Skip to main content /WORLD /WORLD

Cuba kisses sugar goodbye as a main export

'It's such a transformation'

The old Cienfuegos Mill and sugar refinery complex in Santa Cruz del Norte, Cuba, is now a museum.  

SANTA CRUZ DEL NORTE, Cuba (CNN) -- In Cuba, where a revolution took hold in the 1950s, a second revolution of sorts is under way as the nation moves away from dependence on the sugar industry.

The Cienfuegos Mill and refinery complex, built in 1917 in Santa Cruz del Norte by the American Hershey chocolate dynasty and confiscated by Cuba in the 1959 revolution, is one of about 75 mills that have been shut down in the past two months. Only about 75 others remain up and running.

This year alone at least 100,000 workers will be laid off as the communist state struggles to restructure an industry on which Cuba depended for centuries.

Despite Cuba's ranking as fourth in the world among sugar-exporting countries, government officials blame the change on low prices. World sugar prices are half what they were a decade ago and Cuba's outdated and inefficient industry can't compete.

CNN's Lucia Newman looks at the demise of Cuba's once bustling sugar industry established in 1917 by chocolate maker Hershey (August 9)

Play video

"I think the most difficult thing is the concept of such a big change," said Gen. Ulises Rosales Del Toro, Cuba's sugar minister. "It's such a transformation."

The transformation will be incomplete, however, until Cuba's leaders answer the question, "What next?"

Part of the answer might be tourism, currently Cuba's main source of income. An electric train used to transport workers to the Hershey mill is now used to haul tourists to the mill, which, along with other mills, is being converted into a museum.

Another part of the answer might be to turn sugar fields into fields full of cattle -- or switching from sugar grains to another kind of grain, rice, might aid the titanic turnaround.

As for the laid-off sugar employees, most will become farm workers. About 25,000 former sugar mill employees are being sent to study agricultural sciences at the university.

Most laid-off sugar mill employees will become farm workers. About 25,000 will study agriculture.  

Industry officials said the turnaround might require investment from other nations. "Obviously it is not enough to close the mills," said Peter Baron, president of the International Sugar Organization. "You have to -- at the same time -- make the remaining mills more efficient [using] state-of-the-art technology."

Although sugar has served Cuba well for centuries, government officials hope to find the right combination of moves that will allow Cuba to complete its revolution away from sugar and toward a more diverse economy.

CNN Havana Bureau Chief Lucia Newman contributed to this report.




Back to the top