By ANITA SNOW
SAN ANTONIO DEL VALLE, Cuba -- Leaves on withering banana plants are
finally green after Hurricane Georges' rains ended months of drought in Cuba. But
now the ripening fruit lies rotting in the mud.
Cuba's worst drought since Fidel Castro seized power almost 40 years ago
over. But its food supply problem is not.
``The primary problem remains: food,'' said Mayor Migdalia Leon, surveying
damage wrought when Hurricane Georges whipped through the eastern
banana-producing community of San Antonio del Valle last week.
Nearby, several hundred workers organized by the local Communist Party
gathered bunches of bananas torn loose by Georges. They saved the best for
human consumption; the rest were for farm animals.
While Georges' rains ended the long drought, ``the emergency probably won't
over until January or February,'' said Rolando Rodriguez, vice president of
Guantanamo province. ``We'll have to concentrate on crops with shorter cycles
and see how the harvests go.''
San Antonio del Valle and other agricultural towns in Guantanamo, a province
500,000 people, were among the hardest hit by Hurricane Georges. They were
also the worst affected by the drought, blamed on the weather phenomenon El
Hurricane Georges killed five people in Cuba, damaged a few bridges, destroyed
half a dozen homes and flooded thousands more. Crops suffered the worst
damage, although the government has yet to release official figures.
Before the hurricane, drought had destroyed 42 percent of crops in five
14 provinces, bringing with it the danger of hunger. After the storm, Castro
announced an increase in government food rations to 1.6 million people in eastern
``There's no regular milk for my daughter,'' said Irene, a young mother
3-year-old who said the government began providing powdered milk instead of
cow's milk to the region's children last week. It was a setback for Castro's
government, which has tried to provide milk to every child under 7 years old.
Since the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, rations have grown slim -- usually
rice, beans and sometimes a few eggs. Cubans now must supplement their free
rations with other food sold at heavily subsidized prices -- when it's available.
Drought had forced Cuba to ask the United Nations for help in late August.
U.N. World Food Program appealed for $20.5 million to buy rice, beans and
canned fish for 615,000 people in five eastern provinces -- Holguin, Las Tunas,
Granma, Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo -- until the next harvest in May.
Cuba normally receives $2 million to $3 million in food aid from the U.N.
Food Program every year. It still has to import more grain -- it won't say how
much -- to make ends meet.
Castro announced this week that all residents in eastern Cuba will receive
2.2 pounds of beans or peas per month. That's in addition to the extra rice, peas,
bread and cooking oil the government already was providing citizens in drought
He said all Cuban children under 14 and adults over 60 would get extra
With the exception of sugar, most crops in Cuba's east are grown purely
domestic consumption. Along with bananas, other staple crops such as yucca,
manioc and yams were hit hard.
``We lost 95 percent of our banana crop,'' Migdalia Leon said. ``We are
going to have to dedicate ourselves to crops with shorter growth cycles to be able
to survive: squash, cucumbers, salad greens.''
But she remains optimistic. ``The drought was harder to deal with than
said. ``Before we had water distribution problems as well. Now all the reservoirs
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald