Sugar from Cuba
Sugar has a love-hate relationship with Cubans: on the one hand, it is one of the island’s most important export items, and the sugar sector continues to employ a significant number of people. Cuba, on the other hand, is dangerously reliant on monoculture: variations in worldwide sugar prices or poor harvests always have an impact on the “sugar island’s” entire economy.
Sugar cane is a type of plant.
Sugar cane is a perennial reed-like plant that originated in Southeast Asia. It is a member of the grass family. It contains nodular thickenings on the stem, similar to bamboo. These have a sugar content of roughly 15%. The cane can reach a height of four meters. It takes roughly a year after sowing for the sugar cane to be harvested.
The plant will normally regrow after 20 years. It thrives in temperatures of 25 to 30 degrees Celsius on a daily basis. Sugar cane necessitates a lot of water. It is, however, extremely vulnerable to waterlogging. The grass thrives in Cuba’s tropical maritime climate.
Between April and July, the sugar cane harvest is at its peak. Previously, the plants were gathered by hand using machetes, but now the fields are milled by machines. If the cane is not processed right away, it will dry out. To get rid of the straw, residents in Cuba used to fire the sugar cane fields before harvesting for a long time. However, it has been discovered that the plants’ sugar content suffers as a result.
The leaves are removed after harvesting, and the stalks are ground and pressed in sugar mills. Raw juice is produced, which is then filtered and cooked down. Cooling causes it to crystallize. In centrifuges, the dark molasses is separated from the whitish raw sugar.
Only brown sugar is commonly produced on tiny sugar plantations (cachimbos). The product must be refined further to obtain white sugar; some Cuban industries now have white sugar plants.
Not only is the sugar itself processed, but also by-products such plant fibers and molasses. Plant leftovers, for example, are utilized to manufacture furniture or fuel. Molasses is used in the production of pharmaceuticals, livestock feed, and rum distillation.
The history of sugar production in Cuba
The plant was brought to Spain from the Canary Islands in 1523. The first sugar cane plantation on the island was built in 1603. Slaves from Africa struggled in blistering heat in the fields and sugar mills: sugar cane plants had to be hacked down with machetes and boiled into syrup in boiling houses.
The United States began trading with the island around the end of the 18th century. To escape the slave revolts in Haiti, 30,000 French farmers migrated to Cuba. This paved the way for the sugar boom of the nineteenth century. On the island, there were 14,000 sugar cane plantations in 1850. Cuba was the world’s greatest sugar producer at the time. The production of sugar made some of Cuba’s sugar elite extremely wealthy.
All sugar factories were transferred to state ownership after the start of the US embargo in 1960. During this time, Cuba attempted to break free from monoculture. These efforts resulted in a drop in foreign exchange revenues. The Soviet Union attempted to assist by purchasing Cuban sugar at a discount. The sugar sector has returned to the center of the economy. With an 8.5 million-ton harvest in 1970, Cubans set a new record, but neglected other aspects of the economy in the process.
Sugar output in Cuba declined drastically after the demise of the Soviet Union and as international market prices continued to fall. Only 3.5 million tons were collected in Cuba in 1999. For a long time, there had been no signs of a resurgence in the sugar business; in fact, more than half of all Cuban sugar mills had to close in 2003. Until 2010, production continued to decline. It just gradually began to climb again after that, and it is predicted to continue to rise in the following years.
Trinidad – The Sugar Barons’ Capital
The “Golden Age” of the sugar boom and the attendant slave trade left its impact, particularly in Trinidad, in western Cuba. Trinidad, the third oldest city in Cuba and established in 1514 by Cuban governor Diego Velásquez, exemplifies the beauty and decadence of the colonial age like no other. Unesco designated it as a World Heritage Site in 1988.
The spectacular buildings in the Plaza Mayor, in particular, still stand tribute to the “sugar barons'” opulence. These attempted to emulate and outperform Havana’s opulence and architectural style. A salon culture was cultivated in their palaces, which were often built in the tradition of Spanish-Moorish Mudejar architecture, with theater, philosophy, art, and the French language. The historic palaces are now mostly utilised as museums.
The Valle de los Ingenios, or Sugar Mill Valley, is located east of Trinidad. This was the hub of the Cuban sugar industry in the mid-nineteenth century. Trinidad was not connected to the national rail and road networks until the middle of the twentieth century, effectively halting trade. The city fell into a long slumber, only to be reawakened in the early 1990s by the developing tourism boom.