National Geographic : 1947 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine From Baracoa we flew along a coast dim pled with round harbors and with deep rivers flowing into the Atlantic. Columbus explored these thoroughly and described them in his chronicles of the first voyage. In fact, yachts men cruising these waters have used his de scriptions, recorded by Las Casas, for navi gating their boats. Along the Oriente coast winds blow off shore at night and reverse during the daytime, the fresh northeasterly trades funneling into the harbor entrances. Columbus took advan tage of this. Leaving port, he got his ships under sail before dawn. Returning, he en tered in the daytime. Thus he had fair winds both ways. Sailormen still use these tactics. "We are flying past a vast treasure house of mineral wealth," Dr. Massip told me. "In these mountains of northeast Oriente some four billion tons of iron ore await develop ment, according to latest surveys." "Then Columbus was right when he re ported that red stones along this coast indi cated iron ore," I said. Nicaro Produces Nickel for Jet Engines "Nickel, too, is mined and refined here," Dr. Massip continued. "During the war, when nickel became so vital to United States' war industries, a new hush-hush nickel plant was built at Nicaro." Landing at Cayo Mambi, we hopped an other plane to Preston and then took a ferry out to Nicaro. The plane passed right over the big metallurgical plant, standing on a "bird's tongue" peninsula (Lengua de Pajaro). Here was a dramatic sight. From tall stacks reddish smoke plumes streamed out before the easterly trades, blowing in a pinkish cloud across the blue sky. A model village with red tiled roofs and gardens sprawled over the peninsula. "Ground was broken in an old pasture in September, 1942," Mr.-Forbes Wilson, the administrator of the Nicaro plant, told me. "Nine thousand workers waded ashore through the mangrove swamps. Houses had to be built, Bahia de Levisa dredged for big ships, and all materials imported. Yet 16 months later our first nickel oxide was produced. It was an extraordinary achievement." By a new and complicated process, still "under wraps," the red ore passes through drying kilns, furnaces, and tanks to emerge as green nickel oxide. Shipped in 65-pound bags to the United States, this nickel oxide toughens steel to make a heat-resistant alloy, now used for jet airplane engines and stainless steel. Toward the end of the war Cuba was pro ducing 10 percent of our nickel. Jumping back to Cayo Mambi in our "grasshopper" transport, we looked down on green fields of sugar cane. We could see ox teams hauling heavily loaded carts to a rail way. Miniature trains were puffing along a spiderweb of tracks to a big sugar mill with "Tanamo" written across its red roof. Smoke stacks belching told us that the mill was in operation-one of the few we had seen work ing, as most of the cane had been harvested and the "dead season" had begun (page 37). Landing not far from the big mill, we drove over to it and had lunch in the comfortable guesthouse. How Sugar Is Made Here we saw the cane enter one side of the mill and emerge as raw and granulated sugar at the other. Although Tanamo is not one of the largest, it is typical of Cuban mills. Hour after hour, day after day, a conveyor dumps the cane into the maws of the rollers, which cut it, crush it, and squeeze out its sweet juice (page 39). When it emerges, the crushed cane, known as bagasse, is fine and nearly dry. It fuels the mill's big boilers. The cane juice is first strained and analyzed to test its percentage of sugar. Then the liquid is limed and heated to precipitate impurities. It goes through an elaborate process of clarifying, evaporating to reduce moisture, and crystallizing. In a bank of centrifugals, the syrup is whirled rapidly. Mother liquor, molasses, is forced out through a screen, leaving yellowish crystals in the basket. This is raw sugar, the product of most Cuban mills. For household use it must be refined further. The molasses, or left-over liquor, is reboiled and put through the centrifugals to obtain a second crop of crystals. Again and again the molasses is reboiled and centrifuged until it no longer yields sugar. The final molasses, called "blackstrap," is distilled to make alcohol and rum. Some also goes into cattle feed. Cuba shipped 233, 684,199 gallons of molasses to the United States in 1945. At the time of my visit, Tanamo had just opened a brand-new refining plant. From it poured snow-white granulated sugar familiar to every housewife. Cuba will sell an estimated 3,768,000 tons of sugar to the United States this year. That represents 85 percent of her production. But we do not keep it all for ourselves some goes to the world sugar pool. Even so, our Cuban neighbor will fill nearly half of Uncle Sam's sugar bowl in 1946. Next year she will send still more.