By Associated Press, The Washington Post, November 18, 2011
HAVANA — Cuba’s once-mighty sugar industry is going on a diet.
Authorities are shuttering all but 26 of the 178 bureaucratic entities associated with sugar production and eliminating an unspecified number of jobs to slash administrative costs by 55 percent, Communist Party newspaper Granma said
“The new structure ... will make it possible to improve organization, reduce expenses and, above all, bolster productivity,” Granma said in an article running on two full pages. “This will generate the necessary revenue for the industry to fund itself and contribute to the national economy.”
The restructuring is part of a major industry overhaul to boost efficiency a year after authorities reported a harvest of 1.1 million tons of sugar, the smallest since 1905. Officials announced in September that the Sugar Ministry was being scrapped in favor of a sugar company that will answer to the Council of State and is to be self-sufficient.
Like coffee, rum and cigars, sugar is one of Cuba’s most iconic products. The island used to be a world leader in sugar, producing 6 million- to 7 million-ton yields annually.
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro had made the sugar harvest a point of national pride, mobilizing much of the urban population to help farmers cut cane in the countryside.
The collapse of the Soviet Union, however, deprived Cuba of its main buyer, and the $600 million-a-year sugar industry now trails nickel production and tourism as a source of foreign income. Rising prices in recent years have prompted officials to revamp the sector.
Granma didn’t say how many workers are being affected by the restructuring, but said the government will help them retrain or find jobs. Many have already been reassigned, and those for whom no new position is found will continue to draw a salary.
“The relocation of leaders, specialists and experienced technicians will make it possible to better exploit the training and qualifications of those who until now have been spending their time on fragmented or less useful tasks,” the newspaper said. “Even other sectors ... will be beneficiaries by receiving part of this (labor) force.”
Even high government officials have criticized the Sugar Ministry as maintaining a bloated bureaucracy and for involving itself in tangential operations such as rail transportation and sugar exportation.
Under the new system, those and other responsibilities will pass to other ministries, leaving the sugar company to focus on its core mission of production, Granma said.
The sugar overhaul is being instituted alongside a host of other economic reforms being pushed by President Raul Castro, including stimulating the creation of independent small businesses, laying off hundreds of thousands from government payrolls and turning over fallow state land to private farmers and cooperatives.