The island plans to upgrade 11 of its 17 refineries, which produce up to 47 million gallons annually of ethanol from sugar cane, said Conrado Moreno, a member of Cuba's Academy of Sciences. The refineries currently produce alcohol for use in rum and other spirits, as well as medications and cooking on the island. But the improvements will give Havana the capacity to one day produce fuel for cars, Moreno told reporters at a conference on renewable energy. Ethanol produced in Cuba is not for cars now, but "in four or five years, we'll see," he said.
Castro has railed against a U.S.-backed plan to produce ethanol from corn for cars in a series of editorials published in state-run newspapers, claiming it will cause prices of farm products of all kinds to spike and make food too expensive for poor families around the globe.
Castro has not been seen in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery and stepping aside in favour of a government run by his 75-year-old brother Raul, the defence minister. Officials insist his health is improving.
In contrast to Fidel Castro, who has depicted corn-produced ethanol for cars as a potential global catastrophe, Moreno conceded the variety produced from sugar cane could bring economic opportunity to some "isolated communities" in Cuba.
Brazil is the world's leading producer of ethanol from sugar cane. In March, it signed an agreement with the United States to promote ethanol production in Latin America and create international quality standards to allow it to be traded as a commodity like oil.
That agreement helped spark the editorials from Castro, which have been read repeatedly on state television and radio. In them, Castro distinguishes between the cane ethanol Cuba produces and the corn-based biofuel common in the U.S.
The 80-year-old revolutionary released another signed opinion to foreign journalists Tuesday night, saying the damaging effects of producing ethanol from corn were not new.
"The dangers to the environment and the human species are topics on which I have been mediating for years," Castro wrote. "What I never imagined was the immense risk."
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