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Current Ideas

Current Ideas / Dimas Castellanos
Posted on October 13, 2013

One hundred and twenty-five years after his death on August 11, 1888,
the scientific results that the eminent chemist, physiologist,
agronomist, industrial technologist and science writer Alvaro Reynoso y
Valdez bequeathed us are still on the waiting list. While the official
Cuban press pays exaggerated attention to events and people linked to
politics and wars, it limits mention of Reynoso as part of the
celebrated anniversaries without investigating his work or pressing for
his contributions to become productive results.

Alvaro Reynoso, one of the Cubans who collaborated through science for
the progress and formation of the basis of the Cuban nation, studied at
San Cristobal (Carraguao) college, graduated with a Bachelor of Science
from the Havana Royal and Literary , continued his studies at
the Sorbonne in Paris, where he graduated in 1856 and obtained a
doctorate, becoming one of the best chemists of his era.

From the earliest years of study he began to publish his scientific
results: a new procedure for the recognition of Iodine and Bromine;
diverse new combinations of ammonia in ferrocyanides; action of the
bases on salts and in particular on arsenides; separation of phosphoric
acid from its combinations with metallic oxides; the presence of sugar
in the urine of sick hysterics, epileptics and its relationship to
respiration; the effect of bromide on poisoning by curare (a poison used
by Indians to poison their arrows); studies about the artificial
breeding of freshwater fish, and others.

On graduating in 1856 some twenty of his works had been presented in
specialist publications in and . He was elected a
Corresponding Member of the Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural
Sciences of Madrid and the Royal Academy of the History of Spain, he
received the Royal Order “Professor of Chemistry Applied to
and Botany” from the Havana General Preparatory and the
“Professor of Enlarged Organic Chemistry” at the Central University of
Madrid, among many honors.

On returning to Cuba in 1858 with a laboratory endowed with the most
modern equipment and instruments, an excellent mineralogical collection
and a valuable scientific library, he took possession of the Chemistry
Chair and in 1859 replaced Jose Luis Casaseca as the director of the
Havana Institute of Chemical Investigations, an institution that he
converted into one of the world’s first agronomic stations.

Parallel with his investigative work he dedicated himself to writing. In
1868 he began to collaborate as scientific writer for the Marina Daily,
where he had a column in which he published articles about drinking
water; he reviewed the first trial carried out in Cuba in April 1863 of
the Fowler steam-powered plow, with which he began the mechanization of
sugar cane in Cuba; he was a writer of the Annals and Memories of the
Royal Development Board and the Royal Economic Society; he published in
the Magazine of Agriculture of the Ranchers Circle on the island of Cuba
and in other press organs.

Among his published works are: Details About Various Cuban Crops, where
he compiled his contributions about non-sugar cane agriculture such as
corn, coffee, cotton, tobacco; Progressive Studies on Various
Scientific, Agricultural, and Industrial Subjects, a collection of
articles published in the press about the cultivation of sugar cane in
all its phases, as well as experimentation plans by the Institute of
Chemical Investigations and the planting of sweet potatoes, yams, corn
and destined for human and animal consumption.

In the middle of the 19th century, when Cuba was first in the world in
production of sugar and the last in productivity, supporting his thesis
that the true making of sugar is in the reeds, he devoted himself to
resolving this contradiction. The results were gathered in his crowning
work Study of the Culture of Sugarcane where he integrated all the
related operations with the culture and harvest of the grass, from the
negative effect of the logging of virgin forests to fresh grinding for
avoiding alteration of the juices. This work published in 1862 was
re-published in Madrid in 1865, in Paris in 1878 and in Cuba in 1925
where it was re-printed in 1954 and 1959 in addition to being published
in Holland.

An aspect of his ideas which is barely mentioned, is that Reynoso
considered the autonomous participation of the Cubans in the political
estate reform of the colony as a legitimate demand. That’s why, in his
systematic analysis he never avoided the topic of agricultural property.
He considered, just the same as Francisco de Frias and Jose Antonio
Saco, the need to establish a sugar cane agriculture with native small
farmers and immigrants, where the incentive of ownership, much different
from the slave system, was a basic component to push forward the
modernization of the agricultural .

However, in the year 2001, when due to the continuous decrease in sugar
production, less than 3.5 million tons, the then Sugar Industry
Minister, General Ulises Rosales del Toro announced two projects to
reverse the situation: one, to restructure the sugar industry aimed at
achieving industrial performance of 11% or extracting from each 100 tons
of sugar cane, 11 tons of sugar; and the other one baptized with the
name of the distinguished scientist with the objective of reaching 54
tons of sugar cane per hectare. With both projects, as announced then,
Cuba could produce 6 million tons of sugar (the amount produced in Cuba
in 1948).

Towards that end, instead of taking into account all the elements which
participated in the production process as taught by Reynoso, some 100
sugar factories were closed, with the land distributed for the use of
other crops and sidestepping the damaging state monopoly on land
ownership. The amount of 2002-2003 harvest – the first after the
implementation of the “novel task and one of the worse of all times” –
was 2.1 million tons, barely half of the production in 1919.

From there and until the present time the industry inefficiency, the
unavailability of sugar cane, the low results of land usage and the high
cost of production per ton has repeated year after year. In the last
harvest, 2012-2013, the plan of 1.7 million tons was not reached for
many reasons, but especially because of the unresolved problem of the
land tenancy was attempted to be resolved through the leasing approach
known as usufruct, maintaining the inefficient State as owner and the
economy subordinated to politics and ideology; which shows not only in
the sugar production but in the agricultural production and all facets
of the economy.

Taken from: Diario de Cuba

14 August 2013

Source: “Current Ideas / Dimas Castellanos | Translating Cuba” –

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