a mill worker in eastern Granma province, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “So they do some superficial repairs and start grinding and immediately the problems begin and this year to top it off it is hot and raining almost every day. The cane needs cool and dry weather to mature. If not, it is like milling weeds.”

The sugar harvest begins in December with the “winter” season and runs into May, with January through March the key months as dry and cool weather increases yields, but not this year.

“I can’t remember a wetter winter and it is almost impossible to harvest,” sugarcane cutter Arnaldo Hernandez said in a telephone interview from eastern Holguin province.

Cuban sugar plantations lack adequate drainage, making harvesting by machine difficult when it rains, and humid weather retards the production of sugar in cane.

“Going into the plantations is a heroic task, and when the cane reaches the mills it yields little sugar,” Hernandez said. “Look, even the Guaraperas (sugarcane juice) they sell in the city is like water. I know because I tried some myself yesterday.”

Rainfall was twice the average for the month in key eastern and central provinces through most of February, according to official media.

“So far this year 115.2 millimeters (4.5 inches) of rain has fallen in (the eastern province of) Las Tunas, twice the historic average,” the National Information Agency reported in late February. The agency said the harvest in Las Tunas was 35,000 tonnes of raw sugar behind schedule to date toward a plan of 194,000 tonnes through May.

A similar situation was reported in central Villa Clara, where the goal is 218,000 tonnes, and in central Camaguey, which reported production to date was 13 percent, or 11,000 tonnes, below plan.

INVESTMENT OPENING

Cuba produced just 1.2 million tonnes of raw sugar three seasons ago when AZCUBA was formed, compared with 8 million tonnes in the early 1990s, before the demise of the Soviet Union led to the industry’s near collapse. Industry plans call for an annual average increase in output of 15 percent through 2016, though over the last three harvests the increase has been 12 percent, according to AZCUBA. The poor performance so far this year may accelerate AZCUBA’s plans to open the sector to private investment.

President Raul Castro, who assumed power from his ailing brother Fidel Castro in 2008, is trying to revive the country’s economy through reforms passed by the Communist Party in 2011. The plans include more foreign investment.

This year, the Cuban Chamber of Commerce listed seven more sugar mills as candidates for foreign investment, all of which were built after the revolution and are therefore not subject to claims by previous owners. The remaining 48 mills in the country were all built more than 60 years ago.

This month the Cuban National Assembly is expected to pass a new foreign investment law that makes the island, and agriculture, more investor friendly.

Odebrecht SA, a Brazilian corporation, began administering a mill in central Cienfuegos province this year, the first foreign company allowed into the industry since 1959. Odebrecht subsidiary, Compañía de Obras en Infraestructura, plans to upgrade the mill as well as the supporting farm and transport sectors, and has expressed an interest in other mills, as have a number of other foreign companies. Its 13-year contract calls for an investment of around $140 million to increase output to more than 120,000 tonnes of raw sugar from 40,000 tonnes.

Cuba consumes between 600,000 and 700,000 tonnes of sugar a year and has an agreement to sell China 400,000 tonnes annually, with what remains sold to other countries.

 DSCN0496

 

Mechanized Zafra

cimg3076Cane Transport

New-Picture-4

An Aerial View of what was Left of the Australia Sugar Mill, 2011

New Picture (1).bmp aa

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Cuba’s sugar mills get new lease of life

BBC, 22 May 2013 Last updated at 00:15 ET

The chimneys are back at work in the Cuban sugar town of Mejico   It is a sight the people of Mejico thought they would never see again – sugar cane pouring onto a conveyer belt, beneath chimneys pouring smoke into a bright blue sky.  Silent for seven years, the town’s sugar mill has been given a new lease of life.

Sugar was Cuba’s biggest export until the 1990s, providing half a million jobs. But when the Soviet market disappeared and the world sugar price sank, almost two-thirds of the island’s mills had to close.  At those that remained, production plummeted. Weeds overran the cane fields, and abandoned sugar plants – once the heart of many communities – fell into ruin.

 ‘Tough blow’

But Mejico is one of more than a dozen mills gradually being salvaged as Cuba looks to capitalise on a recent rise in sugar prices and improved yields in its cane-fields.

The mill in Mejico dates back to 1832, when the canefields were worked by slaves housed in nearby barracks  “When they said the mill would stop working, it was a tough blow,” says Ariel Diaz, who used to work as an engineer at the old mill before it shut down in 2006.  “It really traumatised us,” he says of its closure, which happened almost overnight.

There had been a mill in Mejico since 1832. The original stone slave barracks are still standing – converted into workers’ housing. “We were nothing without the mill. It was our life,” Mr Diaz says, now happy to be back in the noisy, steamy sheds shouting orders to his team as huge metal cogs turn down below..

Repairs, Australia Sugar Mill, 1994,  (now converted to a museum). Photo by Arch Ritter

 Centuries-old tradition

The re-opening has created some 400 new jobs in the mill itself. Sixteen farmers’ co-operatives are supplying it with cane. The country needs to produce sugar, and we can help”

Across Cuba, as mills closed, many people were redeployed to collective farms; others were paid to study and re-qualify.  “Clearly people were affected, especially psychologically,” a spokesman for state sugar company Azcuba, Liobel Perez, accepts.  “The mills represent years, centuries, of tradition so it was very hard. But steps were taken to help.”

Just a short drive from Mejico, the chimneys of the Sergio Gonzalez mill are still cold some 15 years after the last sugar rolled off the conveyer belts.  Weeds poke out of holes in the concrete. The old sheds have been partially dismantled and are rusting.A sorry-looking stage has a faded pro-revolution slogan painted across it: “Revolucion, Si!”

“All the families here lived off the mill, and life was much easier,” recalls Argelio Espinosa, a mill mechanic for many years. He now sells slush-ice drinks from a street cart, one of the small, private businesses that communist Cuba now allows.  But sales in such a poor town are slow and Mr Espinosa echoes many who say the mill closure brought other difficulties.

“When the mill was open there was always transport for the workers and everyone used it. Now there’s just two buses a day,” he points out. “It’s the same with the water. When the mill was grinding, it needed water and we were never short. Now we have problems,” he adds.

The locals talk of how new businesses, like a spaghetti factory, were brought to other former sugar towns.   In Sergio Gonzalez, the luckiest now hitch a ride 80km north for jobs in the tourist resort of Varadero.

Challenges ahead

By contrast, there is a fresh buzz of activity in Mejico. In the nearby fields, workers have been rushing to cut the cane before the weather turns. A shiny new Brazilian harvester charges forward, swallowing up the cane as it goes.  Cuba has invested in some new equipment to kick-start its revamped sugar business. It is one of four machines Cuba invested in for the mill re-opening, far more efficient than the aging, Soviet alternative.

There have been teething troubles with the re-opening. New machine parts arrived late, the workforce is young and inexperienced, and production is below target. Senior staff have slept little, under pressure to perform.

But the whole community is willing this to succeed. Some pensioners are helping out at the mill for free, passing their expertise to a new, young generation. And many sugar workers who took up farming when the mill closed have hung up their spades and returned.

“They like the mill. It’s a tradition here, more than anything. And it’s more secure work, right next to their homes,” explains mill director Jesus Perez Collazo. “There are a lot of challenges. The harvest is not as good as we wanted but the country needs to produce sugar, and we can help,” he says.

China buys 400,000 tonnes of sugar from Cuba a year; now production is increasing, Azcuba says international brokers are also knocking at the door.

 New life

With the revamped mills back online, the eventual target is three million tonnes per year, though persistent inefficiencies mean this year’s harvest will fall well below that.

Some old-time sugar workers are passing on their knowledge to a new generation of workers. “Sugar is once more becoming one of our principal export goods and that will be reinforced in the years to come,” argues spokesman Liobel Perez.. Despite the difficulties, those are welcome words in Mejico.

As the day cools, men gather in the main square watching the mill smoke rise and discussing the harvest.  For some, like 68-year old Joel, the re-opening has meant coming out of retirement.  “I need the money,” he says bluntly. At $35 a month, his mill salary is more than three times his pension. Others take a broader view. “There was no life, no movement here without the mill,” one man comments. “This place was like a cemetery.”

Now Mejico is shuddering back to life.

Australia Sugar Mill, 1994

Steam Locomotives, vintage  +/- 1910, at the Australia Sugar Mill, 1994, Photo by Arch Ritter

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Cuba’s Economic Problems and Prospects in a Changing Geo-Economic Environment

By Arch Ritter

Below is a Power Point Presentation made at the “Seminar on Prospects for Cuba’s Economy” at the Bildner Center, City University of New York, on May 21, 2012.

The full presentation can be found here: CUNY Bildner Presention, Arch Ritter on Cuba’s Economic Problems and Prospects….”, May 21 2012

Posted in Blog, Featured | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

US Department of Agriculture: Cuba’s Food & Agriculture Situation Report, 2008

A detailed examination of Cuban agriculture was published in March 2008 ago by the US Department of Agriculture, Office of Global Analysis. Somehow it escaped my attention. The full report is located here: Cuba’s Food & Agriculture Situation Report, USDA, 2008

The study includes a lot of detailed information with plentiful graphics  and tables.  It is especially useful in detailing US agricultural relations with Cuba – the US having quickly squeezed out Canada as principal exporter of foodstuffs to Cuba as soon as such exports were legalized in 2002. Below is the Table of Contents plus a few charts.

Table of Contents

Executive Summary

The Historical Context Underlying U.S.–Cuban Relations

Economic Background

Cuba’s Natural Resource Base and Demographic Characteristics

Population, Food Consumption and Nutrition Issues

Tourism and the Demand for Agricultural Products

Cuba’s Market Infrastructure and the Role of Institutions in Cuba’s Food and

Agricultural Sector

Cuba’s International Trade Situation

Other Observations

Summary and Conclusions

Addendum Current Commodity Sector Situations

Sugar

Tobacco

Citrus

Tropical Fruit

Vegetable, Pulse, and Tuber and Root Crops

Livestock and Poultry

Coffee

Fishing

Appendix 1: Summary of Flowcharts on Cuba’s Food Supply and Distribution Systemand the Hard Currency Food Chain: Implications for U.S. Exporters

Appendix 2: Cuban Agriculture and Food Trade Data

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

New Publication, CUBA: PEOPLE, CULTURE, HISTORY

A near-encyclopedic volume on Cuba was recently published by Charles Scribner’s Sons but has received surprisingly limited publicity- at least from my perspective up here in winter-time in the True North. I have not yet seen the volume myself nor have I even seen the Table of Contents. However, the description of the substance of the volume below looks interesting.

If my finances were infinite, I would certainly buy a copy, even though the price ranges from $284.44 to $454.95, depending on the seller.

I contributed two essays on the Cuban economy. These are available here:

Archibald Ritter  “The Cuban Economy, Revolution, 1959-1990”

Archibald Ritter, “Cuba’s Economy During the Special Period, 1990-2010”

Here is a brief description of the volume:

Editor in Chief: Alan West-Durán, Northeastern University

 Associate Editors: Victor Fowler Calzada, Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC); Gladys E. García Pérez, Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC); Louis A Pérez, Jr., University of North Carolina; César Salgado, University of Texas; Maria de los Angeles Torres, University of Illinois, Chicago

Charles Scribner’s Sons,  An Imprint of Gale, Cengage Learning 2011

 INTRODUCTION

In an exceedingly complex and changing global situation,  understanding Cuba is an important and challenging task. The Scribner CUBA: People, Culture, History is a reference work that goes beyond a mere presentation of facts, biographies, and “ready reference” information, which is widely available on the Internet, to offer deep interpretation. The book will offer on the one hand, twenty-one interpretative essays on major topics in Cuban history, culture and society, as well as over one hundred twenty-five shorter essays on artistic, literary, and nonfiction works; major events and places of cultural significance.

The major essays will not only cover Economics, Sugar, Tobacco, Religion, and Food, but also Cuba and its Diasporas, Ecology and Environment, Sexuality, Gender, Race and Ethnicity, the Arts, Language, Sports and Cuban Ways of Knowing and Being, among others.

The short essays will focus on specific literary works, photographs, paintings, political documents, speeches, testimonies, historical dates, key places and cities on the island and abroad. For example:  literary works include “Los Versos sencillos”; “Paradiso”; and “The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love”; works of nonfiction include: “Cuba: Azúcar y Población”; “Indagación del choteo”; and La historia me absolverá”; works of visual art: “La Jungla”; and “Los Hijos del agua conversando con un pez”; works of music: “Guantanamera”; “Misa cubana”; and “Mambo #5”; cinema: “Lucía”; and “Fresa y chocolate”; events: “Violence and Insurrection in 1912: A Racial Conflict”; and “January 1, 1959”; and places of cultural significance: “Baracoa”; “Holguín”; “Isla de Pinos”; “Spain”; and “New York,” to name a few examples.

By combining longer overview pieces with short and focused descriptive and analytical ones, CUBA  aims to give the curious and interested reader a way to comprehend the country by presenting the major forces that have shaped the island historically and culturally. Rather than overwhelm the reader with thousands of entries and biographies, CUBA offers a close look at major themes that are emblematic to the country’s unique history. CUBA is a reference guide for readers undertaking a journey of comprehension; it is not a work that presumes to have all of the answers.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Castro Rights Record Intrudes on Rousseff Trade Mission to Communist Cuba (Bloomberg)

Bloomberg; 30 January 2012

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who was inspired by Cuba’s revolution to take up arms against Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1960s, is making the two-day visit to Havana as Castro takes steps to ease state control of the economy.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who was inspired by Cuba’s revolution to take up arms against Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1960s, is making the two-day visit to Havana as Castro takes steps to ease state control of the economy. Photographer: Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will meet today with her Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, to promise more trade and investment as human rights issues intrude on her first state visit to the communist island.

Rousseff, who was inspired by Cuba’s revolution to take up arms against Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1960s, is making the two-day visit to Havana as Castro takes steps to ease state control of the economy. Tomorrow she’ll travel to Haiti, where Brazil is leading a United Nations peacekeeping force.

Dilma Rousseff befor a military court, 1970

The death this month of jailed dissident Wilman Villar after a 50-day hunger strike has drawn attention in Brazil’s media to Castro’s rights record and the government’s refusal to criticize it. While Rousseff has so far ignored requests for a meeting from pro-democracy activists, her government last week granted a tourist visa to Yoani Sanchez after the Cuban blogger invoked the president’s experience surviving prison and torture in an appeal to be allowed to leave the island.

“Rousseff is going to be in a very awkward situation by choice,” former Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Felipe Lampreia said in a phone interview from Rio de Janeiro. “She didn’t have to go to Cuba.”

Rousseff vowed to make human rights a priority of her foreign policy, and in condemning abuses in Iran distanced herself from the policies of her predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Urged on by his Workers’ Party, some of whose leaders were exiled in Cuba, Lula refused to criticize Fidel Castro or his brother’s government while in power from 2003 to 2010. Following a visit in 2010, which coincided with the death of another hunger striker, the former union leader compared the country’s dissidents to “criminals” in Sao Paulo jails.

While Rousseff, 64, is unlikely to address Cuba’s human rights situation publicly, she’s able to talk productively to Castro about his government’s record behind the scenes, said Julia Sweig, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations.

“There won’t be the kind of back-slapping that we saw when Lula was there,” said Sweig, who is the author of several publications on Brazil and Cuba. “Precisely because of Dilma’s history and her explicit sensitivity to human rights I think she is well positioned for political dialogue.”

Cuba’s government relies on beatings, short-term detentions, forced exile and travel restrictions to repress virtually all forms of political dissent, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report this month. Cuba denies it’s holding any political prisoners and considers dissident activity to be counterrevolutionary.

In the run-up to Rousseff’s arrival, Brazilian newspapers published almost-daily interviews with Sanchez and activists from groups including the Ladies in White, in which they called for a meeting with the president’s delegation.

Any such requests will be studied by Brazil’s Embassy in Havana, the foreign ministry said in a statement. Rousseff’s agenda doesn’t include any meetings with activists, and underscoring the commercial nature of the visit, her human rights minister is not among the cabinet officials and business leaders making up her delegation.

Cuba’s rights record won’t necessarily improve if Rousseff speaks out, Brazil’s Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said.

“There doesn’t appear to be an emergency in Cuba,” Patriota said Jan. 27 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “There are other situations that are very worrisome, including Guantanamo,” he said, referring to the U.S. detention camp for suspected terrorists on Cuba’s southeastern tip.

While Cuba isn’t among Brazil’s 30-biggest commercial partners, trade between the two countries has been expanding at a 30 percent annual pace since 2006, reaching $642 million last year, according to Brazil’s Foreign Ministry. Together with China and Venezuela, which provides the country with subsidized oil, Brazil has emerged as one of Cuba’s biggest foreign investors.

Rousseff will visit today the deepwater port at Mariel, which is undergoing a nearly $1 billion renovation led by Odebrecht SA with funding from the Brazil’s state development bank. The Salvador, Brazil-based construction and raw materials conglomerate said yesterday that it will also sign an agreement to expand a sugar-cane mill operated by state-controlled Azcuba.

Brazil’s role in helping Cuba create jobs, contrasting with longstanding hostility from the U.S., reinforces positive, albeit slow-paced changes taking place on the island of 11.2 million under Castro, said Sweig.

Since the 85-year-old Castro began handing power to his brother in 2006, the former defense minister has taken steps to open up the economy, which placed 177 out of 179 countries, ahead of only Zimbabwe and North Korea, in a ranking this month of economic freedom by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

For the first time in a half-century, Cubans can now buy and sell property and cars. After the 80-year-old Raul Castro began slashing state payrolls with a goal of eliminating 500,000 jobs, they’re able to seek self-employment as janitors and taxi drivers.

The overhaul comes amid declines in tourism and the price of nickel, the country’s biggest export, caused by a global economy whose prospects for recovery have dimmed, according to International Monetary Fund projections. The government expects Cuba’s gross domestic product to expand 2.7 percent this year, below the IMF’s 3.6 percent forecast for Latin America and the Caribbean region.

Political change has been slower. Speaking at a Communist Party summit on Jan. 29, Castro vowed to maintain single-party rule, adding that multi-party democracy would buoy U.S. “imperialism” in Cuba.

Still, the government last year freed the remaining 12 political prisoners that made up the so-called Group of 75 journalists and rights activists who were jailed during a 2003 crackdown. The Roman Catholic Church helped negotiate the release, and Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to visit the once anti-clerical island in March.

The 36-year-old Sanchez, a critic of Castro’s government on a blog called Generation Y, referred to Rousseff’s persecution by Brazil’s 1964-1985 dictatorship in her appeal for a visa to attend a screening in Salvador of a documentary she appears in. Sanchez has been blocked from traveling abroad for the past four years.

“I saw a photo of young Dilma, sitting on a bench blindfolded as men accused her,” Sanchez wrote Jan. 24 on Twitter. “I feel that way right now

 Yoani Sanchez

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cuba accepts Brazilian investment in its most emblematic economic sector: sugar

(Reuters).—The Brazilian giant Odebrecht plans to produce sugar in Cuba, the company reported Monday in the first injection of foreign capital in a sector so far closed in the communist-ruled island.

 

Steam Locomotives at the now defunct Australia sugar mill, November 1994, photo by Arch Ritter

Odebrecht Group signed with the state of Cuban Sugar Business Administration a “productive management contract” to wit “September 5” in the central province of Cienfuegos.

“The agreement for a period of 10 years is to increase sugar production and milling capacity and help the revitalization” of the industry, Odebrecht said in an email sent to Reuters through his press office.

The project would open to foreign capital, the underfunded Cuba’s sugar industry, whose production has plummeted from about 8.0 million tons in the 1970s to just 1.2 million tonnes in the last harvest. In addition, it will deepen Brazil’s role in modernizing the dilapidated productive infrastructure of the island.

Odebrecht did not elaborate.

But a Brazilian sugar industry executive told Reuters that the contract could be signed this week during a visit to Cuba, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Cuba allowed more than a decade, the inflow of foreign capital to develop other strategic industries such as tourism and oil recently, where a consortium led by Repsol-YPF this year will begin to explore Cuban waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

Private companies from other countries have spent years negotiating its entry into the sugar industry in Cuba, nationalized shortly after Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959. The opening comes after a major restructuring of the industry in late 2011 as part of the efforts of President Raul Castro to modernize the island’s socialist economy.

Do you also ethanol?

According to the director of the Brazilian sugar industry with knowledge of the project, Odebrecht also produce ethanol from biomass energy in Cuba. “Cuba is opening up the possibility of producing ethanol accompanied by power generation and Odebrecht will mount a distillery there,” said the businessman.

“It’s a similar project that Odebrechtis developing in Angola,” he added in reference to a joint venture of $ 258 million Angolan oil company Sonangol with to produce some 260,000 tons of sugar, 30 million liters of ethanol and 45 megawatts of power power.

Ethanol production on a large scale in Cuba has met with opposition from former President Fidel Castro, an ardent critic of the use of food crops like corn to make biofuels. Some experts believe that if Cuba could revive its sugar industry to become the third largest producer of biofuels in the world behind the United States and Brazil.

Ron Soligo, an economist at Rice University in Houston who has studied Cuba’s sugar industry, estimates that the island could produce about 7,500 million liters of ethanol annually. “But developing the ethanol industry in Cuba will take a while, since much of the land has been abandoned for years,” he said.

“Due to the centralized nature of the Cuban economy, a large Brazilian company can be the right partner,” he added.

Brazil, the second largest ethanol producer in the world, has provided technical assistance the Cuban authorities for the production of biofuels from sugar cane. “The issue is on the table. There is planned investment in sugar and there is a possibility that at some point this can be extended to the ethanol industry,” said a Brazilian Foreign Ministry source.

Odebrecht’s entry in the modernization of the depressed sugar industry expand its role in the infrastructure of the island. The company is currently one of the leading ethanol producers in Brazil through its subsidiary ETH.

Brazilian construction works executed for 800 million dollars to upgrade the container port of Mariel west of Havana. The project largely funded by the government’s National Development Bank of Brazil is seen as a key business platform if the U.S. lifts its embargo on the island.

Repairs, at the now defunct Australia sugar mill, november 1994, Photo by Arch Ritter

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment