Special Period in Time of Peace

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Cuba's Special Period in Time of Peace began in August of 1990, when the USSR ended massive subsidies to Cuba.[1]

"The rise of market economies in eastern Europe had calamitous consequences in Cuba. The old socialist bloc Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) had accounted for almost 85 percent of Cuban trade, transactions conducted almost entirely in nonconvertible currency. Commercial relations with the former Soviet Union declined by more than 90 percent, from $8.7 billion in 1989 to $4.5 billion in 1991 and $750 million in 1993. Trade with eastern European countries ended almost completely. Soviet oil imports decreased by almost 90 percent, from 13 million tons in 1989 to 1.8 million tons in 1992. Shipments of capital grade consumer goods, grains, and foodstuff declined and imports of raw materials and spare parts essential for Cuban industry ceased altogether. Fertilizer imports declined by 80 percent, from 1.3 million tons to 25,000 tons; animal feed supplies fell by 70 percent, from 1.6 million tons to 450,000 tons."[2]

Cuba's crisis deepened in 1992 when the U.S. Congress passed the "Torricelli bill" (Cuba Democracy Act of 1992), which further limited Cuba's volume of international trade. Under the law, a ship could not visit a U.S. port for six months after visiting Cuba.

Agriculture in the Special Period

Without either food or the necessary inputs to produce food using the industrialized model Cuba had previously followed, Cuba turned to organic agriculture during the Special Period. For more information, see the article on Organic Agriculture in Cuba During the Special Period.

Cuban Agriculture Before the Special Period

As of 1989, 30 percent of Cuba's agricultural land was devoted to sugarcane, which was used to generate 75 percent of the nation's export revenues. In turn, Cuba imported 57 percent of its food.[3] Cuba boasted the most tractors per person and per unit of area, and the second highest average grain yields within Latin America. Nearly half of Cuba's fertilizer and 82 percent of pesticides, both which Cuban agriculture heavily depended upon, were imported. For more information, see the article on Cuban Agriculture 1959-1989.

Imports and Food Production in the Special Period

"With the 1989 collapse of the centrally planned economies of Eastern Europe and the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost both its major markets and its primary source of foreign assistance. As a result, the Cuban economy collapsed, and the full effect of the U.S. embargo became evident. The loss of cheap Soviet oil also triggered a Cuban energy crisis. Cuban foreign trade fell 75 percent, and economic output fell 50 percent.
"By 1994, agricultural production had fallen 54 percent from 1989 levels. Particularly hard hit were sugar and tobacco production. Food consumption fell 36 percent. Daily caloric intake fell from 2,908 calories per day in the 1980’s to 1,863 calories per day in 1993. (The USDA-recommended minimum is 2,100-2,300 calories per day.) For those most dependent on state rations—the very old and the very young—consumption fell to 1,450 calories per day."[4]

Sugar Production

At the start of the Special Period, sugar production plunged from 8.1 million metric tons in 1989 to 4 million metric tons in 1993-96. According to the USDA:[4]

"Cuba’s sugar market problem is an issue of production, not export demand. Most Cuban sugar is produced as raw sugar for further refining in the countries that import it. Cuba has historically been a low-yield, high-cost sugar producer and an inefficient manager. Production costs averaged 90 percent above world market prices in 1986-90 and 50-70 percent above in 1996-97. The industry is characterized by small, inefficient mills. Ninety percent of the sugar mills were built before 1925.
"The sugar industry has been particularly hard hit by the lack of foreign exchange to purchase needed production inputs (fertilizer, oil, parts and equipment). The related energy crisis has also led to a breakdown of the transportation system, which causes a further reduction in sugar refining. In reaction to the severe production drop, Cuba created sugar UBPC’s and opened the sector to foreign capital investment to help modernize and expand crushing capacity (principal, interest, and a portion of profit are paid in sugar)."

Notably, about 66 percent of the area planted to sugarcane in Cuba was cut mechanically and 100 percent was harvested mechanically as of the year 2000 (approximately).[5]

Government Reforms

The Cuban government responded to the crisis with a series of reforms. It "rationed food, fuel, and electricity and gave priority to domestic food production, development of tourism, and biotechnology. The collapse of the sugar sector and its poor prospects emphasized the need to diversify agricultural production."[4]

In 1993, the government began breaking up large state farms, instead forming cooperatives known as Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC) which were allotted land in usufruct. "State enterprises still provide marketing, technical assistance, production services, and agricultural inputs. Producers are allowed to sell surplus production after delivering a contracted monthly quota to the state."[4]

In 1994, the government allowed the formation of farmers' markets. As of 1998, farmers markets handled 25-30 percent of the farm products sold to Cuban consumers.[4]

"Cuba also fostered the establishment of foreign “economic associations” (joint ventures, international contracts) to allow increased foreign investment in the tourism, mining, telecommunications, manufacturing, and construction sectors of the Cuban economy."[4]

As opposed to the past, when the majority of export income came from sugar, Cuba explored new areas such as tourism, nickel and ore production, fisheries, manufacturing, tobacco, and vegetables.[4] Sugar remained a major crop, but tourism overtook it as the biggest source of foreign exchange (tourism brought in $1.4 billion in 1996; sugar brought in only $900,000). However, "about 70 percent of this tourism foreign exchange is used to purchase inputs needed by the tourist industry."[4]

Health Consequences

"During this Special Period, per capita daily energy intake fell from 2899 kcal (12 180 kJ) to 1863 kcal (7820 kJ), and energy expenditure increased because fuel shortages led people to walk or ride their bicycles rather than use public transportation. The proportion of physically active adults increased from 30% to 67%. Population-representative studies in Cienfuegos, Cuba, in 1991 and 1995 showed a 1.5-unit decrease in the body mass index. The prevalence of obesity declined from 14% to 7%, the prevalence of overweight increased from 26% to 27%, and the prevalence of normal weight increased from 60% to 66%. The decline in body weight in the population represents a modest weight loss of 4–5 kg, or 5%–6% of body weight per adult. In subsequent years, rates of death decreased markedly from 1997 to 2002: by 51% for diabetes, 35% for coronary artery disease, 20% for stroke and 18% for all-cause mortality."[6]

About Cuba

Cuba is an island of 11 million hectares, about the size of the U.S. state of Ohio, and nearly as large as the rest of the Caribbean islands combined.[4] As of 2010, its population was 11,258,000, 75 percent of whom live in cities.[7] The nation has had a very small population growth rate in recent decades: 1% from 1970-1990; 0.3% from 1990-2010; and a projected population decline (-0.1%) from 2010-2030.[7] In 2010, the average gross national income per capita was US$5550. Cuba's per capita GDP annual growth rate fell from 3.9% from 1970-1990 to 2.6% between 1990 and 2010.[7]

Education: Cubans are a highly educated population, with 100% adult literacy in 2010 and 100% primary school enrollment in 2009. That year, 95% of students stayed in primary school through to the last primary grade. As of 2010, secondary school enrollment was 82% for males and 83% for females.[7]

Health: Life expectancy at birth has increased from 70 in 1970 to 74 in 1990 to 79 in 2010.[7] During the same period, the under-five mortality rate has decreased:

  • 1970: 40 (per 1000 live births)
  • 1990: 13
  • 2000: 9
  • 2010: 6

Land and Environment: "About 60 percent of the land is in agriculture. Seventy percent of the agricultural land is tilled and 20 percent of the tilled land is irrigated. Due to extensive deforestation, high freshwater withdrawal rates, heavy mineral concentrations, and pollution, Cuba faces problems with its water supply."[4]

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch articles


  1. Fidel Castro's Political Highlights, Miami Herald, Accessed April 4, 2012.
  2. Louis A. Pérez, Jr., Excerpt from Cuba: Between Reform & Revolution, Chapter 12 - Socialist Cuba, Section XII - Pages 381-387.
  3. Peter Michael Rosset, Braulio Machín Sosa, Adilén María Roque Jaime & Dana Rocío Ávila Lozano, "The Campesino-to-Campesino agroecology movement of ANAP in Cuba: social process methodology in the construction of sustainable peasant agriculture and food sovereignty," Journal of Peasant Studies, Volume 38, Issue 1, 2011, p. 161-191.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 "Cuba’s Agriculture: Collapse & Economic Reform," USDA, October 1998.
  5. Fernando Funes, Luis Garcia, Martin Bourque, Nilda Perez, Peter Rosset, eds, “Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba,” Food First Books, 2002, p. 37.
  6. Manuel Franco, MD PhD, Pedro Orduñez, MD PhD, Benjamín Caballero, MD PhD, and Richard S. Cooper, MD, "Obesity reduction and its possible consequences: What can we learn from Cuba's Special Period?,"Canadian Medical Association Journal, April 8, 2008.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Cuba - Statistics, UNICEF, Accessed April 6, 2012.

External Resources


  • Cuba in the Special Period: Culture and Ideology in the 1990s, Edited by Ariana Hernandez-Reguant.
  • Marcia Friedman, CUBA: The Special Period.
  • Archibald R. M. Ritter, "Shifting Realities in ‘Special Period’ Cuba"

External Articles