Cuba’s effort to produce a 10-million-ton sugar harvest required a full-fledged military campaign that included the mobilization of Cuba’s entire population for agricultural work.
Factory workers from the cities volunteered to go to the countryside for a period lasting from two days to six months to engage in work vital to the country’s “civil defense.” Their wives filled in for them at their regular jobs..
Havana was virtually emptied as all available resources were directed toward ensuring the success of the ten-million-ton sugar crop.
The very prestige of the nation was at stake in this endeavor. “The question of a sugar harvest of ten million tons, ” Fidel Castro exhorted in March 1968, “has become something more than an economic goal; it is something that has been converted into a point of honor for the Revolution, it has become a yardstick by which to judge the capability of the Revolution … and, if a yardstick is put up to the Revolution, there is no doubt about the Revolution meeting the mark.”
To ensure success, the entire economy was reorganized in conformance with military models. Labor brigades were renamed battalions and placed under the direct control of the military. There were even special motorized battalions which were dispatched to various parts of the island to perform the more difficult work
The use of military models in agriculture was not new. They had been used since the mid-1960s when a special program, designed to ensure Havana’s self-sufficiency in food production, had been implemented.
This effort focused on the construction of the Cordon Urbano de Habana and involved the direct intervention of the army in agricultural production. Above all, it involved changes both in the organization of civilian work and in governmental methods of mobilization.
City residents were recruited for productive agricultural labor with the objective of bringing 340,000 hectares of formerly uncultivated state-owned and private land parcels into production. This land encircled the city at about 12 to 15 kilometers.
Habaneros, regardless of sex, became active in the agricultural effort. Notably, one of the first units organized was a female brigade of 110 tractor operators. Eventually 4,000 women and 1,200 tractors worked together on the construction of the cordon.
In all, more than half a million individuals were ultimately involved in the planting of “50 million coffee trees, 3 million fruit trees, 1 million citrus trees, 2.5 million timber-yielding trees, 1 million trees that would beautify the area, and 14.5 million bean plants.”
The program met with so much success that, by 1968, for the first time in her economic history, agricultural exports from Havana province outnumbered imports.
In associated ventures, more than 50 ponds were created; five new towns were constructed; and city parks were created, including the Zoological Garden and Botanical Garden.
Construction of the cordon, therefore, was a successful precedent for both the militarization of labor and the use of urban labor in conjunction with the 10 million-ton harvest.
Photograph by Lisa Reynolds Wolfe.