The Sugar Campaign directly impacts Havana.
In 1968, in conjunction with the campaign to achieve a record breaking sugar harvest, the revolutionary regime mounted a final assault against private enterprise in Cuba’s capital city, Havana. The remaining 57,000 private businesses — principally small retail shops, handicraft stores, service and repair centers, bars and cafes — were nationalized. Efforts were also made to expand the distribution of free goods and services.
- Fees were no longer charged for health services, daycare facilities, education, funeral services, utilities, local bus transportation, and local telephone service.
- Rents were fixed at a maximum 10% of income. In fact, by 1969, an estimated 268,000 households paid no rent and the government even contemplated its eventual abolition.
All possible urban resources were diverted to the sugar campaign which proceeded at the expense of all other sectors of the economy. (For more on the ten million ton crop check out this post.)
Projects in the built environment now centered only on road maintenance and on repairs along principal 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.
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, fruit, 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 had adverse and unforeseen consequences.
Large numbers of businesses were consolidated into sizable operations or eliminated all together.
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 couldn’t adequately replace the goods and services that were 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 workers took time off to wait in line. Absenteeism also increased as the incentive to work diminished, approaching 15% in some sectors.
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.
Obviously, the disengagement of the Cuban economy from North American capitalism had been disruptive and caused a great deal of dislocation.
After 1961, one of the key elements of US policy against Cuba was to isolate Cuba economically as a way of disrupting the economy, increasing domestic distress, and encouraging internal dissent — all designed to weaken the regime from within. This was a logical objective since, for the better part of the previous sixty years, virtually all machinery, equipment, and supplies used in Cuban industry, agriculture, mining, transportation, communication, and utilities — more than 70% of total Cuban imports — came from the US.
The US trade embargo after 1961 had jolting effects. Many plants were paralyzed. Transportation was especially hard hit. For example, nearly one-fourth of all buses were inoperable by the end of 1961, and one-half of the 1,400 passenger rail cars were out of service in 1962. Almost three-fourths of the Caterpillar tractors stood idle due to a lack of replacement parts.
Many small and inefficient plants were closed and their operations transferred to larger and more efficient factories so as to pool equipment.
- By 1965, nine sugar mills had been dismantled to provide an inventory of spare parts for other mills.
- The 106 pharmaceutical factories had been reduced to 18.
- Textile plants declined from 153 to 63.
- Less than half of the paper factories were functioning.
Cuban dependence on raw material imports from the US also created vulnerability.
- Denied rubber and petrochemicals, the manufacture of automobile tires halted.
- Without ready access to pancreatic enzymes and tannin, Cuban tanneries suffered.
- Paint factories depended on imports of oils, pigments, and solvents.
- Pharmaceuticals depended on imported serums and antibodies.
- The manufacture of soaps and detergents required imported caustic soda and tallow.
- A newly constructed $4 million factory for the production of synthetic fiber could not operate for lack of cellulose acetate.
The reorientation of Cuban trade with Eastern Europe created problems of a different sort.
The greater distance of Cuba’s new trading partners required extensive investment in infrastructure facilities, including the expansion of port facilities to accommodate long-haul trade and the construction of new warehouses and storage facilities.
The Cuban port system, including the design of docks, the depth of water at dockside, and the nature of the unloading equipment and facilities had originally been designed to accommodate short-haul-trade from the US by ferries and sea trains, not oceangoing freighters. Storage facilities were also designed for short-haul traffic. There was little warehouse space either at the ports or in the interior. The arrival of large freighters carrying huge shipments of supplies created monumental unloading and storage problems.
The substitution of socialist bloc replacement parts was also complicated because old machinery had to be adapted to metric system parts and new equipment imported from the Soviets had to be converted to the US electrical currents in use in Cuba.
Language and cultural obstacles further hindered the preparation of import orders.
During Cuba’s conversion to new spare parts, new machinery, and new productive techniques, large sectors of Cuban industry remained underutilized or idle altogether.
The 1960s were also the years when Cuba suffered the greatest effects from US covert operations.
Throughout the 1960s, the CIA conducted punitive economic sabotage operations against Cuba, the principle aim of which was to foster popular disaffection with government policies.
- Paramilitary missions were organized to destroy sugar mills, sugar and tobacco plantations, farm machinery, mines. oil refineries, lumber yards, water systems, warehouses, and chemical plants.
- Communication facilities were attacked.
- Railroad bridges were destroyed and trains derailed.
The US was also successful in disrupting Cuban trade initiatives with Western Europe by blocking credit to Cuba, hindering the sale of sugar production, and contaminating Cuban agricultural exports.
European manufacturers were discouraged from trading with Cuba:
- cargoes were sabotaged;
- corrosive chemicals were added to lubricating fluids;
- ball bearings were manufactured deliberately off-center;
- defective wheel gears were manufactured.
Rain clouds were seeded before they arrived over Cuba as a means to induce drought.
These activities intensified between 1969 and 1970 as a way to stop the 10 million ton sugar crop. The CIA is also charged with having been instrumental in the outbreak of African swine fever in Cuba in 1970-71, requiring the slaughter of 500,000 pigs.
Security and defense requirements associated with the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis also disrupted Cuba’s planning and development.
Military expenditures continued to receive high priority. Vital equipment of all kinds — construction, transportation, maintenance — was diverted to defense. The expansion of the army and militia meant that tens of thousands of people were intermittently removed from productive activity.
The economic reversals of the 1960s had a sobering impact on the Cuban leadership, even though the decade closed with a lot of goodwill for the revolution still intact. This was partially due to US policy.
Instead of promoting internal dissent and discontent, most Cubans responded to the US embargo with solidarity. However, limited opposition did develop and by the late 1960s an estimated 20,000 political opponents of the revolution were in prison.
As a response, in 1965, the government established the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP), designed principally to draft dissidents and “social deviants” into the army for “rehabilitation.” (The UMAP was disbanded in 1967.)
During this period, also, discontent continued to find expression through emigration. Between 1966 and 1971, another 200,000 Cubans left the island.
Photography by Kayugee.