Cuba’s Population Mobilizes for Agricultural Work
Cuba’s effort to harvest 10 million tons of sugar required a full-fledged military campaign, necessitating the mobilization of Cuba’s entire population for agricultural work. Since the harvest was considered vital to the island’s “civil defense,” factory workers from the city volunteered to go to the countryside for a period lasting from two days to six months. After husbands left for rural areas, their wives filled in for them at their regular jobs. Havana was virtually emptied — all available resources were directed toward ensuring the success of the 10 million ton sugar crop. According to Arch Puddington
The very prestige of the revolution was placed 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 this Revolution . . . and, if a yardstick is put up to the Revolution, there is no doubt about the Revolution meeting the mark.’
In order to ensure success, the entire economy was reorganized in conformance with military models. The CDRs, especially, played a major role. 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 Cordon Urbano de Habana: A Military Model in Agriculture
The use of military models in agriculture wasn’t 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 parcels into production. This land encircled the city at about 12 to 15 kilometers.
Habaneros Join the Agricultural Effort to Construct the Cordon
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 1,300 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.
This 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 efforts, 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, created a successful precedent for both the militarization of labor and the use of urban labor in conjunction with the the 10 million ton sugar harvest.
Photograph by Ivar Struthers