Cuban efforts to consolidate the revolution were challenged early on. Within four years, the government’s approach to industrialization and agricultural diversification were abandoned. Failures were apparent everywhere.
Agricultural yield declined, especially in the output of sugar, with production dropping from 6.7 million tons in 1961 to 4.8 million tons in 1962 and then to 3.8 million tons in 1963. Not in 20 years had Cuban sugar harvests been so low. The effects reverberated across all sectors of the economy.
Foreign earnings declined and in some sectors disappeared altogether.
Domestic shortages increased.
Food supplies dwindled, and basic consumer goods of all kinds grew scarce.
By early 1962, shortages spread and became more severe. In March the government responded to increasing scarcity by imposing a general food rationing that soon came to include consumer goods of all types.
Cuban dependence on foreign imports actually increased, as did Cuban reliance on sugar exports. As a proportion of total exports, sugar increased from 78 to 86 percent.
The balance of trade deficit increased from $14 million in 1961 to $238 million in 1962 to $323 million in 1963, almost all of which was incurred with the socialist bloc nations, $297 million with the Soviet Union alone.
By the mid-1960s, Cubans realized that the strategies of the early 1960s had failed to meet even their most modest objectives. Instead, efforts at import substitution, industrialization, and agricultural diversification had resulted in widespread social distress and economic dislocation.
New strategies after 1965 involved increased emphasis on all sectors of agricultural production with a renewed prominence on sugar production, but including dairy products, beef, citrus fruits, tropical agricultural products, coffee, and tobacco. This was to be a means of generating foreign exchange and a way of increasing imports of machinery and equipment. It was believed that this activity, in turn, would increase production of agriculture and agricultural commodities.
Industrial planning shifted to the development of those sectors that utilized Cuban natural resources most efficiently, with special attention to those industries that supported agricultural production.
The renewed emphasis on sugar offered an obvious and relatively cost-effective method of reversing a mounting balance of trade deficit by mobilizing efforts around a sector in which Cuba possessed adequate personnel and sufficient experience to achieve success.
The rise of the world price of sugar in 1963, moreover, served to confirm the wisdom and timeliness of once again promoting the expansion of sugar production.
After the mid-1960s, sugar production once again received preference and priority. Output was expected to increase steadily and was to climax in 1970 with the production of a 10-million-ton sugar crop.
The objective became an obsession.
Virtually all national resources and collective resolve were diverted to the task.
The campaign implied more than a commitment to forming a new economy. It also involved forging a ‘new consciousness,’ the conciencia discussed earlier.
Photograph by Lisa Reynolds Wolfe.