Hurricane Ian leaves “a catastrophe” for vital Cuban tobacco

"A catastrophe"says Maritza Carpio in front of the ruins of the tobacco house on her farm in Vuelta Abajo, the land of the best tobacco in Cuba and the pillar of a vital industry for the country, converted into a mass of trunks, pitchforks and tiles in the aftermath of devastating Hurricane Ian.

In Vuelta Abajo, a region that forms a triangle between the municipalities of San Luis, San Juan and Martínez and Pinar del Río (capital of the homonymous province), you can count on the fingers of one hand the tobacco houses that withstood Ian’s 200+ km/h winds.

"We have never had a catastrophe of this magnitude"declares to AFP Carpio, who has his farm in San Luis, 175 km west of Havana.

The tobacco company adds that the hurricane left "an extremely difficult situation for all peasants", because "in this moment (…) of crisis" economical "we don’t know how to deal with this".

In addition to tearing down the tobacco houses, rustic wooden constructions, essential for the drying of the leaves of the plant to benefit from the sun, the air and the humidity, the rains and winds of Ian eroded crop fields that were being ready for the planting campaign that begins in October.

"This is something that hits you, qEU slows down the development of the sowing campaign" since the land was already plowed while waiting for the plantation, says tobacco grower Sergio Luis Martínez (59), who also lost his tobacco house in Pinar del Río.

– Everything is "ugly" –

The hurricane crossed Pinar del Río on Tuesday for about six hours, during which time it left two dead, a widespread blackout and extensive damage to homes and electrical networks. More than 50,000 people They were evacuated from the province.

Likewise, totally or partially destroyed tobacco sorting centers, warehouses and offices of the Tabacuba company, which buys 95% of its crops from private producers.

In just a few hours, Ian ruined decades of work. On Carpio’s property, he uprooted guava, mamey, and avocado trees, snapped some precious woods, and destroyed a growing banana plantation.

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Here "before you breathed an ecological airwe could say how cute, and now it’s all ugly"explains the woman, who shelters her neighbor Caridad Álvarez (59), an agricultural worker who lost her home.

To the economic impact of the families, the sentimental blow is added. "It was an old tobacco house, made of hard wood, made by my grandfather, repaired by my father, who died in April at the age of 93."Carpio comments.

– "damage is great" –

The President of Cuba, Miguel Diaz-Canel toured Pinar del Río on Tuesday, where 65% of the country’s tobacco is produced. "The damages are great, although they have not yet been accounted for"he tweeted.

On Wednesday, he visited San Luis, "about 226 tons" tobacco of the harvest that concluded in August were damaged, according to local television.

Vuelta Abajo is the only region in the country that provides the three types of leaves (filler, wrapper and binder) used in the production of the famous cigars, which represent an important source of income for the country.

In 2021, Cuba exported cigars worth 568 million dollars, 15% more than the previous yeardespite the fact that the population was confined for almost a year by the pandemic, according to Habanos SA, a corporation that markets all Cuban brands.

The Carpio farm has the status of "fine vega", a certification required to grow the tobacco used to roll cigars. This year he harvested 4.8 tons of wrapper tobacco, the best leaves used for the outer wrapper of cigars.

The tobacco company knows that she must build her house in record time and that it will not be able to do it without the support of the government.

A hope increased after the visit of Díaz-Canel. In San Luis we don’t talk about "another thing that the government will allocate a budget" for farmers, explains Carpio.

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