A Look Back at Pre-Castro Cuba – Part 3 of 4

The third installment in a four part series written by Cuban American engineer, Humberto (Bert) Corzo (Part 1 & Part 2):

A Look Back at Pre-Castro Cuba – Part 3 of 4

PINAR DEL RIO PROVINCE: Pineapple processing; rice production and mineral industry.

MATANZA PROVINCE: Varadero Beach; Canimar (Guiteras) Bridge on the Via Blanca Highway; Rayon factory and Henequen plants. The sugar industry: sugar mill; alcohol distillery and electric plant.

LAS VILLAS PROVINCE: Hanabanilla Waterfall; Marta Abreu University and new 10 stories high hotel in Santa Clara; Manacas brewery; fishing industry; Cienfuegos City electric plans.

CAMAGUEY PROVINCE: Typical huge colonial jars, Agramonte monument.

Pineapple production reached 130,000 MT in 1958 and only 28,908 MT in 2009. Rice production reached 260,000 MT in 1958 with a population of 6.6 million, and only 280,000 MT in 2009 with a population of 11.2 millions. In 1958 Cuba produced 5.6 million MT of sugar and exported 5.0 MT. In 2010 Cuba sugar production was only1.1 million MT. This is Castro’s Socialism at work.


In 1958 the FAO yearbook ranked Cuba fourth in rice production in Latin America. The island with a population of 6.6 million produced 260,000 metric tons that year. In 1962 when the regime seized rice production, the output reached only 200,000 metric tons. That was the year the Ration book was introduced, establishing the rice ration to 6 lb per person a month, down from 12 lb in 1959 when the Castro regime took power.  Rice production in the island in 2009 reached only 280,000 metric tons, with a population of 11.3 millions. These production figures speak for themselves. This is another “remarkable achievement” by the Castros’ regime.

Matahambre copper mines started production in 1913. From 1913 to 1957 had been obtained 2.4  million ton of copper from the mine. In 1957 the copper exportation reached 50,000 ton with a value of $8.5 million. Matahambre accounted for over 90% of the production, given employment to more than 1,000 workers. Per CPI inflation calculator the value in 2010 would be $66 million, equivalent to $1320 per ton.

In 1997 the regimen, alleging increase cost of production and drop of copper price in the international market, closed the mine and layoff all the workers, and in 2001 El Cobre copper mine was also closed. The buildings are closed or destroyed and the equipment is all rusted.

Minas de Matahambre 2012

In 2010 the copper mines around the world increased their production due to the increase in price which reached $9,000 per ton, and continuous growing reaching an all time high of $10,000 in February 2011. Let see 50,000 x 9,000 = $450 million. Where “the horse” step the grass doesn’t grow back.

The Canimar Bridge was opened to traffic during the government of Dr. Carlos Prío Socarrás in July 1951. It is part of the Via Blanca expressway that links the city of Matanzas with Varadero. The hight from the roadway to the river is 34 m (111.5 ft), which provide a beautiful view to those driving on it. This beautiful bridge with its slender columns was designed by the Cuban engineers José Menéndez and Luis Sáenz.

Canimar River Bridge, a beautiful three-65 meters (213 feet) span reinforced concrete arch bridge.
Canimar River Bridge, a beautiful three-65 meters (213 feet) span reinforced concrete arch bridge.

In the textile industry the Matanzas Rayon factory and Textilera de Ariguanabo, both owned by Cuban  businessmen, were the larger ones among the 90 textile factories with a value over $60 million which employed more than 10,000 workers. Textilera de Ariguanabo, founded in 1931, was among the most modern factories of the textile industry in the world. In 1958 it employed more than 2,500 workers. The Matanzas Rayon factory, built at a cost of $17 million, started production in 1949, selling rayon fibers to Europe and Latin America. The rayon filaments production in 1959 reached 3570 MT.

Textilera Ariguanabo
Textilera Ariguanabo

During the decade of the 1950’s Cuba was the largest exporter of sugar in the world, supplying around 35% of the world market. The sugar industry in 1958 employed 471,400 workers in sugar production, and another 18,000 were employed in related industries such as refineries, distilleries, bagasse paper plant, etc. Cuba had 161 mills in 1958 with a productive capacity of 8.2 million metric tons of sugar. Cuban nationals were owners of 120 mills which accounted by 62% of the sugar production. In 1957 the capital investment in the sugar mills and related industries was estimated at $1,158,850,000.

With the dismantling of 70% of the sugar mills, only 44 of 156 remain in operation. The island sugar industry continues its unstoppable course towards disappearance. Cuba simply has stopped being a sugar-producing country.

Cuba sugar production with 44 mills in operation was 1.1 million MT in 2010 with a population of 11.2.millions. In 1894, one year before the War of Independence, the island produced 1.05 million MT with a population of 1.7 millions. More than 116 years later the Castroit regime produced only a little above that figure. Castro I achieved the inconceivable, make a reality the phrase “without sugar there is no country.”

Sugar cane field
Sugar cane field
Jaronú sugar mill and batey (sugar mill town)
Jaronú sugar mill and batey (sugar mill town)

The Jaronú sugar mill started production in December 1921 in Camagüey. It had the capacity to grind one million tons of sugarcane per day, the largest producer of sugar in Cuba. It gave employment to 7,000 workers in the industrial and agricultural sector. The sugar mill produced for the first time over one million bags of sugar of 325 pounds(146,700 MT) of sugar, in 1947.

In 1958 there were 29 distillation plants in the island that produced 250 million liters (67 million gallons) of alcohol, 200,000 liters (52.8 million gallons) of ethanol (ethyl alcohol) and 50,000 liters of natural alcohol. The production of ethanol started in 1948 and since 1949 a government law required a 10% addition of ethanol as a biofuel to the gasoline used in motor vehicles.

In 2010 the island has 13 alcohol distilleries with a capacity of 150 million liters of natural alcohol and the ethanol production was discontinued.

The Arechabala distillery was founded in 1878 in the city of Cárdenas, Matanzas. In 1921, the company incorporated under the name “José Arechabala, S.A.”

Arechabala’s business was comprised by the following enterprises: sugar warehousing capacity of 2 million 325 lb. sacks; candy manufacturing plant; syrup plant; molasses plant with capacity for 5 million gallons; distillery of alcohol, spirits and rums; aging cellars for millions of liters of rum; liquor manufacturing plant; barrel manufacturing plant; jute sack factory; Petroleum plant; hydrocarbons plant, pioneering the use of ethanol for motor fuel; bagasse paper plant; a coastal trading ship line; a maritime terminus, and a shipyard. In 1958 Arechabala enterprises provide employment for thousands of people.

José Arechabala, S.A.
José Arechabala, S.A.

From 1934 to 1960, Jose Arechabala, S.A produced Havana Club rum at its distillery in Cardenas, In 1935 Jose Arechabala, S.A. was issued U.S. trademark registrations for the Havana Club mark.

Two million liters of Arechabala's world famous Havana Club Rum aging in oak barrels in the Arechabala distillery in Cardenas.
Two million liters of Arechabala's world famous Havana Club Rum aging in oak barrels in the Arechabala distillery in Cardenas.

In October of 1960, the Cuban assets of Jose Arechabala, S.A., were expropriated by the Castro regime without compensation. In 1993 the regime entered in 50-50 joint venture with the French liquor distributor, Pernod Ricard, S.A., and granted it exclusive license to sell Havana Club Rum and to use the Havana Club trademark, illegally confiscated from the legitimated original owner.

The Arechabala family entered into an agreement with Bacardi Limited in 1994, transferring the original formula and trademark of Havana Club Rum to it, which began distilling Havana Club rum using the original recipe and distributing it in the United States in 1995.

The Havana Club rum is now produced by the Pernod-Ricard group for foreign consumption at a new distillery in San Jose de Las Lajas, Havana, not the original one in Cardenas, with a new formula since the original belongs to Bacardi Limited.

What an irony that after 33 years the regime, in order to remain in power, opened up the island to foreign investors, like the giant capitalist liquor company Pernod-Ricard to produce and distribute the Havana Club Rum trademark stolen from the Cuban owners.

In Castros’ tyrannical regime all labor rights are violated. Salaries paid by foreign companies joint ventures, are paid to the regime in U.S. dollars, not to the Cuban workers. The regime keeps 90% of it and pays the other 10% in worthless Cuban pesos to the workers. These foreign businesses in Castros’ tyrannical regime are on shaky grounds. They are in complicity with a repressive and corrupt military regime.

Already there have been cases of multinational corporations held accountable for alleged complicity with repressive regimes in human rights abuses. Sooner or later these foreign companies and investors in the Castros’ regime will b e held liable for aiding and abetting the regime human rights violations and are going to lose everything.

The construction at a cost of $15 million of the Hanabanilla hydroelectric plant started operation in 1959 with a generation capacity of 28.5 MW, equivalent to 4% of the total install electric capacity. A few small plants generated another 1%.

Men working inside the tunnel
Men working inside the tunnel

The lake formed by damming the rivers Hanabanilla, Negro and Guanayara cover 20 square kilometers. It was made accessible by the construction of new highways and roads transforming the area into a tourist center. The lake is used for recreational purposes, flood control and as water supply for nearby towns.

Finished tunnel
Finished tunnel

In 1952 the National Tourist Corporation became the Cuban Institute of tourism with the object to stimulate the development of the tourist industry. Between 1953 and 1958 hotel construction almost doubled the existing hotel capacity in the island. In La Habana alone 13 new hotels were built. In 1955 the government of Fulgencio Batista enacted the Hotel Law 2074, which provide tax incentives and government loans through the Bank for Economic and Social Development (BANDES) to developers willing to invest in excess of $1,000,000 to build hotels. After the law was enacted the first one built in La Habana was the Deauville, a 14 story hotel with 120 rooms built at a cost of 2.3 million, which opened in the spring of 1957. The Capri, a 19 story hotel with 250 rooms, opened in November 1957. The Habana Riviera, a 21 story hotel with 350 rooms built at a cost of 14 million, opened in December 1957, and the Habana Hilton, a 25 story hotel with 630 rooms built at a cost of 24 million, opened in March 1958. It was owned by Casa de Retiro y Asistencia Social de los Trabajadores Gastronómicos, and operated by the Hilton Hotels International. It was the biggest and the most attractive in the Hilton Hotels group. Many others hotels were built in other cities, like the Ortelio Ramos in Santa Clara, Jagua in Cienfuegos, Santiago-Habana in Ciego de Avila, Santiago de Cuba, El Colony in Isla de Pinos, etc.

Before 1959 tourism in Cuba was a mayor industry and important source of employment. In 1956, 300,000 tourists came to Cuba and expended $38.1 million; in 1957, 347,600 tourists arrived and expended 62.1 million, and in 1958, 308,600 tourists and the expenditures amount to $56.9 million. By then tourism became the second larger generator of revenue in the Cuban economy (Banco Nacional de Cuba, Memoria 1958-59).

Hotel Habana Hilton and Amelia Peláez mural
Hotel Habana Hilton and Amelia Peláez mural

In 1958 there were five breweries in the island. All of them were owned by Cuban nationals. The Santiago Brewing Company was established in 1915 and created the HATUEY brand. It was name in honor of the Taino Indian chief who lived in the early 16th century. In1920 the company was acquired by the Bacardi family and in 1927a new brewery was opened in Santiago de Cuba. During the 1930’s Joaquin Bacardi, a Harvard graduate with a degree in Chemical Engineering, became Hatuey beer’s first Brew Master. In 1947 Bacardi opened the Cerveceria Modelo in Havana and the state of the art Cervecería Central in 1953 in Manacas, Las Villas.


Cerveceria Central, Manacas, Las Villas
Cerveceria Central, Manacas, Las Villas

In 1888 the Blanco Herrera family founded the New Ice Factory, where La Tropical, Cuba’s first beer, was brewed, in Puentes Grandes, La Habana. The famous Jardines de la Tropical a beautiful and great recreational place where famous Orchestras used to play for the general public before 59, was inaugurated in 1904 on the banks of the Almendares River in the tradition of the German beer gardens. In 1929, on land next to the brewery, the stadium La Tropical was built. In 1930 the Second Central American and Caribbean Games were held at this stadium.

Cerveza Tropical
Cerveza Tropical
Jardines de La Tropical
Jardines de La Tropical

La Polar brewery was founded in 1911 in Puentes Grandes, La Habana. Cuban businessmen Zorrillla and Giraudier were the main actionists of La Polar. This brewery also built, on the land next to it, beautiful beer gardens on the banks of the Almendares River for recreation of the general public. The brewery has been dismantled.


La Polar Brewery, Puentes Grandes, La Habana
La Polar Brewery, Puentes Grandes, La Habana

Beer production reached 156.7 million liters in 1959 (US Statistical Abstract 1962), equivalent, with a population of 6.66 million plus a monthly tourist average of 23,133 (277,600 tourists a year), to 23.4 liters per capita. All breweries were expropriated in 1960.

Only one new brewer and a micro one have opened after 1959. A micro brewery of limited capacity in Camaguey opened in 1985, and one in Holguin in 1990. With the closure of La Polar five remain in operation.

In 1997 the Castroit regime enterprise Corporación Alimentaria S.A. partnered in a 50-50 joint venture with the Canadian entity Cerbuco Brewing, a subsidiary of the Belgian company Interbrew N.V., one of the larger beer producers in the world, to produce the beers Bucanero and Cristal at the Holguin brewery. This company is the sole importer and distributor of beer in the hard currency market in the island, and has the exclusive export of these beers worldwide.

This type of foreign firm/joint venture negotiates a contract of labor force with the regime, which will determine the number and qualifications of the employees, and send them to the foreign firm to fill the positions. The foreign firm pays their salaries in hard currency to the regime staffing agency. The employees are paid in Cuban pesos, and the regimen pockets 90% of their salaries. This labor practice, the outlaw of independent labor unions and the right to strike are in violation of the International Labor Organization. When the reign of terror of the Castroit regime is over all these foreign firms /joint ventures will be liable for the infringement of the international labor practices.

In 2010 the production of beer reached 258.6 million liters (ONE 2010). With a population of 11.2 plus a monthly tourist average of 208,333 (2.5 million tourists a year), it is equivalent to 22.7 liters per capita. After 50 years the per capita consumption is 97 % of 1959. The production increased barely has been able to keep pace with the demand.

Close to 13,000 active fisherman depended directly and another 10,000 persons indirectly on the fishing industry in the 1950’s. A refrigerator ship with a capacity of 500,000 pounds was purchased on 1953 and in 1958 the ship “Arktis”, especially built and equipped for fishing cod.

The National Institute of Fishing was created on 1955 (INP) to study and investigate Cuba’s fish reserves, and increment seafood production. In 1958 there were ten canning factories that canned 2.6 million pounds of seafood.

The Fishing Terminal construction started in January of 1958 in the port of Havana. It was equipped to handle 60,000 pounds of fish per day and it has a cold storage capacity of one million pounds, with a freezing and processing plan. The Castros’ regime took credit for this project. The Banco Cubano de Comercio Exterior financed the acquisition of 13 merchant ships with a total of 39,300 tons.

Cuba’s fish catch grew from an annual average of 24,550 MT in 1952-56 to 27,678 MT in 1959 (US Statistical Abstract 1962). With an estimate consumer population of 6.68 million (6.66  million inhabitants plus 23,133 tourist), the annual per capita consumption amount to 9.2 pound.

From 1963 to 1989 the regime commercial fishing fleet experience a large expansion mainly due to the oil subsidies from the Soviet Union. The distant water fleet catch was primarily for the domestic consumption, and the near shore fleet catch, along the island marine platform, of high value lobster, shrimp and crab was mostly for the export market. In 1963 the cash reached 35,565 MT and in 1989 192,047 MT (ONE, colecciones estadísticas).

Following the collapse of the socialist block, the regime, due to high fuel operation cost and maintenance, kept idle many ships from the distant water fleet. The deterioration of the fleet due to age, lack of maintenance, technological problems, and high oil prices, greatly affected the regime main fishing fleet. Nowadays only a small fleet in the Gulf of Mexico, remain operational.

The fish catch in 2010 reached 55,416 MT, of which 5.71 MT (10%), were exported for a value of $59.5 million (ONE 2010), making it the regime fourth source of foreign currency, leaving 49,706 MT for domestic consumption The consumer population is estimate at 11.41 million (11.2 million inhabitants plus 208,333 tourist), the annual per capita consumption amount to 9.7 pound, only a 5% increased after 50 years. So much effort for so little return (Tanto nadar para  morir en la orilla).

Humberto (Bert) Corzo was born in Cuba. In 1962 he graduated from University of Havana with a degree in Civil Engineering. Since coming to the United States in 1969, he established his residence in Los Angeles, California, where in 1972 he obtained the registration as a Professional Engineer. He has over forty five years of experience in the field of Structural Engineering. He is a Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Cuban-American Association of Civil Engineers.




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