A brief history of the Cuban economy before 1959

From the 1965 book Album Azul de Cuba.

Development of architecture, increase in construction of buildings, highways, parks, public squares, water-works, communications in general (railroad lines, streetcars, bus lines, postal service, telegraph, telephone and radio, etc.,) all stimulated trade and commerce, harbors, factories and put Cuba well ahead. Sugar, tobacco, cattle, alcohol and derivatives, chemical products, vegetable oil, textile industries, shoe factories — all were great sources of Cuban wealth.

It is true that for some years sugar mills were the main attraction of investors both foreign and native and the sugar industry remained the backbone of our national economy; but it is also undeniable that in the last thirty years the diversity of industries increased and new sources of production opened wider horizons for foreign trade. And this meant improving conditions for labor.

By 1958 there were 160 sugar mills with the predominance of Cuban capital. The yearly sugar crop (zafra) represented an average of 99 days work, producing a total of more than five million five hundred thousand long tons of sugar. The Cuban Sugar Stabilization Board kept active watch on the needs of the sugar industry and took measures of undeniable value.

Raw sugar as well as the refined product gave admirable results. And concerning sugar derivatives such as molasses and alcohol the 1937 Law for the Coordination of Sugar was a step forward in social justice and economic welfare. Besides the highest rate of production the Cuban sugar industry had the most efficient equipment and most modern machinery in the world and the most productive era in its history. The United States was the best buyer paying for Cuban sugar as no other country ever did.

Prosperity brought about by sugar, benefitting all Cuba may be judged from the fact that in 1958 more than 90% of the land growing cane was brought into cultivation under tractors and 80% of the cane was transported by rail and truck. Salaries were high and the “sugar differential” favored the sugar worker as never before, and no sugar worker was interested in changing his type of work. Those who, deceived by an anti-patriotic and stupid propaganda, got on the communist band-wagon committed economic suicide and helped drag their own country down along with them to want and destruction.

One cannot recall a similar case of collective blindness, nurtured by an unbelievable attraction. And this applies equally to sugar workers, University professors, owners of small businesses and other walks of Cuban life.

One of the most prosperous trades was the cattle industry; at the time the communists took over Havana the city was consuming a ratio of about 1,000 head of cattle a day, and the other provinces had an average annual sacrifice of 600,000. Expert cattle raisers preferred Holsteins because they not only helped improve the quality of the meat but gave a much higher percentage of milk. Cuba came to occupy fourth place in its per capita of cattle bred, following, the Argentine and Paraguay.

The derivatives were also varied and rich : cheese, butter, evaporated milk, condensed and powdered milk, fresh milk, preserved beef, sausages, dried and jerked beef, suet, beef fat; leather for saddles, shoes, bags and belts, hairs for paint brushes and raw materials for laboratory opotherapeutic products rivaled the finest anywhere in the world. Porcine breeding also increased as well as allied industries such as fats, hams, bacons and even fresh pork for export.

Barnyard fowls multiplied so notably that in 1958 more than 18 million were consumed, a per capita consumption of more than 6 lbs. Import of egg-laying hens, chickens and eggs reduced enormously and national production became adequate for national demands. Granges increased enormously throughout the country. Fishing was an equally prosperous business, including exports of fresh and canned fish. Derivatives were also a prosperous business including oils, tortoise-shells shark skins, etc.

Cuban tobacco’s prestige throughout the world was a mark of superior quality. In 1958 leaf tobacco production reached 81,940,000 pounds, exports producing 58 million dollars, 25 million more than ten years before. Twisted tobacco, — already in 1957 totaled 335,275,000 units.

Cigarettes totaled 624,105,000 packages, greatest ever. In the period 1957 to ’58 exports of cigars reached 51 million dollars. The Tobacco Stabilization Board did a great job assuring quality and sales, participating in market operations and stabilizing minimum sales prices. Light tobacco was tested for competition with American planting as it is a type much preferred the market, particularly women smokers. From which it can be judged tobacco, including marketing cut leaf, had reached a very satisfactory level in Cuba.

Coffee and cocoa planting which had been very prosperous in colonial times declined at the beginning of the Republic although growers aimed at meeting the home market. By 1956 more than a million hundred weights of coffee were produced and about 5 1/2 million pounds of cocoa.

At the International Coffee Conference held in Rio de Janeiro, 1958, Cuba was assigned an export quota of 300,000 sacks of coffee. This was an encouraging increase and stimulated the preparation of washed coffee, far superior and easier to export than the unwashed beans.

Rice was another product doing surprisingly well until the communists snatched Cuba away from freedom. Once Cuba imported much rice but the BANFAIC (Cuban National Bank for Industrial and Agricultural Development) did a great job and through the Stabilization of Rice Board cultivation was stimulated.

By 1958 Cuba was one of the foremost rice growing countries in Latin American with a total of 272,533 acres planted with rice. Corn was another basic food which by 1958 had increased with a total of 416,666 acres producing 3,200,000 hundred-weight of corn and earning ten million dollars. Black beans were so extensively produced that exports were ample, but it is impossible to detail further consumer goods in this brief resume. Nonetheless we do include table of 1957-1958 crop development and increase in cattle to give the reader a full idea of the wealth of the island when the most dastardly deceivers in history took over Cuba, determined to destroy it morally and wipe out material wellbeing — even food!

Here are few items which speak louder than words:

Corn                   190,000 metric tons

Shelled rice      200,000 metric tons

Beans                 56,000 metric tons

Peanuts              15,000 metric tons

Bananas           6,600,000 bunches

Sugar              5,670,000 metric tons

Pineapples       130,000 metric tons

Tomatoes       110,000 metric tons

Coffee beans   50,000 metric tons

Leaf tobacco   44,000 metric tons

Sisal hemp      8,000 metric tons

Potatoes        125,000 metric tons

Pigs                    654,000

Cattle                 522,000

Comparing this brief detail of production it makes quite clear progress has been destroyed, its most prosperous and necessary foodstuffs brought to collapse as a result of ignorance, lack of vision or ability of any sort and the negative audacity of adventurers, murderers and thieves who have taken over the island guided by ignorant advisers from Russia and other communist countries whose ignorance of the tropical agro was, no doubt, one of the reasons why they came to despoil it, along with our industry and commerce and the happiness of our country.

In bee-keeping, growing of viands, vegetables, fresh fruits, and basic cattle feeds, including pangola grass the same can be stated as well as concerning Cuban forestry and lumber.

As for mining, iron, copper, manganese, chromium, nickel, zinc, lead, tungsten, gold, silver and even non-metallic minerals such as gypsum, barite, asbestos, antimony and deposits such as petroleum and naptha whose development was just starting.

In many of these Cuba offered no rush of wealth but it had launched well organized, admirably administered and worked centers which augured well for the future. And statistics reveal beyond a doubt that by the eradication of our democratic Republic and with the communist take-over Cuba lost the balance of progressive gains which often surprised foreigners and no doubt awakened the envy of many and the cupidity of the Reds. For Russia knew very well what stupid and treacherous Fidel Castro was up to, what he was giving them, urged on by political ambition and hunger for notoriety, helping himself to other men’s hard earned benefits.

Swiss banks now shelter his rapacity, and the games he plays with everything a whole nation developed are crying to heaven for vengeance. Cuba has in Fidel Castro the most extreme example of a monster unsurpassed in the New World and aided and abetted by Russia, another land in producing these abortions of nature; the most recent being Stalin and Khrushchev, just as German produced its Adolf Hitler.

One of the most prosperous measures taken by the Republican government was the early establishment of its monetary system and the definite organization of banking. Some experiences thoroughly impressed the country, including the bank crack after World War I. A book entitled “Problems in New Cuba” includes careful study by the Foreign Policy Association with references from the country’s best sources of economy, official as well as those in other political parties.

Dr. Leopoldo Cancio Luna, professor of economy at Havana University and Secretary of the Treasury during the government of General Mario G. Menocal created the bank system which became law October 29th 1914, based on the gold standard whose unit was the 1.6718 gram/peso and 1.5046 gold bullion, retaining the right to mint, unspecified limitation where gold coins were concerned, 12 million pesos in silver, and sums to be periodically fixed by the Executive in nickel coins.

It was established that Cuban and United States currency would be sole legal tender and by virtue of accumulated reserves Cuban became firmly on a par with U.S. currency. The circulation of Spanish and French currency was eliminated with details on how to liquidate any sums pending payment in those or any other values.

Important foreign banks operated in Cuba with great success; it was indispensable to organize Cuba’s national bank and this was achieved as a result of the 1940 Constitution, establishing a new and reliable institution giving Cuban currency greater strength and opening new credits.

The Cuban National Bank gained great prestige and furthered the creation of other activities such as the Cuban Bank for Agricultural and Industrial Development; the Bank for Economic and Social Development; the Cuban National Financial Bank and the Foreign Commerce Bank, all devoted admirably and efficiently to widening economic and mercantile activities, giving strength to varied enterprises.

Cuba’s economic stimulus reached the highest peak of the post-war period in 1957 facilitating further progress and it is remarkable how well the government laid the technical foundation for such important improvements as public works, quick relief of unemployment, considerable increases in agricultural production for internal consumption and the expansion of some branches of industry. This supposed increases in national debt but it is much to be regretted political happenings did not allow the plan to evolve, denying us even more definite gains which would have spread out Cuba’s economic future.

Scanned from the book Album Azul de Cuba, compiled and edited in exile

by Aurelio Garcia Dulzaides in Miami Florida in 1965.