Deindustrialization & Rebirth

Deindustrialization & Rebirth • Composite Photograph • 2016. Based on decommissioned sugar refinery in Cuba overlaid with fronds of a banana tree
Deindustrialization & Rebirth • Composite Photograph • 2016

Beginning with Spanish colonial rule, sugar dominated Cuban agriculture, with devastating consequences for land and labor. 155 Sugar mills and millions of acres have been closed during the last 15 years as the country has turned to tourism. Today top wages are being paid to agricultural workers engaged in developing greater diversity. This is in marked contrast to the devastation suffered by workers and farmers in the United States as a result of deindustrialization in what is often called “The Heartland” or with elitist contempt “fly-over America.” This harsh reality is too often denied or ignored by politicians, like Hillary Clinton, who insisted, much to her peril, that the economy is doing just fine.

Sources: Original Photography

Additional Comments

Pictured as though a memory on a weather-beaten board, is the ruin of a furnace in a long-closed sugar refinery in Camaguey province, Cuba. Overlaid, as an expression of hope and rebirth, are brightly colored bricks and vegetation from the patio of a Cuban artist.

The sugar industry was the cornerstone of Cuba’s economy for more than 150 years. Under Spanish colonial rule, a virtual monocrop was imposed to feed the empire’s thirst for profits from the sugar, rum, and slave trades. Along with shuttering 155 mills during the last decade and a half, some 3.4 million acres of farmland has been taken out of sugarcane cultivation and allocated to more diversified agriculture and forestry in order to increase both the quantity and quality of food production and reduce dependence on imports.

The jobs of half the workers employed directly in sugar production were eliminated. Displaced were workers guaranteed employment with no cut in pay and received training for other careers as the country turned to tourism as a source of income.

The need to take such steps became urgent necessities with the economic crisis in Cuba that exploded in the early 1990s. It was only with the beginning of a recovery from the most desperate

years of what Cubans called the “Special Period,” however, that it became possible to address the challenge of restructuring the sugar industry.

Today high wages are being offered to young people to return to the countryside to boost more diversified and sustainable agricultural production. These steps toward agricultural diversification and increased food self-sufficiency correspond to the stated but long-postponed, goals of the revolutionary struggle in Cuba from its inception in the early 1950s under the leadership of the team assembled by Fidel and Raul Castro. The process of passing the baton of leadership to a new generation, begun more than a quarter-century ago, is now nearly complete with Raul Castro’s proposal to set an age limit of 70 for leadership positions.

For the financial barons and industrial overlords of the U.S. profit-taking is “fine” only if they can cut wages and intensify labor to make up for continually declining profit rates. The denial of a systemic economic crisis and the havoc wreaked by de-industrialization led many working people to view Donald Trump as a “lesser evil” in 2016. Trump’s much-vaunted plans for infrastructural investment are likely to benefit only the rich — if they come to fruition at all.