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Sancti Spiritus: colonial charm not enough to keep people: this is the 10th in a series of monthly articles on Cuba's 14 provinces by geographer Armando H. Portela, who has a Ph.D. in geography from the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Portela currently resides in Miami.

Located in central Cuba, Sancti Spiritus province has existed since 1976, when the old province of Las Villas was split into three new jurisdictions: Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara and Cienfuegos.

Covering 6,737 sq kms (2,602 sq miles), Sancti Spiriitus ranks as Cuba's seventh-largest province, accounting for 6.1% of the island's land area.

Roughly 81% of the territory consists of plains and valleys, with crops and grazing lands where most people live. The remaining 19% consists of sparsely populated mountains and hills, typically covered with dense forests and coffee groves.

Sancti Spiritus has the largest man-made water reservoir in Cuba. The Zaza Dam can hold 1.02 billion cubic meters (270 billion gallons) of water. Through an intricate system of canals and culverts, the dam is used not just to irrigate local rice and sugar crops but also to deliver water to neighboring Ciego de Avila.

Along with other reservoirs, the province has a total capacity of 1.3 billion cubic meters (345 billion gallons).

POPULATION

The province's population is currently estimated at 463,758, or 4.1% of all Cubans. With 68.8 inhabitants per sq km (178.2 per sq mile), Sancti Spiritus is less densely settled than the national average of 102.3 inhabitants per sq km.

Roughly half of the population lives along the Central Road and the Central Railroad, where tobacco and sugarcane have traditionally been grown, leaving relatively large areas depopulated; these areas are used for cattle and rice production.

Annual population growth among the espirituanos, as natives of this province are known, has slowed to only 0.3% between 1996 and 2006; during 2005 the province saw a net loss of 73 people.

As we anticipated four years ago (see CubaNews, July 2003, page 14), the collapse of the sugar industry--the province's largest employer--has had a negative impact on population growth; by contrast, Sancti Spiritus saw annual growth of 1.2% during the 1970s and 0.9% during the 1980s.

With 98,611 dwellers, (21% of the province's population), the capital is also called Sancti Spiritus, and it ranks as Cuba's 12th-largest city. It has seen its population drop by 0.5% annually since 1997.

Both the province's capital and its second city, Trinidad (population 41,293), were founded by Diego Velazquez in the 16th century.

The two architectural gems are among the earliest Spanish settlements in the Americas. Their relative isolation and slow pace of growth have helped preserve the colonial appeal of these towns, boosting their tourist potential.

Other important cities and towns in the province are Cabaiguan (30,135); Jatibonico (22,962); Fomento (17,000); Guayos and Yaguajay (10,000); Taguasco (8,000); Zaza del Medio, Meneses and Mayajigua (7,000); and Casilda and La Sierpe (5,000).

ECONOMY

The economy of Sancti Spiritus is based on farming, with limited industrial activity. The end of Soviet subsidies crippled the province, whose economy depended on large inputs of energy, machinery and raw materials. Croplands and industries suffered from prolonged paralysis and are now abandoned, with little hope of a rapid comeback.

Roughly three-quarters of the land, some 4,879 sq kms (1,885 sq miles) is agricultural, though 51% of this portion is unused. "Spontaneous pastures," a euphemism often used to describe vacant, overgrown tracts of land, cover nearly 30% of the territory; forests cover another 13%.

Sugarcane plantations, grazing ranches and tobacco farms are common in the high plains, while large rice paddies cover the lowlands south of the towns of La Sierpe and El Jibaro.

Coffee grows in the Escambray Mountains, but production has fallen sharply in the last few decades to under 5% of national output.

The downsizing of the sugar industry left Sancti Spiritus with three out of nine mills producing sugar; another two mills produce only molasses. Another two mills produce only molasses. This has slashed daily grinding capacity to only 60% of the 25,900-ton-a-day installed capacity the province boasted until 2002, when it accounted for 7% of national sugar production.

At its peak in the 1980s, sugar plantations covered 122,000 ha (300,000 acres) of Sancti Spiritus. Yet with 60,000 ha (148,300 acres), sugar cane is still king here, even after abandoning or converting to other uses some 36,000 ha (89,000 acres) of land.

The dismantled mills, which employed 8,000 people, are Remberto Abad (formerly La Vega); Simon Bolivar (Victoria); Siete de Noviembre (Natividad) and Aracelio Iglesias (Nela). The Obdulio Morales (Narcisa) and FNTA (Trinidad) mills now produce only molasses. All these mills were built between 1863 and 1915 in lowlands; nevertheless, records show they enjoyed an excellent performance and combined production of 160,000 tons 50 years ago.

In 1999, Sancti Spiritus produced roughly 257,000 tons of sugar, worth around $40 million at prevailing world prices--a far cry from the 500,000 tons produced in 1989 and valued in excess of $275 million at the preferential prices paid by the Soviets.

Inefficiency and soft market prices put recovery beyond the reach of the sugar industry. With daily grinding capacity of 11,340 tons, the Uruguay sugar mill (Jatibonico) is one of Cuba's most important mills, accounting for 75% of the sugar produced by the province. A refinery at the Ramon Ponciano (Santa Isabel) mill near Fomento can produce 42,000 metric tons a year.

Meanwhile, an alcohol distillery at the Melanio Hernandez (Tuinicu) mill produces 300 cases per day of 22 different brands of rum, and 60,000 liters per day of alcohol. In addition, torula yeast and press bagasse boards were produced at the recently dismantled Aracelio Iglesias and Simon Bolivar mills.

INDUSTRY

The Siguaney cement plant, opened in 1972 with Czech technology, accounted for 15% of Cuba's total cement production. Built for a capacity of 600,000 tons of cement a year, in 1989, it produced 573,000 tons and two years later was adapted to burn domestic crude. It reportedly enjoys the lowest production costs on the island.

One production line was refurbished in the late '80s with Japanese technology to make white cement; in 2002 it proudced 22,000 tons--far from its nominal capacity of 100,000 tons a year. Some 10,000 tons of white cement are currently exported.

The Sergio Soto Alba oil refinery in Cabaiguan opened in December 1947 when the nearby oilfields at Jatibonico began to be developed. After 1961, the refinery switched to burning imported Soviet oil but returned to domestic crude in 1996 after a period of near-paralysis.

The facility currently blends the local light crude--now pumped from oilfields at Ciego de Avila--with the heavy sour produced in Varadero. In 2002, the facility refined 750 barrels a day of domestic crude. The refinery also produces industrial oils, lubricants, kerosene, regular gasoline, PCV for electric transformers and other byproducts.

A paper mill at Jatibonico produces half of all notebooks used by Cuba's school system.

A fish plant capable of processing 15 tons a day was opened at Tunas de Zaza after Hurricane Michelle in 2001 destroyed the existing factory. Some 7,000 tons of lobsters are caught annually, while in 2001, the province's shrimp farms yielded 500 tons and shrimping on the open seas netted another 186 tons.

Spain's PescaFina Antartida sells $2 million worth of local shrimp in Europe, according to reports.

INFRASTRUCTURE

The old two-lane Central Highway and the Central Railroad link Sancti Spiritus to the rest of the island. The six-lane National Highway (with only two to four lanes in service here) ends at the village of Taguasco, serving only as a westbound link. A network of secondary roads and railroad branches reaches all settlements and economic hubs. Both roads and railroads are reportedly in poor condition.

Construction of the National Highway in the late 1970s cut driving time from Havana to the city of Sancti Spiritus from six and a half hours to four hours. Yet without adequate signaling, services or protection, the condition of this route for fast traffic is deplorable.

Port activity is limited to Casilda, with two berths along the south coast. Casilda handles some cargo, mainly cement, fuels, sugar and seafood. A civil airport at Sancti Spiritus offers limited domestic service, while the domestic airport at Trinidad was recently lengthened to serve medium-size passenger jets. Two minor airfields near San Pedro (south) and Mayajigua (north) serve local tourist spots.
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Article Details
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Author:Portela, Armando H.
Publication:CubaNews
Article Type:Geographic overview
Geographic Code:5CUBA
Date:Jun 1, 2007
Words:1392
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