In 1968, in conjunction with the campaign to steadily increase the sugar harvest, Fidel Castro’s regime mounted a final assault against private enterprise in Havana. The remaining 57,000 private businesses — principally small retail shops, handicraft stores, service and repair centers, bars and cafes — were nationalized.
At the same time, efforts were also made to expand the distribution of free goods and services.
Fees were no longer charged for health services, day-care facilities, education, funeral services, utilities, sports events, local bus transportation, and local telephone service.
Rents were fixed at a maximum of 10 percent of income. In fact, by 1969, an estimated 268,000 households paid no rent, and the government even contemplated doing away with rent all together.
All possible urban resources were diverted to the sugar campaign which proceeded at the expense of all other sectors of the economy.
Projects in the built environment now centered only on road maintenance and on repairs along principle sugar transportation routes.
Port installations and harbor facilities designated to handle increased sugar production were expanded to the detriment of others.
Sugar mills were overhauled and emphasis given to the manufacture of mill equipment.
The labor needs of the harvest were met by the massive mobilization of the population.
An estimated 1.2 million workers from all sectors of the economy, as well as 100,000 members of the armed forces and 300,000 sugar workers, participated.
As might be expected, the effects of this effort on other sectors of the economy were disastrous. Production of consumer goods declined. Basic foodstuffs of every type — milk, vegetables, fruits, meat, poultry — were in short supply.
The goods that were produced often faced shipping difficulties, for much of the rail and road transportation was diverted to sugar.
The nationalization of small business in 1968 led to adverse and unforeseen circumstances. Large numbers of businesses were consolidated into sizable operations, or eliminated altogether.
As another 50,000 businessmen joined the ranks of the disaffected, renewed discontent swept the island, leading to additional population outflow and a marked loss of managerial personnel.
State enterprises could not adequately replace the goods and services eliminated. Bottlenecks in distribution followed, exacerbating old shortages and scarcities.
The suppression of 3,700 street vendors in urban centers effectively destroyed informal food distribution networks across the island and state stores were unable to make up the difference.
Food lines at stores and restaurants lengthened and absenteeism increased as waiters took time off to wait in line.
Absenteeism also increased as the incentive to work diminished, approaching 15 percent in some sectors. Tardiness escalated.
Appeals to self-sacrifice and moral incentives failed to sustain consistently high productivity levels. Low productivity was exacerbated by poor performance.
Quality was often sacrificed to assure savings and meet production quotas. Poor quality was also due to the absence of adequate raw materials and poor manufacturing.
A scarcity of consumer goods and services and the abolition of wage differentials caused widespread demoralization.
Almost 100 acts of sabotage against industries, warehouses, and government buildings were reported, most of which were not committed by counter-revolutionaries from abroad but by disgruntled citizens at home.
In the end, despite a Herculean effort and the effective restructuring of the entire society, the 1970 harvest produced a record crop of 8.5 million tons — short of the 10 million goal.
In trying to achieve the record sugar crop, the entire economy had suffered, so much so that in 1970 Cuba faced serious trouble.
The regime turned to the Soviets for assistance.
In December 1970 a Cuban-Soviet Commission on Economic, Scientific, and Technical Collaboration was established. Its task was to help in restructuring inefficient Cuban institutions. The restructuring was to be based on a Soviet prototype.
Photograph by Lisa Reynolds Wolfe