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Cuba says its sugar harvest is worst in 105 years

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HAVANA — Cuba said Wednesday that this year's sugar harvest is the least productive in more than a century — a scathing assessment that follows the firing of the head of an industry that was once a symbol of the nation.

A report in the Communist Party newspaper Granma said the harvest fell short of expectations by 850,000 tons, though it did not specify what the goal had been.

It said there had not been "such a poor sugar campaign" since 1905. It did not cite figures, but the Cuban census then reported 1.23 million tons of sugar were harvested in the 1905-1906 season and 1.44 million for 1906-1907.

Cuba reported a harvest of just 1.5 million tons in 2008 and has not released figures for 2009.

The island once was a world leader in sugar, annually producing 6 million to 7 million tons and the communist government once made the annual harvest a point of revolutionary pride, regularly sending brigades of office workers from the cities out into the countryside to boost output.

The collapse of the Soviet Bloc combined with a continuing U.S. embargo to erase the country's biggest guaranteed markets and low global commercial prices undermined the industry, which also has been short on investment.

Sugar industries elsewhere in the Caribbean also have suffered.

Cuban officials have continually tried to increase efficiency if not output, but Monday's ouster of Sugar Minister Luis Manuel Avila indicates they have not had the desired success.

The government said Avila had "asked for his removal, recognizing the deficiencies in his work."

Granma said the island now has 750,000 hectares (1.9 million acres) dedicated to sugar and 61 mills, but only 10 of the mills met production goals.

It blamed the Sugar Ministry for "lack of control," and blasted officials for lacking "objectivity" in planning.