SAN ANTONIO DEL VALLE, Cuba (AP) _ Leaves on withering banana plants finally are 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. Its food supply problem, however, 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. She sighed, tugging on her orange hair net.
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 the farm animals.
While Georges’ rains ended the months-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 also were the worst affected by the drought, blamed on the weather phenomenon El Nino.
Hurricane Georges killed five people, damaged a few bridges, destroyed half a dozen homes and flooded thousands more in Cuba. 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 Cuba.
``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 long has strived to provide a half-gallon of milk a day to every child under 7 years old.
Before Cuba lost most of its aid and trade with the demise of the Soviet Union, it provided its citizens virtually all the food they needed to survive _ free.
Those rations have since grown slim _ usually just rice, beans and sometimes a few eggs. Cubans must now supplement the 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 an estimated 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 grains _ usually beans or peas _ per month. That’s in addition to the extra rice, peas, bread and cooking oil the government was already providing citizens in drought regions.
He also 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 hard hit.
People here know that Granma province provides a good part of the bananas, a staple crop, consumed throughout this nation of 11 million residents.
``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 remained 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.″