The Miami Herald
October 3, 1998
Cuba's food shortage worsens
Georges ends island's drought, but devastates staple crops

             By ANITA SNOW
             Associated Press

             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 is
             over. But its food supply problem is not.

             ``The primary problem remains: food,'' said Mayor Migdalia Leon, surveying the
             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 be
             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 of
             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 of Cuba's
             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 of a
             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 just
             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. The
             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. World
             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 an extra
             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 rations
             through December.

             With the exception of sugar, most crops in Cuba's east are grown purely for
             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 now
             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 this,'' she
             said. ``Before we had water distribution problems as well. Now all the reservoirs
             are full.''


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