Twenty Issues For a Green Agenda
María López Vigil
A Cuban fable of african origin tells that one day, a tocoloro bird began to think about going in search of the end of the world. The first thing he did was go to the top of a hill and look, but his vision got lost in the distance and there was nothing.
So he decided to find other birds to search with him. He found the wild pigeon, the bluejay, the woodpecker, the butterfly bird and the owl. And he invited them to fly together. They flew so far that the sky advised them prudently: "You're searching for something that you will not find." But the tocoloro paid no attention to the warning.
The caravan of birds flew and flew and flew until they got to the Valley of Silence, in Pinar del Río, at the extreme western edge of the island of Cuba. The tocoloro looked to the horizon, saw only blue water and thought: "Without a doubt, this is it." And he convinced all his bird friends as well.
The wild pigeon proposed that they leave a sign there, and all agreed. Since the butterfly bird has feathers of seven colors, he painted a beautiful rainbow at the island's tip. And it is said that since then, that rainbow is always seen whenever it rains, there where the birds thought the world ended.
Many people today think, like the tocoloro, that the world is ending in Cuba, that "the end of history" proclaimed by many lacks only its final chapter, to be written by Cuba. They still see the rainbow of hope painted over the socialist island, but suspect that it is ephemeral, that imminent storms will dull it. Some fear and others hope that the Cuban experiment is ever more fragile and will eventually succumb, that the revolution is coming slowly but inexorably to its end.
Not the End of the World,Perhaps they don't know that there's a new revolution in Cuba today; it's not making much noise and not very many people are aware of it. It's an ecological revolution, still full of contradictions, still very fragile, but...
But Another Revolution
The fundamental logic of the evolution of life is not, as Darwin initially deduced, that the strongest species are the only ones who can relate to and join up with other living things. The explanation for the flexibility of the smallest, most fragile and weakest is that they have the most need of others. The imperial and antisocial dinosaurs could not adapt to the traumatic planetary changes after dominating the earth for 140 million years, but the smaller mammals could and so could the fragile insects. For only 40,000 years, Homo Sapiens, the weakest mammal of all, has not stopped adapting itself, as well as adapting and readapting the environment in which he lives.
Today, in this epoch of change, Homo Sapiens faces the greatest of dilemmas: will it know how to administer the great power it controls and will it be able to domesticate its infinite desires so that it not hopelessly ruin its earthly habitat?
Cuba's crisis is unique and specific. But while there is no country in a similar situation on the world map, Cuba's current problems also reflect facets of the crisis of Western civilization, whether in its socialist or capitalist version, that our world is living today.
The ecological challenge, the dilemmas that emerge from an environmental view of the crisis, are interwoven through all the threads of Cuban reality. But it's not the end of the world. And it could be the beginning of another world. Crises also signify opportunity. In Cuba's case there are actions and options that leave space for hope. I have here 20 issues--data, good ideas, errors, projects, essays--for a green agenda for the Cuban revolution.
I The Greatest Ecological CatastropheIn the beginning, all the lands of Gaia--Mother Earth--were rich. So were the lands of the small island of Cuba. The German scientist Leo Waibel said years ago, "The three natural regions that coexist in the island, totally different, make Cuba a miniature continent." He knows well the contents of this mini continent, almost uninhabited at the time of the Conquest of America. When the universalization imposed by the Western model of civilization, now in crisis, was initiated 500 years ago, Cuba's few inhabitants still lived in the Stone Age.
Those who came in search of gold did not find it in this, the greatest of the Antilles islands. What did they find then? The finding that convinced them the most was the strategic position of the island, "key to the Gulf." In just a few years, the autochthonous population had disappeared, victim of the brutal confrontation with the new and violent civilization. Cuba became the arrival and departure point for expeditions to conquer the rest of America or for ships loaded with cargos of gold and silver found by conquerors in other parts. Later came the waves of European emigration and the ships loaded with African slaves.
After four hundred years of colonization, Columbus would not have recognized the island he landed at on his first trip and called "Juana." The countryside had totally changed. Half of the lush Cuban forests had disappeared. Its precious woods adorned churches and Spanish palaces and European castles or had been transformed into ships that sailed the oceans or, attacked by pirates, sank in them. By the 18th century the forests began to turn into smoke and ash as they gave way to His Sweet Majesty Sugar and fueled the mills that ceaselessly ground up the cane.
The devastation speeded up after independence in 1902. In the 57 years of "free" Cuba before the revolution, sugar and irresponsibility went on, axe in hand: by 1959 only 14% of the original forests remained.
Reforestation: The First DecisionPerhaps because the Cuban guerrillas had their sanctuary in the mountains, where the greatest green survivors of centuries of tree felling were found, the revolution's first "environmental" step was to reforest the whole country. Ecological measure? Environmental consciousness? No one spoke of ecology then and the consciousness was national--and humanist. But whatever that intuition that defends life was, it acted immediately, and in a completely disordered way at first. There was not a Cuban who didn't plant a tree at some point, somewhere, in the most varied local initiatives. In 1987 the reforestation was organized through the Manatí Plan: for eight years, organizations, institutions, contingencies, primary schools, universities, neighbors planted 3 billion trees of many different species on almost 700,000 hectares. The military planted the most.
The revolution noted the tremendous achievement of having halted Cuba's greatest ecological catastrophe: centuries of deforestation. A fifth of the island had been covered with trees--a green record in Latin America, and a level close to what scientists consider to be the ideal for the Cuban case: forests in 25 30% of the territory.
But all that is exceeded in quantity can be lacking in quality, and any massive program, no matter how appropriate, runs that risk. According to official information made public in 1995, half of the billions of trees planted under the Manatí plan did not survive because the campaign was not accompanied by other actions to maintain and care for the planted trees. Today, the greater threat is the search for firewood for cooking, provoked by the fuel shortage characterizing the Cuban crisis.
II Distributed LandsIf the loss of forests was an ecological catastrophe, the concentration of land ownership was a catastrophe of similar proportions. When the revolution triumphed, 8% of property owners, including a good sized group of US citizens, owned 80% of Cuban agricultural lands, which had been turned into extensive sugar cane and cattle haciendas.
So when the revolution began, in addition to deciding to recover the forest, it was also decided to redistribute the land through an agrarian reform. Both were essentially ecological measures, in that the land distribution sought to build the base for a more equitable development. But it began with the heavy load of mono crops and the goal of an extensive agricultural development model, in which modern state enterprises--large areas and ever greater mechanization--would dominate over all other production forms. It was also an intensive model, trusting in the massive use of chemicals to obtain ever more rapid and voluminous harvests. Since this Cuban experiment was made possible by the sustained Soviet investment of fuel, machinery and inputs, the country lived an authentic agricultural revolution for years.
Transformation in AgricultureWho supplied the water? Cuba has very little fresh water. Its rivers are short and of small volume. The soils, tremendously eroded and salinized after centuries of deforestation, lost much of the rain water. It is believed that over 70% of Cuba's agricultural lands are still affected today by some level of erosion. Droughts and cyclones, followed by flooding, sounded the alarm bells.
The revolution rapidly began to develop what Fidel Castro called "voluntary hydraulics." Filling the country with dams and mini dams to guarantee irrigation for agriculture throughout the year became an obsession. "Build hydraulic works," said Fidel in 1963, "until not one drop escapes to the sea! The sea cannot have even one drop of freshwater that falls here on the land! We have to reach the day when we do not lose one drop!"
Thirty years later more than a few drops were lost, but Cuba had multiplied its water damming capacity by 200, and the 160,000 hectares under irrigation in 1959 had become over a million. A spectacular achievement. And as an extra resource, artificial cloud seeding with silver iodide was successfully developed by 1982.
The agricultural and cattle transformation had indisputable results in production volume. Not only in sugar, which continued to be the Absolute Queen, but in a list that included citrus, rice, coffee, plantains, milk, beef and eggs. Cuba exported great volumes of agricultural products to socialist Europe. Through agroindustry and its agroexport model the island was invited into that far away region's economic bloc (CAME) and from its member countries received technical support for a model that, although not economically profitable because agriculture was based on state subsidies, did produce quantities and qualities never before seen on the island.
All Cubans ate more and better, but with a certain monotony. Their diet, especially in the cities, was always lacking in fruits and vegetables, the cultivation of which did not fit in with extensive agriculture or with trade totally centralized by the state; there were years in which a truck bringing produce from rural areas had to pass through up to seven bureaucratic controls before reaching the consumer market. Post harvest losses were enormous.
Despite everything, agriculture experienced profound changes. But even with all these changes, food security was neglected. When Cuba went into its crisis with the fall of socialist Europe, 57% of the proteins Cubans ate were imported.
III Crisis in AgricultureThe distortions and limits of Cuban agrarian policy were revealed when the crisis hit. "Three things have characterized it since 1960," analyzes Peter Rosset, FAO advisor and director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy in Oakland, California: "sugar, state enterprises and a fanatical passion for intensive use of the fuel based chemicals and technologies that typify conventional modern agriculture."
Very little oil has been found in Cuba, yet the huge and highly mechanized state enterprises--many of them sugar centers--required great amounts of oil. The USSR made a deal with Cuba to exchange sugar for oil at preferential prices. It was a closed circle that became a vicious one when the USSR dissolved and Cuba lost 85% of its commercial trade in one fell swoop.
Audacious steps had to be taken after years (1991 94) of attempting to deal with the scarcity crisis by what was called the "food plan" proved fruitless. That plan consisted of making numerous investments and moving massive numbers of voluntary workers to the almost paralyzed traditional agriculture sector. The most transcendental and promising new measure was to give over half of the country's cultivable land--up to now large state enterprises--to its workers in usufruct so that they could organize cooperatives and produce. Thus thee UBPCs came into being. They emerged as a top down decision due to the crisis and not from the bottom up in response to workers' demands, but they were born. At the same time, non state agricultural markets were opened throughout the country. After decades of speeches against the market, which was totally absent from economic plans, the laws of supply and demand came into play once again. With these sane measures, food production has been slowly increasing and its distribution has improved as well.
Agroecological RevolutionAs recently as 1990, Fidel Castro staunchly defended an extensive and highly mechanized agricultural policy: "We have very solid ideas and a total conviction that this is what has to happen in agriculture!" The crisis taught everyone humility. But at the same time it opened doors to another, more ecological vision. And although not everyone has passed through these doors which can no longer be closed, more and more people are starting to understand. The intelligence of Cuban men and women, strengthened and empowered by the revolution, started looking for the clues to solutions.
Petroleum intensive technology and imported chemicals gave way to technology intensive in national wisdom. What had been laboratory experiments went out to conquer Cuba's fields. Rosset himself states that "the conversion of an industrial agriculture to an organic or semi organic agriculture on the largest scale the world has ever known" is developing in Cuba today. As early as 1991, 56% of Cuban agricultural lands were already being treated with biological methods.
Tractors, paralyzed by the lack of fuel, tires or parts, gave way to oxen. One hundred thousand bulls were castrated in the first months to turn them into oxen. Cuban technology began to develop the multiple and combined plows of iron that turn over a lot of soil but respect the land. Throughout the country new soil management practices multiplied, with crop and pasture rotation. Cuba became the first country in the world to apply an azotic bacterial biofertilizer, made on the island, on a massive scale. In 1992 this led to a doubling of tomato, onion and cabbage production. That same year worms in over 170 worm cultivation centers produced nearly 100,000 tons of fertilizer. By 1994 more than 200 small scale manufacturing centers were producing biopesticides for local use.
There are now 14 bio factories in Cuba, one in each province, which make biological fertilizers and pesticides. They supply everything from the big enterprises and cooperatives to organoponic and community gardens. The machinery in these centers is Cuban built, and there are sufficient technicians in the country to maintain and develop them.
Bacteria that devour larva, fungi that attack damaging insects, parasites that live off of other parasites, bacilli, microorganisms, all are produced and modified biotechnologically. Millions of vitro plants without viruses have also been developed to improve the species of plantains, pineapples, sugar cane. Potatoes the size of a bean and sweet potatoes of multiple protein quality are "fabricated." The fish called tilapias grow 80% faster and calves are vaccinated at birth through their mothers' colostrum. Cuban genetic engineering and biotechnology centers discover something new every day.
The Wagon's Advancing, but Could Get StuckThis "agro ecological revolution" was not born directly from science. It was born from the new vision of development that the crisis is generating. The appreciation and rescue of traditional agricultural methods is essential to this vision. Interesting agro sustainable experiences began to emerge from the forgotten and relegated peasant culture all over the island. Science and the discoveries generated by Cuban scientists' talents have been put at the service of these experiences. Today scientific knowledge and traditional wisdom have joined. They are the two wheels of a wagon that is still not moving as fast as many would like, but is at least going in the right direction.
The wagon could get stuck in the road. "When this horrible crisis passes, we know that once again a pile of tractors will return to the country," nostalgically and determinedly claim more than a few peasants whose consciousness has been changed by three decades of mechanization.
Current distortions of the Cuban economy could also hold back the wagon. There is the problem of relative prices, for example. The bio factories--known as CREEs--sell organic fertilizer to the UBPCs at real prices, which cover production costs. But donated chemical fertilizers also sometimes come into those same cooperatives, where they are sold at prices based on the fictitious official exchange rate of one peso to a dollar. Distorted prices distort consciousness; in peasants' eyes, the chemicals appear better because they are cheaper and because their results are known much faster. The peasants dream of using them again when the "horrible crisis" passes.
Until the agro ecological achievements penetrate not only the soil but also awareness, almost everything remains to be done. Transforming what for many is only a temporary tactic into a strategy for the future is the challenge, one that is educational and profoundly revolutionary.
Economic Times are not Ecological TimesImpatience is also weighing down. Results can be seen, but they do not yet shine in the areas of speed or productivity. Nor could they. One does not quickly recover the fertility of soil exhausted by chemicals or promptly reestablish the balance between beneficial and damaging insects after pesticide abuse. "Empirical evidence in the United States and elsewhere," says Rosset, "demonstrates that organic farming methods can take between 3 and 7 years from their initiation to reach previous productivity levels."
Nature's times and rhythms never match those of economics. The urgency of Cuba's crisis makes this contradiction even more tense. The example is recent: in the first years of the crisis, the Cienfuegos chemical fertilizer plant, the country's largest and a supplier to sugar cane plantations, had to shut down. The no longer existing USSR was not sending the nitrogen inputs the factory needed. The fertilizer scarcity was one of several factors behind the rapid drop in production levels year after year. Even though bio fertilizers discovered in Cuba were being successfully used on the sugar cane, producing them in sufficient quantity for the million hectares of cane requires years; and then one must wait years more for the results.
The crisis was pressuring. Despite all the transformations, the Cuban economy still depends on sugar, yet the 1995 harvest was horrendous. This downward spiral could not continue. To assure improvement in the 1996 harvest, Cuba requested and got significant international financing, (high interest short term loans), part of which was earmarked for the purchase of agrochemicals for the cane. Rapid results were needed urgently. And they delivered. The harvest turned around at last: 4.4 million tons. The economy needed that amount to breathe easier. To get it, the country had to cave in to the demands of the economic times and abandon the ecological times.
But losing a battle doesn't mean losing a war, even in the ecological arena. Winning the war would mean combining ecological timing ever more closely with productivity requirements, and with a new awareness among those working the land. "And we're capable of doing it," Ricardo Sánchez, Vice Minister of Science, Technology and the Environment, claims confidently. "We won't turn our back on all of the recent advances in organic agriculture. All that we have learned, which is a lot and will be even more, came to Cuba to stay."
IV Fishing: OverexploitationIn the center of the Caribbean Sea, Cuba is surrounded by fabulous riches. At the time of the revolutionary triumph, however, they had barely been studied. Cuba's Oceanography Institute was formed in 1965 with a group of researchers and an old yacht. The revolution also initiated Cuba's fishing industry. Until then, fishing was only done in small boats that did not journey beyond the insular platform.
Like agriculture, the new fishing industry developed intensively. Today, official Cuban reports recognize that "the platform is close to the maximum sustainable exploitation level" and speak of "overexploitation of some of the most important resources." They also report a willingness to reverse the damages by "changes in the fishing strategy," "fishing regulations," and "a reordering of fishing efforts."
Mangroves and Coral Reefs: Two TreasuresThe mangrove swamp, that kindergarten of the ocean where so many marine species live out their infancy, is abundant in Cuba. This "first ecological frontier" occupies almost 5% of Cuban territory. Some 26% of the island's forests are mangroves and Cuba is ranked ninth in the world in mangrove volume. The Center for Coastal Ecosystem Research was built in Coco Key in 1992, and lists the mangrove among its priorities. Since early 1980 Cuba has been working to halt the deterioration of its abundant mangroves, controlling tree felling and contamination and preventing construction in the coastal zones as well as reforesting with different mangrove varieties.
The Southern Dike, a work of major importance from the end of the 1980s on the coasts of Havana province, can, according to different specialists, help detain the salinization of soil and protect the water in the phreatic mantle. This benefits mangroves, which thrive on a permanent and delicate equilibrium between fresh and salt water.
Studies carried out throughout the world permit the calculation that the greenhouse effect and climatic changes will cause the Caribbean Sea to rise 20 centimeters by the year 2030. Various Cuban organizations have already taken this information into account in planning new projects. And they know that the mangroves are a strategic protective barrier against the present and future dashings of the sea.
They are also protecting the coral ecosystems nourished by the mangrove. Cuba is rich in coral reefs, the most ancient ecosystems on earth, which sustain more plant and animal phyla than any other ecosystem and offer the greatest medicinal potential. The three largest coral reefs in the world are located in the Sabana Camaguey archipelago at the northern end of the island, which is 465 kilometers long and contains over 4,000 keys and small islands.
V Tourism: Accelerated DevelopmentCuba has enormous tourist potential. It offers hundreds and hundreds of miles of excellent beaches, an abundance of paradise like scenery, the colonial past preserved in many zones, the survival of African culture, its people, and also the footprints being left by the revolution. But only in recent years has the revolution has proposed developing tourism thoroughly. It is doing so now, and with the same intensive style that it puts into other economic tasks. It is even promoting tourism as the sector that should substitute sugar for the country's export profits.
Before, in the 1960s, 1970s and even the 1980s, tourism was limited and marked by a certain stigma: it was seen as a source of environmental, and especially ideological contamination. Tourists were potential carriers of capitalist viruses. Today, economic policy has gone to the other extreme. The depth of the crisis and the urgency of earning foreign currency have quickly swung the pendulum.
Development has come fast. In only a few years hotel capacity has multiplied and tourist activity has had sustained growth of 17% since 1991. Foreign investment in Cuba today favors the tourist sector, key to the reactivation observed in the Cuban economy--a GDP growth of 9.6% in the first half of 1996.
The scale of values presented in official speeches has undergone a brusque change. The excessive stress on tourists--in fact, on foreigners in general, whether tourists or not--in hotels, restaurants, stores and any other type of service, on the street, everywhere--may be "contaminating" Cuban society by causing strong rejection attraction. This degrades national sentiment, putting it on the defensive and eroding it. Perhaps the decontamination will begin when the Cuban population is truly integrated into the "tourist system," and tourism stops being viewed by the state as an "enclave" or "apartheid" activity.
Has the Environment Suffered with Tourism's Growth?Some environmentalists view tourism as one of the most contaminating economic activities. Without getting into that debate, it must be admitted that controls on where to build hotels, treatment of residues, etc., were not very strict at the beginning of the tourist boom brought by the crisis. Today they are, and both new investors and those who built earlier are being made to fulfill them. Projects are now studied with more rigor. And the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment is better equipped with laws, experience and political will than its predecessor, the National Commission for the Protection of the Environment and Rational Use of Natural Resources (COMARNA).
"Nature does not have to be destroyed in order to enjoy it. Nature can be enjoyed and preserved, be enjoyed and even enriched. We are working based on these ideas," stated Fidel Castro at the inauguration of a large hotel in Coco Key in December 1993. It was one of his most detailed speeches on the tourist issue. On that occasion, Fidel referred enthusiastically to the Spanish firm that had invested in the hotel: "Thanks to the experience of groups like the Guitart group, we can enjoy the luxury of developing the ideal, perfect tourism." Perhaps, just perhaps, he was talking about ideal tourism in relation to the environment, but it certainly didn't end up so perfect. The Guitart group is no longer in Cuba; its double bookkeeping was discovered shortly afterward in a scandal that was seldom mentioned in public.
Stone Causeways: a Controversial IssueThere is debate in Cuba--although barely in the mass media--about the advantages and disadvantages of tourism or of different types of tourism. One of the many controversial issues has to do with the famous causeways. For many years, with a developmentalist motivation linked to future tourist plans, Fidel Castro, in the purest voluntarist style, promoted the building of causeways connecting solid coastal zones with nearby keys and some keys with others. The construction system consisted of putting huge boulders in the sea to build a road on top. They have been Pharaoh type engineering works, very costly in materials and human effort, and have been of various designs, some less respectful of nature, others more. Experience has been accumulating between the first 2 kilometer causeway built in Sabinal, which devastated the ecosystem, and the so called "ecological bridge" in the Caibarién causeway, designed to protect--at least in 60 meters of road--the mangroves and the area where the fish spawn.
"But all the causeways," one ecologist told me, "damage the circulation of sea water in the fragile coastal sandbars. All of them. The Institute of Ecology and Systematics has studied them and the conclusions are generally negative, although recent reports speak, for example, of a massive return of flamingos to causeway zones. Is it an improved ecology or the cusp of the parabola that precedes ecological collapse? We don't know yet. We'll be able to evaluate better in about ten years, but then there will be no going back. For years the causeways were a mechanism of political power, of influence, projection. All the provinces wanted to build one and officials were running around talking about them. It was very difficult to stop this in the name of the environment. Luckily, the final causeway is almost finished."
VI Havana: A Filthy BayOne of Cuba's most frequently mentioned environmental problems is the age old contamination of Havana Bay. It is one of the dirtiest bays in Latin America and perhaps in the world.
Before the revolution, apart from the sugar industry, Cuba's industrialization was in reality Havana's industrialization. And all Havana industries of those first 60 years of the century used US technology which lacked depolluting mechanisms. All the factories dumped their wastes in the Luyano River, the Almendares River or directly into the sea. The bay, in addition to the permanent port movement, received residues from the refinery, the paper factory, chemical plants, the food and construction industries...
The revolution did not improve the situation very much. It was hard, with the blockade, to convert factories that used US technology. And the new ones being built basically used Soviet technology, also characterized by high fuel consumption and lack of depolluting mechanisms. Newer Western technologies, less aggressive against the environment, were added to a few, but the majority of new installations were built in the interior while the most obsolete industries stayed in Havana.
There was awareness of this critical environmental problem. In 1975 a British bay cleaning fleet came to Havana. For five years seven of its ships stayed in the Havana waters, dedicated to the complex cleaning task. Those were the first steps. Years later a costly barrier was built in front of the oil refinery, which had dumped its wastes straight into the bay since it was built in the 1940s. The containment barrier was later improved, and various Havana factories now have oxidation pools to treat their wastes.
Today it can be said that the factories in Havana and other cities that were polluting are no longer doing so, are doing so to a lesser degree, or are in the process of installing efficient depolluting mechanisms. For the sugar industry, which generates high levels of organic contamination, important decontamination plans are under way in each of the refineries. Some already have hydrolysis mechanisms that purify the juice. The process has had to take place in stages so as not to paralyze industrial activity, since the economy would not bear it. A more permanent solution--relocating the industries--has already been considered, but it is also more complex and the stages would have to be even more gradual.
The Integral Capital Development Group goes beyond the bay in its ambitious Ecopolis project. This project, aimed at making all of Havana--beautiful but very neglected for more than 30 years--an ecological city, includes total recovery of the bay, at a cost of some $22 million. There is hope, since the bay is still alive. Although what has been done is not enough, there is proof that various fish species are now living beneath the two meters of still highly contaminated waters,
Guantanamo: Ecological AssaultThe problems of Havana Bay also exist, to a greater or lesser degree, in Cuba's other bays--Cienfuegos, Matanzas, Cárdenas, Nipe, Santiago de Cuba, Nuevitas, Mariel, Puerto Padre--and for the same reason: waste dumping. The solutions being sought are moving in the same direction and are coming up against similar obstacles.
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba's third largest, deserves special consideration. It has been proposed that the 384 mile Guantanamo Maisí coastal strip in Oriente, at the extreme southern end of the island, be declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Some 30% of Cuba's plant and animal species live there, including 2,000 plant species unique to Cuba or the Caribbean, many of them cactus varieties. This coastal zone--where Haiti is visible in the distance to the naked eye--is Cuba's driest and hottest, and is considered the garden of Cuba's prehistoric flora.
The US Naval Base has been located there since 1902. This military installation occupies 66 square miles, 18 of them swamp, over 12 miles of coasts and 20 keys. The base not only offends Cuba's national sovereignty, but also deteriorates one of Cuba's most valuable but fragile ecosystems with its wastes, its disproportionate air and maritime traffic and a shooting range that ate part of the swamp.
The ecological challenge will begin the day the United States finally returns the base to Cuba because, as a US report says, "the clean up of the environmental devastation caused by military bases requires very complex engineering projects." The report refers to US bases situated in the United States, where the Environmental Protection Agency is fighting to close 100 of them, but it is also applicable to Guantanamo, where a project of that type would naturally be even more costly.
VII Petroleum: The Base of DevelopmentThe development model initiated in Cuba with the revolution got its energy from massive oil consumption. Until the crisis, the USSR supplied Cuba with hundreds of millions of tons of it, together with the most diverse machinery and industrial technologies, all oil guzzlers. With the construction of thermo electric plants--which consume oil--95% of the country was electrified. Practically the entire Cuban population could enjoy light at night and televisions and refrigerators in their homes. Agriculture was almost totally mechanized. The country began to industrialize more equitably--not only Havana--and communication was improved with roads, ports and airports.
That oil had to travel six thousand miles to get to Cuban ports, in exchange for over valued sugar. It was sold at "political" prices far below the international market. Cuba's oil supply entered an irreparable crisis with the end of the USSR: the blackouts, an avalanche of bicycles, paralyzed factories, all came quickly, forcing a reevaluation of the country's entire operations.
Is there oil in Cuba or not? With the crisis, several large businesses from Canada, Sweden, France and Great Britain began to invest millions of dollars to explore the island's northern coast for oil. After a period of expectations and much official publicity, the international oil prospecting profile lowered. But it continues, tenacious and convinced, in the same areas, because there is security that oil is there, lots of it and high quality. Before World War II, US citizens explored that same coast, between Havana and Las Villas, and found oil, but they declared it a "strategic reserve," sealed the wells and took the maps and documentation. Some US technicians who participated in these jobs and who today are elderly have told the story. This is why the transnationals, who also know the story, continue working like moles in the sea, searching for the black treasure.
The oil found in Cuba up to now, which began to be exploited and refined before the crisis, covers barely 10% of national rationed demand--10 million tons annually--and has a high sulphur level. The residue remaining in the vats makes the refining process difficult.
Oil Spills: Tragedy and OpportunityCuba has had two important oil related accidents in recent years. In 1986, in the Cienfuegos Bay, the pipes carrying the oil from the refinery to the supertankers split and there was a spill in the ocean. Action was taken rapidly, containing the oil in one of the bay's pockets before extracting it. The positive result was the research this spill generated. The Oceanography Institute accelerated its study and laboratory "fabrication" of the marine bacteria and microbes that feed off of petroleum and by doing so clean the water in record time, since they reproduce in undetainable geometric proportions with so much food within reach.
This biodegradant cannot be imported because the temperature, salinity and conditions necessary for bacteria reproduction are specific in each zone around the world. Cuba, which has studied its specifications very carefully, has a bank of pure stock and mixed crops of these miniature oil eaters, and is using them as environmental allies. It also cultivates sulphur eating bacteria, charged with cleaning oil refinery machinery.
The other accident occurred some years earlier and was much more serious. There are still suspicions today that it might have been intentional. A tanker with a US flag headed to Texas ran aground and sunk in waters south of Pinar del Río, west of Cuba, where lobsters were cultivated and the caguama turtles were protected. It was an ecological disaster. The waters could not be fished for years. It could have been worse: the black tide threatened to extend to the valuable zone of the Guanahacabibes Biosphere Reserve. The currents were allies of life, however, and prevented it.
VIII Juaragua: The Work of the CenturyEven before the oil crisis, Cuba was working on various alternative energy pilot projects: solar, biogas, wind, but giving particular importance to hydroelectric energy. Also before the crisis, a high percentage of its more than 150 sugar refineries used the cane refuse as fuel. It was known that there is a fabulous turbo reserve in the marshes of Zapata and Lanier, one of the largest in America. But these marshes have been respected: they are Protected Areas.
In 1986 the greatest bet was placed on another alternative: nuclear energy. That year what was known as "the work of the century" began--the Juragua nuclear plant in Cienfuegos. With a million dollar Soviet investment and a technology used by various Western European countries, unrelated to Chernobyl, construction was begun. The plan, scheduled to begin operations before the year 2000, was to have four reactors; when the first began functioning it would produce 15% of national energy demands, annually saving the country 700,000 tons of oil.
But the USSR disappeared before the end of the century and before the work concluded, leaving it paralyzed in September 1992, when its uncommon profile--"Stalinist architecture" someone called it--already stood out against the elegant neo Classical profile of Cienfuegos. At the moment of the collapse, 90% of the first reactor had been finished.
There have been comings and goings in these years. After spending $1.2 billion and training hundreds of technicians, workers and professionals to run the plant, the Cuban state finds it hard to give it all up. But Cuba cannot continue alone. Neither can the new Russia. A European consortium has visited the unfinished project several times to calculate the costs and conditions to continue it. In the meantime, the project still needs maintenance, and with that goal Russia gave Cuba a $30 million credit, while the technicians' city built around it has been left empty and some of these nuclear science professionals emigrated, with their specialized knowledge, to other countries.
Juragua has also been visited in recent years by commissions of experts from the World Organization of Nuclear Operators and the International Atomic Energy Organization. All have unanimously certified the security of the construction, the type of reactors and the professional capacity of the Cuban personnel.
Nuclear Energy: Yes or No"I think that Juragua will be no more than a project and I'm happy to see it that way," an ecologist told me. "It will be a monument to a certain concept of development, like the mausoleum that concluded our collaboration with CAME. It makes me happy, because any error is catastrophic with nuclear energy and getting rid of the wastes is problematic. Many of us think this way in Cuba, although the Juragua issue is never debated here in public. It's taboo."
Taboo because of its political implications. US Cubans of the most active and violent sector of Miami Cuban exiles have made the definitive closure of the nuclear plant one of their positions and periodically speak of the "danger" that Juragua would represent to Florida. Cuba could make the same accusation: there are 15 nuclear plants in Florida and Louisiana that "threaten" the Cuban population. Accidents have already occurred at one of them, the obsolete Turkey Point. Cuba could also note the problem of acid rain that periodically falls on the western end of the island, depending where the wind blows, which comes from pollution generated in the United States.
Vice Minister Ricardo Sánchez presented the dilemma: "Which is better? To carefully manage a nuclear plant or to let the country be deforested? It's very easy to say that we can't have a nuclear plant from France, when 50% of France's energy is nuclear generated. Or from the United States, with its 100 nuclear plants! If everyone who was so concerned came and said to us, 'Don't do it, but here's the billion dollars that you already invested to now invest in solar energy or anything else,' we'd be willing to look at that proposal. But the North never does this with the South. They never give up anything yet they want to control our behavior. This is not only an environmental problem, it's also one of sovereignty."
Cuba's nuclear program was not exhausted at the unfinished Juragua. In April 1995 Cuba finally signed the Tlatelolco Treaty, in which the countries of America promise to use nuclear energy exclusively for peaceful purposes. Cuba had refused to sign for years, not because its nuclear program had military objectives but because the United States had not signed. Today, the crisis has reduced Cuba's nuclear program and it is prioritizing only its application to medicine and biotechnology.
IX Energy from the SunThe problem of energy self sufficiency is the key to any development model. Cuba's revolutionary model did not take this into account. The key now will be to combine other alternative energy sources within Cuba's reach as efficiently as possible.
There is sun throughout Cuba and throughout the year. The sun is the only energy source for the earth; all fuels we know are children of the sun. A factory in Santiago de Cuba makes solar panels that are successfully used in the mountain zones. There are already experiences with total or partial electrification of many rural communities based only on solar energy. At the end of 1996, 100 "family doctor" clinics are functioning in Cuba thanks to the sun. Solar energy has resolved the functioning of centers like the Institute of Plant Biotechnology Research in Las Villas, the most advanced in Latin America. No "blackouts" detain the work. The sun maintains the greenhouse where vitro plants resistent to viruses are developed.
Although all of this is a great advance, the photovoltaic cells for the panels made in Cuba continue to be imported, and they are very expensive. Three or four transnationals--ironically they are oil transnationals--currently monopolize the technology and market of solar cells. This is a serious obstacle to advancement. But since Cuba always produces high quality optimism, I was assured that national production of solar cells with Cuban technology is now feasible. Since the scientists who said this are also realists, we could be on the eve of Cuba offering great news to the Latin American market.
EUROSOLAR, a German NGO created in 1988 to promote solar energy use in the Third World, has prioritized Cuba. Why? Herman Scheer, parliamentarian and EUROSOLAR director, explained: "Cuba is the third world country with the highest educational level in natural and technical sciences and therefore it has optimum human conditions. Cuba has a lot of sun. And Cuba today understands, much more than any other country in the world, what it means to depend on energy."
In 1995 EUROSOLAR promoted the forming of the first Technical University of Renewable Energy in the world, to give graduate courses and to familiarize Cuban scientists with these issues.
Wind, Biogas, etc., etc.There is also no lack of wind in Cuba, especially in the coastal zones. Winds regularly blow between 10 18 mph. Although there has been a return of the windmills that had been displaced by agricultural modernization to pump water in rural areas, much more could be done by installing wind parks in various points of the island for electrical energy production. The advantage is that Cuba has electrified almost all of the country, and this makes the development of wind energy more expensive.
But this project is also advancing. A company in Holland and a cooperative in Catalonia, Spain, specialize in windmill fabrication. The Catalonian cooperative maintains exchanges with Cuba for technology transfer.
Biogas is another alternative on the horizon. The largest biogas plant on the island was built in 1992 in Turguano, Ciego de Avila, with support from Bread for the World, of German Protestant origins. It uses cattle excrement. Another 50 smaller biogas plants function in various places. Qualified personnel from India--which, together with China, is at the head of developing this energy source--is advising the National Biogas Program.
Heinz Peter Mang, who coordinates the German program to help the Third World in biogas with installations in 30 countries, says that "Cuba is the most developed Latin American nation in biogas theory, but not in its practical application." It is estimated that Cuba's organic residues have potential equivalent to 300,000 tons of oil, but only 1% is currently being exploited.
There is also alcohol derived from sugar cane. And hydrogen, which is being studied throughout the world as an inexhaustible future energy source. Cuba has already discovered bacteria that produce hydrogen by photosynthesis! And it biotechnologically produces enzymes that reduce the oil consumption needed to refine sugar by 45%.
Appropriate Technologies with Appropriate MethodologyHydraulic energy is another option. Small hydroelectric dams have become local solutions. Cuba has one of the most extensive mini hydroelectric dam networks in the Third World; more than 200 mini and micro hydroelectric centers (less than 500 kw) give service to 25,000 people, especially in mountain communities. Today 250 more are being built or studied, in collaboration with China.
The Integrated Center for Appropriate Technology (CITA) functions in Camaguey, and is geared to promoting new and appropriate technologies to produce energy from water. The goal is to make drinking and irrigation water abundant and accessible. CITA promotes windmills, rope pumps, animal traction and a Cuban novelty: hydraulic plows. They complement hydraulic turbines, but use no energy other than water and work very efficiently. Cubans are currently patenting this invention.
CITA not only promotes appropriate technology, it also does it with appropriate methodology. Horizontally, it stresses educational and participatory processes, promoting exchanges, transmitting "peasant to peasant" experiences, that style so well known in Central America. This is one of the characteristics of the Camagueyan center and one of its greatest values, since horizontal methodologies, based on self management rather than institutionality, are scarce in Cuba, though there is more and more interest in learning about them.
Toa: A Major Ecological DecisionThe country has problems obtaining hydraulic energy in great volumes because Cuban rivers are not appropriate. The only one with appropriate characteristics for building a hydroelectric complex was Toa Duaba, in the east. It could generate 350 400 megawatts.
There was a big announcement at the start of 1994 that the colossal work was to begin imminently, with specialists and capital from North Korea. But months later, with very little fanfare, it was cancelled. The decision was a transcendental ecological option. Cuba's richest biodiversity is found in Cuchillas del Toa. There, at Cuba's point of greatest rainfall, is one of the four Biosphere Reserves on the island. The hydroelectric dam would affect the balance of this valuable ecosystem, an Amazon jungle in miniature. The Council of State thought strategically and suspended construction, a significant indicator of how much Cuban leadership has grown in its responsibility to nature.
This is not the only decision of its type in the Council of State. Earlier, the thermoelectric plant of Santa Cruz del Norte, which had already advanced, was transferred from one place to another, despite the high costs of the move, given evidence that residues of boiling water would affect the coral reef.
Yes, many things are changing in Cuba. The cities are filled with hundreds of thousands of bicycles and the fields with thousands of oxen. Oil continues to be sought and used, but it is now looked for in many directions, with a national and environmental compass. The sun, owner of infinite energy that no one can privatize, is the accomplice in the energy emerging from Cubans today. The results of this alliance will be seen in some years.
X Plants and Animals: An Inventory"Cuba is one of the Latin American countries that has most carefully studied and best knows the potential of its animal and plant species," says Vice Minister Sánchez, who enthusiastically described to me the first gathering of all that is currently known about Cuban biodiversity. Cuba just finished this study, supported with funding by the United Nations Program for the Environment (PNUMA).
The Institute of Ecology and Systematics (IES), created in 1987, is charged with studying Cuban flora and fauna. IES has installed the National Biodiversity Center at what was the weekend farm of ex President Carlos Prío, near the Havana airport.
Cuba has the richest plant biodiversity of all the islands in America--6,200 higher plant species have been identified. To compare: in all of Central Europe there are 4,000. Nine hundred of the Cuban species are in danger of extinction; 51% of the Cuban plants are endemic, exclusive to the island. There are more than 100 species of palms, 90% of them endemic. The endemic nature of Cuban flora is only surpassed in the world by Hawaii, part of Australia and the Cape region of South Africa.
Animal species have been less studied. Only 50%, over 10,000 species, are known. Most characteristic is the wealth of mollusks and lack of vertebrates. There is notable biodiversity in the mollusks: 2,340 species have been identified, 1,400 of them land species. These snails have magnificent colors and designs; 90% of them are endemic. Again to compare: France has only 400 species of mollusks. Much still remains to be learned, "but the most spectacular must always be sought in the seas," says Spanish biologist Jesús Ortea, who studies the flora and fauna of the Antilles coasts.
Crocodylos rhombifer, one of Cuba's most valuable species and one of 23 crocodile species in the world, lives close to the sea. Like the rest of its relatives, the rhombifur can live more than 80 years and was a contemporary of the dinosaur. It is in fourth place on the endangered species list and has one of the most geographically restricted distributions in the world: its only habitats are some remote marshy zones of Zapata, at the southern end of the island. The recovery of this species, which is being bred in captivity in two breeding centers, is a high priority for Cuban scientists.
An Unmeasurable Tragedy Cuba's geological mosaic, its position as an island far from continental territory and its variety of micro climates explain all the wealth that concentrates and reveals a prolonged environmental adaptation. Some 660,000 hectares (6% of Cuban territory) have been declared "protected areas of national significance": 4 Biosphere Reserves and 11 National Parks. The protection covers many other zones, reaching 22% of the island.
When almost no one in the world was talking about biodiversity, the revolution began to protect it. In the 1960s, Cuba had already established the first five Natural Reserves in the country, one of them in the Sierra Maestra, cradle of the Rebel Army. And it was the Army itself that at that early time urged that protection decrees be issued to prevent the extinction of several of the island's few vertebrates. The hutia, the manatee and the manjuarí, a species of river fish native to Cuba, were declared "strategic reserves" of the nation at various stages, thus halting their extinction.
The recovery of the forests was also the recovery of the natural habitat of thousands of species. Of many thousands more we know nothing. According to an official Cuban report, "The devastating process of massive deforestation is the primary cause of the uncommensurate loss of Cuban biodiversity, the real impact of which we cannot yet measure in all its magnitude."
XI The Dark Side of the CrisisThere is one tree species, the ceiba, that "cannot be chopped down!" It is the sacred tree of the Afro Cuban religion known as Rule of Eight or Santería. The Yoruba Africans brought to the island as slaves carried with them on the boats the sacred ceiba seeds, which they planted in the sugar plantations and in the hills. Since then, the ceiba, staff of command of Olofi, the Great Orisha, receives offerings.
Perhaps not the ceiba, but all other species were chopped down. And sadly, today they continue to be chopped down. The "special period," the crisis, with its Achilles heel of fuel scarcity, has had a grave anti ecological dimension in the felling of trees to use for cooking firewood. Survival, which necessarily imposes short term tactics and vision, is the enemy of a more strategic and long term environmental vision.
And the Light SidesBut that's only one dark side of the crisis. The economic emergency that Cuba is experiencing also has light sides: it has developed Cuban talents to search for solutions, has awakened ecological consciousness in decision making and is multiplying the experiences that seek to improve the environment of Cuba's rich biodiversity--first of all, the human species.
A good example is the project to save Havana's shrunken and highly contaminated Almendares River, building around it a green lung for the capital. Carrying out this idea, now in its initial phase, will cost some $20 million. The project, baptized the Havana Metropolitan Park, is seeking the commitment of 26 Havana industries that dump their wastes in the river's waters to fix this disaster. Initial commitments and solutions have been made. The river must be rechanneled and drained to recover its former course. And the zones and neighborhoods bordering it will be reforested.
The most interesting and new aspect is not reforestation itself. Reforestation campaigns have been common in Cuba. Now the activity will be carried out in a more decentralized and participatory way, organized not from the top down but from the neighborhoods and communities near the river, based on peoples' needs discovered with measures of popular education that respect the opinions, rhythms and preferences of the community, involving everyone. It will include parks and trees within a more holistic vision.
The Integral Transformation Workshops functioning in Havana neighborhoods close to or far away from the Almendares are following that same line of work. These workshops--there are now 12--emerged in 1988 through a micro brigade program of massive popular housing construction. Housing, which is scarce, deteriorated or overcrowded, is Havana residents' greatest environmental problem. With the crisis, new construction had to be postponed because of material scarcity, but if houses couldn't be built at least existing ones could be improved.
NGOs are currently financing various projects through these workshops, which has broadened their objectives. Improving housing has to do with rescuing green areas and recycling wastes, with jobs and with education for family and community living and with many other things. The objective is to organize the neighborhood for community action to benefit all residents.
The case of La Guinera, one of Havana's marginal neighborhoods, is eloquent. People today live in improved houses, the environment is cleaner and greener, the neighbors have organized an artisan network around a fiber they're planting in a nearby lagoon--previously a focus of contamination and now a source of jobs. Cultural activities have multiplied, with participation from everyone, including homosexuals, whose transvestite shows presented in the neighborhood are highly respected and applauded. Rescuing the natural environment from pollution and rescuing the community's ethical environment have all been achieved with new participatory methods.
XII A Mini Power of BiotechnologyThe gene bank of Cuban species, that germoplasm preserved as a treasure in scientific research centers, is the raw material that feeds the advanced biotechnological science developed in Cuba over the last 20 years. The varied agricultural experiences that today fill the country are enriching this gene bank: the germoplasm is being studied in species that peasants use in their plots of traditional crops, especially in the mountain zones. After a visit to the island's network of scientific poles, Time Magazine concluded in May that "Cuba has been converted, through its own steps, into a biotechnological mini power."
The revolutionary leaders often repeat themselves when they speak in defense of a Cuban social justice system that, despite the critical economic crisis, has not closed one health center or hospital, one school or university. It should be added that not one research center has been closed either. In fact new ones have opened. The vision is strategic: the future is there, the response to the crisis comes from there and development will be built from there.
Science is now offering other agriculture, other food sources, other energy sources, other export products, new human and animal vaccines, other medicines, all of this to Cuba's development. "And this without getting any loans!" says Vice Minister Ricardo Sánchez. "Because if we had the support that financial institutions usually offer, we would go much farther. The Yankees know that very well; it's why they act as they do. They know that when this country is given a little bit, the takeoff will be tremendous! Because we have the installed capacity and we have the people. It's our own intelligence that will pull us out of this crisis. And the truth is that it's already happening."
Cuba has more than 32,000 people working directly in over 200 science and production research centers. Thousands of university professors are linked to them in one way or another. The Ministry of Agriculture alone has 19 research centers, with 40 affiliates throughout the country, where 2,700 professionals and technicians work. The country invests $25 per capita in science and has 11,000 scientists. The Cuban revolution is characterized by sustained investment in human development. With only 2% of the Latin American population, Cuba currently has 11% of the continent's scientists.
All these professionals have watched their living standards deteriorate significantly with the crisis. None of them has a salary that goes above 450 pesos--some $20--and a pound of meat costs 50 pesos. Some are leaving any way they can. Some left by raft; many more are choosing to travel to other countries legally with temporary contracts, trusting in their scientific qualifications and a prompt return when things get better. The majority remain. "Cuban scientists," one of those who remained tells me, "have not developed the desire for luxury of other professionals in other parts of the world. We've developed the spirit of sane competition, the struggle to see who achieves what first, because a research center always preserves the competitive spirit. But the psychology that predominates is that of being useful to others, of seeking knowledge, discovering and making real what we discover."
Forum of Inventions and InventorsIn order to convoke all talents, make massive scientific research and design the most varied practical applications, the National Science and Technical Forum has been held in Havana for over ten years. Diverse institutions and organizations from all the fields as well as "innovative" individuals--including children--present their more or less sophisticated solutions to more or less important problems and challenges. Both technological discoveries and "inventions" to make paralyzed machinery work are presented at the Forum.
It is calculated that some 900,000 "solutions" have been presented at these meetings over the years, covering the gamut of validity and applicability. Some of these solutions have been successfully implemented at the local level, while many others sleep and wait in drawers at the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment or are in an analysis phase, as corresponds to the slow and controlled rhythm with which almost everything moves in Cuba.
The most recent Forum (December 1995) prioritized the spare parts issue. But there were also panels on solar energy or the AIDS vaccine being worked on by the Finlay Institute in Havana. One of the "Oscars" of the Forum was the discovery made in 1994 by Santiago specialists and successfully used on 50,000 pieces of machinery. It is a refrigerant gas, LB 12, an alternative to freon, whose fabrication was prohibited worldwide in 1996 because it destroys the ozone layer.
The advantage of Cuban LB 12 is that it can be used in any type of refrigerator and air conditioner, without the need for technological conversion. This makes it a much more reasonable alternative than the "green refrigerators" being produced in Germany, China and India, using elisobutane and cyclopentane, gases that also substitute freon. It has been calculated that all of Cuba's refrigerators--and those in other countries too, why not?--could be "green" in a short time with a relatively small investment. It is Cuba's contribution to the umbrella that protects all of us.
Green MedicineGiven the crisis and the country's well researched biodiversity, Cuba is experiencing a green medicine boom. As in other valuable experiences, this one had military precursors. In the early 1980s, a directive from Armed Forces Minister Raúl Castro himself sparked various alternative medicine projects--medicinal plants, acupuncture, acupressure, homeopathy, floral essences, etc.--and people began to specialize in their propagation. The initiative was adopted by other institutions and the crisis gave it the definitive push.
One of the tasks in some neighborhood Integral Transformation Workshops is to rescue home remedies conserved by grandmothers, which are much more numerous than those in the "Herbal Doctor" of Celia Cruz. They are cataloguing medicinal plants by zones and communities. A small scale processor to develop medicinal essences was set up in Cangrejeras. Many of the country's pharmacies now sell oregano lotion or mangrove hydromel, as well as roots, tinctures and dry herbs for home brews.
Cuban medicine, which has been so developed and technified over the years, has created a collective consciousness that still resists these kinds of cures and their "doctors." It is a question of time, and of combining advanced medicine, where the codes are known, with the wisdom of traditional medicine, which was being forgotten. "But have no doubt. The remedies from Maricastaña times also came to stay," says an enthusiastic defender of these old new methods.
XIII The Human Race in the Cuban HabitatWhen Cuba went to the Earth Summit in Río de Janeiro in June 1992, where heads of state from over 175 countries participated, Fidel Castro's speech had major repercussions. "Because of the rapid and progressive liquidation of its natural living conditions, an important biological species is in danger of disappearing:" he began, "man." Further on, he urged: "Make hunger disappear, not human beings!" In the excellent and extensive document Fidel Castro presented to the Summit, Cuba pleads for the human race and especially for its most impoverished members, those who survive in the countries of the South fighting for crumbs from the banquet that the North enjoys, and with no opportunity for change.
If one asks anyone involved in ecological issues in Cuba, from the highest official to the most critical ecologist, what Cuba's greatest environmental achievement is, the response is unanimous. The greatest achievement, say all, is a healthy population, with quality health and education, guaranteed for all without exclusion and for years. The other countries of the South have not achieved this and are far from the goal.
In Cuba, the majority of the human race lives in the most equitable social habitat of Latin America, or the entire Third World, for that matter. "Eradicate extreme poverty," is the proposal written in large letters on any document, electoral platform or religious sermon that speaks of Latin American's current reality, saturated by extreme poverty and misery. It is worth remembering that the Cuban revolution already wiped out those plagues.
Cuban life expectancy rose from 58 to 76 years in the nearly four decades of the revolutionary process. Infant mortality was more than 60 per 1,000 live births before the revolution. In 12 years it had dropped to 27 per 1,000, and today it is only 9 per 1,000 and all children are vaccinated against 12 illnesses. Illiteracy was eradicated in just three years (23% in 1959). There are many such indicators: 83% of urban homes and 30% of rural ones have indoor drinking water. And the most significant of such indicators have been maintained despite the crisis, because they are on a solid base. With a per capita product far lower than the seven richest countries on the planet, Cuba has similar and sometimes superior health and education indicators.
The transcendental blow to racial and gender discrimination with the revolution is also notable from the ecological viewpoint, as is the simultaneous equity: wellbeing indicators are not simply a national average. Rural and urban zones have similar indicators and the similarities are repeated throughout the country.
Naturally, the inequalities introduced in Cuba by the economic changes and the unsustainability of some of the revolution's overly ambitious social programs have been modifying the scenery. Will the greatest and most just of the health and education achievements be maintained? This is another of the great challenges facing the Cuban state and society. It is also a challenge for the well intentioned men and women of the world who are struggling for a better life for all of humanity.
Broad Population MovementsThe revolution triggered relevant population changes, of which the most important are the rural urban migration boom, the birth boom of the 1960s and the elderly boom of the 1990s. The seeds of migration were sown with the increase in opportunities for the rural population and with living standard improvements--agricultural mechanization, electrification, housing construction, etc. The children of those peasants whom the revolution found as semi literate adults, exhausted by the machete powered harvests, sought new horizons in the cities, where life was improving as well. The intensive agricultural model--which uses fewer people--reinforced this tendency.
The relation totally inverted itself: if 70% of the population lived poorly in the rural areas when the revolution began, that same percentage today enjoys a very different life in the cities. The flip of the population tortilla is one of the challenges Cuba's agroecological conversion faces today, because the systems that most respect nature need more rural labor than the country currently has.
How to attract people once more to the rural areas, to agricultural work? "What has been proposed is not easy!" is a phrase often repeated with resigned humor in Cuba to close any conversation about the "special period" shortages that are now entering their seventh year. No, it's not easy. Nor is it easy to resolve the rural urban contradiction at the moment of changing the direction of national development.
In 1987, the Turquino Plan--a visionary design of the Army--began to deal with the problem when it sought to root some 700,000 Cubans in the mountains where they live, so they would not continue to feel compelled to abandon their mountains and migrate to the plains, where social development was better, more rapid and more tempting.
Abandoning the mountains because of bad living conditions is a universal problem affecting 10% of humanity. Mountain residents are among the most impoverished on the planet. Cuba was not exempt from this reality. The exodus from the mountains endangers the development of coffee and cocoa, crops that need massive manual labor. The mountain ecosystems, fragile and vital for the planet, require permanent care and resent the mobility of their inhabitants. The Turquino Plan continues to operate and help resolve the situation, although "what has been proposed is not easy..."
There Is no Population PolicyWith the social improvements brought by the revolution, rural and urban couples decided to have more children. Population growth was notable in the first half of the 1960s, at the beginning of the revolutionary process.
The first Cuban census dates from the 18th century. Two hundred years before independence, there were only 170,000 people on the whole island. For the next 200 years and into the 20th century, the population grew through massive immigrations: centuries of ships carrying African slaves, waves of Spanish emigrants from Galicia, Asturias and Canarias, groups of Chinese, Indians and Caribbeans of all colors...
At the triumph of the revolution Cuba had some 6 million people. Between 1961 and 1965, the population experienced 2.6% annual growth. Nothing like that had ever happened, and it would not happen again. By 1970, with other social improvements brought by the revolution--women's economic independence through education and new job opportunities, among others--this index began a steady drop to the present, in which the population is 11 million and annually grows 0.8%. Just as in more developed countries, the infant mortality rate in Cuba is low and life expectancy has extended. But unlike in many countries, the population growth in the past 30 years in Cuba has been virtually natural, given the absence of foreign migrations.
Raúl Taladrid, who presided over Cuba's work group for the Copenhagen Conference on Population and Development (March 1995), says that "Cuba doesn't have one population policy, as do many countries. We have various policies for the population: education, health, maternal infant, women's development... As a result, we've achieved the most advanced indicators in Latin America and one of the most advanced in the Third World. But we have never had family planning policies in Cuba. Each couple is free to decide how many children to have. The couple has education, is informed about all the methods, has resources to access them... The couple knows that having eight or ten children is counterproductive in all senses. In Cuba we've had an integral and organic policy for more than three decades."
XIV The Elderly and Young MothersAround the issue of births/new lives, the greatest concern is precocious pregnancies. At the other end of the spectrum, the population's progressive aging is the greatest medium term population challenge. Geriatrics is developing and advancing to confront it.
But in the short term, and given the acute Cuban economic crisis, the numerous elderly and retired people--12% of the population--are now challenging the social security system that protects them. Social security is, together with health and education, one of the three "conquests of socialism" that Cuba is trying to preserve despite the radical adjustments its economy is going through as a result of its forced alliance with great and voracious capitalist enterprises in order to subsist. This has already meant giving up its full employment policy.
There is a serious problem with early pregnancies. In 1994, 16% of Cuban children were born to mothers from 15 to 19 years old. This reveals the unprejudiced sexual liberty in Cuba, but it also indicates a family crisis. For decades, Cuban families largely delegated the formation of their children's values to state institutions, without taking on that same task at home. "Don't accuse me, because you didn't educate me!" responds one 14 year old girl to her mother, when she decided to end her pregnancy in abortion. In 1992, there were 60 abortions for every 100 pregnancies. There are no moral obstacles against abortion in Cuban society, but everyone knows that abortions among teenagers--worse if more than one--can be very detrimental to their health.
Generational PyramidThe Cuban crisis has special angles when laid over the population pyramid. Today, only 2 of every 10 Cubans knew, lived during and felt the capitalist model prior to the revolution and were adults at the time of the change. They experienced in the flesh the profound transformations of those first years and an immense majority benefited from them. So, though they are exhausted by the effort, they can better evaluate what a drastic change to the system would mean, which is what the minority that suffered from the changes--those of a similar age who now live in Miami--proposes.
Another 3 of every 10 Cubans were young at the time of the revolution, but were old enough to "make" those changes. They actively participated in those first glorious years of enormous efforts and unforgettable tensions, and today are protagonists of what has been achieved.
But 5 of every 10 Cubans, half the population, were born when many of the most transcendental changes were already done or in process. They found a stable and secure world, with all their basic needs met and knowing they always would be met. They didn't fight, their efforts and sacrifices were minimal. They don't ask about the bricks that built the building. They study it all in school, but did not live it. They are more accustomed to receiving than to giving. The crisis has found them deciding what they want to study, with a university degree recently earned or about to be received, and with an uncertain future. Their questions are not the same as those of preceding generations. They are not convinced by the just but excessively regimented society in which they were born. They don't know the truth--except through movies--of the societies torn apart by inequalities where Latin American youths of their own age live. They are hypercritical but passive, and they don't know how to implement their concerns.
But they are there. Their carbon watch is vigorous, they are physically the strongest and they have been placed by history on the edge of a crisis full of historical responsibilities. It depends on them. They are the relief forces on whom the conservation of the social habitat created by the revolution in Cuba depends and who can unleash the revolution's enormous potential so that the Cuban human race survives, and is happy. So that health and education can continue to be guaranteed. But also so that they will have much more: the right to opinions, to debate, to decide, to be wrong, to dream. For this to be achieved, the Cuban project should not be the fulfilled dream, defended or imposed by the oldest, but rather the project loved and taken on by the newest participants in the adventure of life.
XV Main Deficit: Environmental EducationWhat is Cuba's most critical ecological problem? There is also unanimity in the response: the greatest deficit is the lack of environmental education. Rosa Elena Simeón, Minister of Science, Technology and the Environment, has declared this on various occasions, and all of those interested in these issues in Cuba share her diagnosis. The diagnosis is made more complete by adding that the theoreticians, academics, scientific professionals and politicians from all levels need environmental education as much as the Cuban population does.
How can such an advanced educational system, one with such emphasis on sophisticated scientific knowledge, not also have environmental education?
"Maybe because there has been both excessive scientific specialization and excessive compartmentalization of scientific knowledge," an historian enamored of ecology responded. "Ecology is something else: it's scientific knowledge, but it's integral, it covers everything, it has to do with all the fields. This integralness clashes with Cuba's educational system. The separate compartments are very clear in higher education. Right now, a biology graduate finds it very hard to aspire to graduate study in sociology. The training as scientist, as biologist, gives no access to the humanities. And vice versa.
"Studying the sciences in such a compartmentalized way is a very North American concept that the socialist universities adopted. It comes from structuring the sciences according to a positivist philosophy. This concept is being surmounted precisely by the rapid advances in all sciences, which erase the borders between one science and others. In US academics one can now find a biologist with a Masters in sociology. But this doesn't exist in Cuba, or is very rare. We're strong in the sciences, but excessively specialized, and are weak in the humanities. Extending environmental education to all levels faces this Gordian knot of our educational system."
The historian ecologist told me that years ago a German professor, adviser to the Biology Department and a cactus specialist who spent years in the Sierra Cristal helping identify new species, once told the director of the School of Biology, "I don't understand why you send so many youths to Germany or the USSR to specialize in the electronic microscope, when here in Cuba, with a magnifying glass, you can discover so many things!"
The Gordian knots can be undone with the agreements Cuba has begun to sign with Latin American or Spanish universities. With the initiation of an anthropology major at the University of Havana, where that science had never been studied as a profession. With the idea--sadly, it is still not a project--of a group of university professors and researchers from the Academy of Sciences to introduce ecology in other majors: engineering, medicine, the different social sciences. Ecology is still not a department and today's professional "ecologists" studied in the geography and biology departments.
How Is So Much Trash Possible?"I think," one of the ecologists told me, "that ecology is one of the departments that Cuba most needs to enrich the economy. This should be a priority. I only know three or four people in the Economy Department who have an ecological vision of economic management."
This is one of the gaps, and there are others. One of them is the high scientific capacity developed by the revolution and the economy's limited possibilities for taking advantage of it. The greatest gap of all is the growing one between the institutional superstructure and the cultural base.
One geographer appalled--as some, still only some, are--at Havana's dirty streets referred to this. "We have not lacked noble intentions in treating the environment," she said, ticking off "massive reforestation plans, recycling campaigns, the creation of the Environment and Natural Resources Commission, norms of all types. And its principles are reflected in our Constitution, in the economic positions of the five year plans, in the Party programs, in the educational programs... But one asks: 'How is it possible? If we are capable of following such principles, why aren't we capable of acting coherently at the local level, which is simpler, caring for a tree in front of our house, throwing out the trash, respecting and caring for urban animals, in all the small attitudes of daily life...?'"
Uncle Panchito makes a more direct reference: "Do you see this big mess? Trash everywhere! The people see it and keep on walking. Is it because we're a dirty people? No, I say it's something else. Here we're accustomed to the government doing everything, resolving everything. I dump the trash and someone else will pick it up. And if it isn't picked up? Everything gets filthy, but it's not my fault. Listen to me! Paternalism makes people stupid, but in Cuba it has made them brazen!"
XVI A Consciousness that Moves ForwardEnvironmental education will not only be the fruit of changes or adjustments in formal institutional education plans. The environmental future is at play in informal community education, in this or that neighborhood, in Christian groups and in new groups. In these formal and informal spaces environmental education is promoting attitudes and actions more than transmitting knowledge. And environmental education demands that we educate ourselves to be producers more than consumers.
There is a slow advance toward a new environmental consciousness within the organizations of the Cuban socio political system. This consciousness is advancing more rapidly in new, complementary organizations. Various Cuban NGOs are dedicated exclusively to the environment. And ecology is always present in the rest of the broad array of Cuban NGOs born in recent years. It is part of any project, any workshop, any reflection.
The NGO Pro Nature, which emphasizes educating children in their own community, has on its agenda the immediate creation of a Popular Environmental University, with the collaboration of an Italian NGO. The desire is for this university to be a training/reflection space to train Cubans to multiply environmental education. The "students" at this University will come from a broad spectrum: community activists from the Revolutionary Defense Committees (CDRs), state officials, primary and secondary school teachers, interested professionals...
Is there an ecologist community in Cuba? In professional terms, the gamut of those who are known as "ecologists" is very dissimilar. Ecologists are those who think and act in projects that include an environmental dimension. For example, they are leading Transformation Workshops in the neighborhoods. And they are in the neighborhoods themselves, local Cubans who are enamored of this new vision. They are also on the interdisciplinary teams that evaluate the environmental impact of a causeway or any new investment. I'm told there are many, perhaps more. And they are generally very active people.
They have contacts with the international ecological movement, though they do not always speak the same language. The conservationist concerns of many ecologists from the North--Nature as beautiful and untouched scenery or the protection of penguins and whales when it is in vogue--is very far from Cuban environmental dilemmas.
Society State: Contradiction or Coordination?According to Vice Minister Ricardo Sánchez, the most important of Cuba's ecological organizations is also the largest revolutionary organization, the CDR. "There are many new organizations," he says, "that are only four people who talk a lot but don't do much. The CDRs are organizations that do a lot and talk a lot with the people. They have carried out many environmental tasks over the years: recovering raw materials, reforesting, promoting clean up brigades, vaccinating, organizing blood donation campaigns... The CDRs, dedicated to family development and the country's sustainable development, have done the most environmental work for the community and with the community. I'll give a good recent example: last year a huge storm tore off roofs from many people's houses. It was said that there was a lack of material to make the roof tiles. So the CDRs said, we'll find the materials that are lacking. They launched a campaign and collected 2,500 tons of material, which was recycled and the tiles were fabricated. All CDR actions go in this environmental direction."
This perspective, which puts the CDR at the head of Cuban ecology, is not shared by those who question the top down, uniform, centralized and national character rather than neighborhood or community character of many CDR activities over the years. However, these same critics do not fail to recognize the CDR as a school of participation in mobilizing tasks and an organization that gave thousands of Cubans a strong sense of belonging in the first years of the revolution. They also accept that the CDR is changing. Its leaders have been changed and its work styles are being redesigned, based on neighborhood traditions and emphasizing the resolution of concrete community problems with more horizontal participation methods.
The most notable thing is that the environmental or ecological movement--its name has not been set in Cuba--has no anti state dimension among Cubans, focusing on opposition to depredating, blind or senseless state policies. It should be noted that Cuban civil society is not very different than other countries; what is different is the Cuban sate. Therefore, the Cuban civil state societal relationship has some unique aspects. The Cuban state and Cuban society have put two burning issues on the table in recent years: Cuba's own economic crisis and the world ecological crisis. State and society are rapidly discovering the links that join both crises and are beginning to think about both more integrally.
Coordinated action between the state and the community is most necessary for environmental problems. A good example: despite US pressures and rigid opposition, Cuba joined the Association of Caribbean States in 1995. The 25 countries and 12 territories of the ACS together share the Caribbean Sea's fabulous ecosystems. To preserve them, the states will have to decide on a broad array of communal actions. The diverse coastal communities of each country will have to coordinate activities both in country and between countries.
It is impossible to carry out a coherent and efficient environmental policy without the community or the state. In Cuba, given its peculiar political system which does not oppose either, the basis will be laid for more creative coordination to succeed over the contradictions both because of the state's nationalist and humanist vocation and because of the society's high preparation and nationalism,
XVII Local Commissions: A Dangerous CornerThe awakening environmental consciousness, the concern to generalize environmental education, the presence of the ecological perspective in reflections and proposals, both in the state and in society, are all very recent in Cuba.
The first years of the Cuban crisis were destroyers, not only because of the material shortages that everyone suddenly began to experience, but also because when so many compasses broke at once, there was immobility and a tendency to think and act as normal together with the proposal to "resist." Staying in the rut of routine keeps one from a long term vision, an ecological vision. The urgency to trust in tourism and foreign investment to reactivate a paralyzed economy did not leave time to discern between some projects and others. The emergency situation weakened the timid environmental consciousness that did exist.
In 1994 I spoke of these issues with an ecologist in Havana, and his vision was both worried and worrisome. COMARNA, created in 1977, had disappeared to make way for the new Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment. This seemed to be a leap in quality but he, together with some others, he feared that a centralized and technocratic vision would predominate in this state body that had become the primary environmental protection regulator and had broad executive powers.
There were various signs in this direction. My friend was most concerned about one. Environmental Commissions functioned in all the Provincial Assemblies and Popular Power Municipalities with the COMARNA. Though they were not perfect, these bodies were feeding the Academy of Sciences with very concrete information about local ecological problems. They had political weight and representation, and they did something. When the new ministry was created, it was charged with issuing the highest level scientific and technical declarations about environmental problems, which would take away importance and motivation from the commissions' work. Whether or not to continue them was even discussed in 1994. And among the criteria that seemed to prevail was to allow them to languish or even to close them.
The contrary criteria have prevailed, promoted by people like Vice Minister Ricardo Sánchez, who concedes a strategic importance to popular participation in resolving environmental problems. The Commissions will be maintained. "Now," analyzes the previously worried ecologist, "the local Commission must meet and be the voice of the community for any investment, project or economic design. It should make the cross between ministerial scientific technical decrees and the political criteria of local government a reality. The central government's challenge is to give resources, autonomy and true power to the local governments. The challenge for local governments is to make the space opened by the Commissions an opportunity for true popular participation."
The challenge is the same throughout Cuba: that a society that has already participated so much, receiving, supporting and developing tasks that were decided from above, now participate more and more on the basis of information: proposing, managing, controlling and deciding.
New Laws for a New SituationThe state is very conscious that Cuba's insertion in the international economy represents risks that endanger the natural and social ecosystems in which Cuba's people have always lived. All lands must be defended. This must happen in legislation as well, which is being adjusted to the new situation.
There have been clauses to protect the environment in the Constitution since the mid 1970s, but in practice they were barely taken into account. "Why?" I ask an ecologist.
"It must be noted that, until the crisis, investments in Cuba came exclusively from socialist Europe and state to state agreements were made. The socialist technologies were not very efficient from the environmental protection perspective. Given this, why was the Cuban state so lax in forcing fulfillment of its environmental demands? A lack of consciousness? Resignation that translated into apathy? Or an ideologized vision that what is "socialist" is always good? I wouldn't know how to say which weighed more."
At the end of the 1980s a study was done in Pinares de Mayari on the impact of the large Soviet investments in the Moa nickel mines. It was an integral analysis, taking into account the relationship between investment and all that affected the population and environment. This study pioneered the integrated methodology: it had results and it left tracks.
The island has been totally open to capitalist business investment since 1993, stressing maximum short term profit. Some of the businesses have absolutely no ecological conscience, at least when they invest in the South. Others do. According to Vice Minister Sánchez, one of them is Sheritt. "It's a company with great environmental vocation," he says. The Sheritt Canadian mining company is currently one of Cuba's largest investors. Its executives were the first that the US government advised of and threatened about the consequences of the Helms Burton law. Sheritt has invested in nickel mines in the east--Cuba has the second largest world reserve of this mineral--in lands that had belonged to two US companies. There is patent devastation of those lands; it evokes a lunar landscape. "Sheritt," says Sánchez, "has promised not only to recover those areas that it directly exploits but also those that were exploited by the Yankees, and that we inherited as disasters. They are reforesting, and have set ten years to recover everything. They respect Cuban and Canadian laws. Canada is a country with high environmental sensibility."
In any case, socialist Cuba has an insufficient and inadequate body of laws when it comes to welcoming capitalists. In recent years, Cuba has been developing a body of laws to defend its environment. Among others, it has prepared regulations for the rational use of hydraulic resources (April 1995), a rule for state environmental inspection (June 1995), a resolution about nuclear technology security (January 1996), regulations to implement scientific technical programs and projects (July 1995), positions on chemical products (July 1995), regulations about dangerous wastes (February 1996), species trade regulations (April 1996), norms for scientific expeditions and research (April 1996), a new mining law (December 1994) and extensive regulations for environmental impact studies and environmental licenses in any investment (September 1995), that specify the contents of Articles 54 56 from the 1995 Foreign Investment Law.
And the Germoplasm?An Environmental Framework Law is now being drafted. Specific legislation addressing the transcendental issue of national germoplasm, Cuba's gene bank, is still being prepared. Like the other countries in the South, Cuba defends these resources as a national heritage, which should derive benefits for the country and its citizens. Various northern countries proposed at the Río Summit that any country's gene bank patrimony belongs to all of humanity, universal property. Naturally, the objective is to freely appropriate other countries' germoplasm, derive new biotechnological products from them, patent and then sell them. The potential wealth from these areas is fabulous.
Legislating germoplasm--like legislating many ecological issues--requires a national vision as well as a South South integration vision. In the very near future, the Association of Caribbean States will have to address the germoplasm issue within integration, because Caribbean countries share common gene banks. Since Cuba is advanced in genetic engineering, it knows a lot and learns more every day. It is perhaps one of the southern countries with the greatest capacity to think about and produce legislation that equitably illuminates this crucial challenge of our time.
XVIII USA Cuba: An Issue for DebateCuba's environmental agenda--achievements, challenges, advances, dilemmas, protagonists--is not well known outside of the island. Within it, media, especially written media, speaks more and more of this, although still with a very flat vision, habitually leaving out, in the majority of cases, the controversial aspects that could generate an enriched debate.
The debate about Cuba outside of Cuba is still a burning issue, but it is always saturated with certain political issues and recently some economic ones. Ecology is never even mentioned. Perhaps because in the ecological terrain Cuba presents more achievements than errors and what interests the international media is publicizing Cuba's mistakes. Perhaps also because there is more consensus than conflict in the less ideologized environmental issues and what "sells" the Cuba story is conflict. Perhaps even because in the speeches of Cuban leaders the environmental issue barely appears and the official discourse continues to be very ideologized and focused on issues that the United States focuses on.
A Book Dedicated to Mas CanosaShortly before the start of the Clinton administration, progressive elements of the Democratic party and sectors related to Latin America in the United States designed new scenarios for the continent. Among them was the environmental scenario. The signing of the Canada USA Mexico Free Trade Agreement and the presence of ecologist Albert Gore as Vice President of the United State contributed to raising the profile of ecological reflection.
It was the moment. US Cuban Jorge Domínguez, member of the Interamerican Dialogue, an advisor consulting body on policies toward Latin America, managed to include the issue of Cuba within the environmental reflection being initiated. The ecological terrain appeared for the first time as what it surely is: a privileged space to open a new chapter and proposition in tense US Cuba relations.
A group from Interamerican Dialogue, headed by Domínguez, traveled to Cuba twice to speak with the Cuban Academy of Sciences. The most negative sectors of Cuban exiles and the National Cuban American Foundation that represents them soon got wind of the initiative. They decided to boycott it with the methods they know so well and use so bluntly. They included in their boycott the publication of a book by Cuban geologist José R. Oro, a former official in charge of mineral resources in the Ministry of Basic Industry who left Cuba in 1991. The work appeared in 1992 under the title "The Poisoning of Paradise."
I asked about the book in Cuba and an ecologist got me a photocopy. It reads quickly. Its content, a cold catalogue, does not live up to its damning title. Its gaps are notable. And its "fill ins" are out of date, incomplete and totally biased. It acidly refers to the Toa hydroelectric project, now suspended. There is not one word about the successes of Cuban biotechnology applied to agriculture or their environmental repercussions. And if it talks about oil spills it does not mention the possibly provoked one at Pinar del Río. The way it talks, Cuba was a "paradise" before 1959, when in reality colonialism and capitalism had almost torn it down by then. The objective is clear from the title on and the conclusions can be figured out from the first line.
Despite the analytical weakness of this "topical" book, however, the work fulfilled its objective and contributed to conditioning, and finally freezing, the USA Cuba ecological dialogue that had been initiated. Today its author works for a transnational mining company in Bolivia. We don't know if this company respects the environment, but we do know that Jorge Mas Canosa, President of the foundation that sponsored the book, has shares in the company.
XIX Changing the ModelUntil 1959 Cuba lived a development model based first on savage colonialism and later on savage capitalism. The island was left devastated. The most visible print left by this model is the sugar mono crop. Worse prints are now invisible; all the pain of the Africans, enslaved almost until the 20th century, all the lifestyles that were lost.
The model changed drastically with the revolution, proposing to erase the tracks. For example, a solution was sought for mono crops and their darkest side, mono production; today Cuba extracts from sugar cane much more than just refined sugar. It obtains 40 derivatives, among them new medicines and products applicable to agroecology.
But the model established by the revolution is still developmentalist. Its goal: maximum egalitarianism among humans. Its style: giantism. Its base: the concept of "dominating" nature rather than "living with" it as part of it, the part that thinks.
It was a modernizing, voluntarist, triumphalist model. "Faith in science" and a "political revolution" would make development unstoppable. That is what Fidel Castro proposed. At his presentation for the fifth anniversary of the Girón Victory he said, "We will fight against the difficulties nature presents us. That has been man's history; fight to put the laws of nature at his service, fight to dominate nature and put it at his service. And that is part of the battle of our people."
Two years later he saw Cuba's promising future and spoke of it this way to the graduates from the Cana Technological Institute: "As a nation that does what we do today, we are called to put ourselves at the head of the world's underdeveloped countries.... All of society will be technified in the future, the greatest part of work will be intellectual; machines, chemistry, automatic processes will do almost everything."
How much rain has fallen on the world and on human beings' intelligence since then. As recently as 1992, however, a Cuban official enthusiastically gave me a publication titled "Ecology and Development," that was about to be published. It consisted of selections from Fidel, including the two cited above, so questionable from an ecological and development vision. The way is being opened to more lucid thinking, in a world at a difficult crossroads precisely because of the dogmatic faith in inexhaustible resources and undetainable progress. I am sure that no one in Cuba would have given me that book now. How much rain has fallen in Cuba since 1992.
What is the Challenge Now?After several years of crisis, of resistance to the crisis, of partial and particular solutions to the crisis, the crisis itself is beginning to show Cubans its other side, forcing them to think and act based on another development model. Cuba will survive only if it finds it. Cuba's challenge is not only to "defend socialism," as was said at the start of the crisis, or to defend "the conquests of socialism," as was said later. The challenge is not only to defend the political model or the ideological values or the social gains. It is not only to preserve from capitalist depredation what the revolution has ecologically conserved and developed.
It is to design and adapt another development model based on a vision with a central focus on the environmental dimension. This means a lot. It at least means a model that guarantees food self sufficiency, energy self sufficiency and that has a state and people who think about development in a way that takes the limitations of Cuba's economy into account. Because development has its limits. This is what is today termed "sustainable development," although the term has already begun to be devalued by overhandling and inflation.
The result of not having thought before about a model self sufficient in the energy that feeds human life and in the energy that moves the economy is today accentuated more by the Cuban crisis. Thinking about unlimited development is the cause of the world crisis.
Classic capitalism is impatient: maximum profit in the minimum time frame and with minimal costs for the financial power that runs the operation. Classic socialism was equally impatient: maximum justice in the minimum time frame and with minimal costs for the political power running the operation.
Nature has paid maximum costs for this impatience, especially in those 150 years of accelerated capitalist industrialization urbanization modernization development, to which socialism responded with the same deck of cards. There is an Eskimo saying: "God always pardons, human beings pardon sometimes, nature never pardons." Today it is nature's turn. Mother Nature is in an insurrection and is sending the bill with some irreversible deserts, dead water sources and holes in the ozone layer that protects us from the sun.
A Revolution with NatureNature is asking for its chance today. It demands from Homo sapiens patience, the science of peace, waiting. Silvio Rodríquez sings in a Havana plaza. Knowingly or not, he is also talking about this through his song: "When I figured out as a child/how old I would be in the year 2000/2000 sounded like an open door/to marvels of the future/But now that it is closer I realize/that once again I have to wait/that the marvels will be coming more slowly/because the world is younger/Come here Hope, pass by here/come at 40, come at 2000...."
The revolution "put" Cubans in the "historic system" of the time, giving them a clear consciousness of national dignity, the role that the great small Cuban nation played in the international system and in the historic conflicts of our continent. This gave Cuba a solid basis to become a small great social, political and even military power in the Third World. Today, Cuba is prepared to go even farther, much farther, and also to take a revolutionary step: that Cubans of all ages "put themselves" in the ecosystem, in the "environmental system," with a clear collective and individual awareness of responsibility to that fragile, beautiful and potential laden portion of Gaia that is the small island of Cuba. So that hope will continue to pass by there...
XX The Logic of CommunityMarket logic prevailed in Cuba until the revolution. With the revolution the logic of the state prevailed. Today, the new development model emerging from the crisis gives Cuba the opportunity to find and begin to shine in the logic of community.
"Today people wait for the state to do everything. And they're right. That is precisely a collectivist mentality, a socialist mentality. Today they expect everything from the administrative apparatus and above all from the political apparatus that represents it. Today they can't depend on their own efforts, their own means, as in the past. The fact that the people expect everything is right in line with the socialist conscience that the revolution has created in the people."
This was said by Fidel at the July 26 anniversary in 1970. It has also rained on those words. Today the Cuban people can't expect everything from the state even if they wanted to, because the state can't give them everything. But even more fundamentally, even if it could, the Cuban people have grown; the reality of their own strength, built up by the revolution, has distanced them from this paternalistic vision and given them thirst and hunger for autonomy.
Market logic is advancing in Cuba today, and state logic is seeking to prevail, while individual logic has been strengthened by the crisis and space is opening for community logic. The party that represents society should insert itself into the community logic to be its voice to the state. Whether or not the Cuban experience, absolutely exhausted, will continue forward, renewing itself and giving hope to other peoples will depend on whether a harmonious, new and creative relationship between these four logics emerges.
"The community is the dimension that can rescue socialism as a participatory system," comments a sociologist. "And the community and participatory aspects have to do with ecology, with environmental resource management."
The Hour of Socio Diversity"The community" is the communities that make up Cuban society. That community of communities is fundamentally healthy, well fed, studied, prepared, creative, inventive, happy. It has been subjected to immense tests, efforts, challenges and responsibilities and has been overcoming them. It is a rich biosystem. Biosystem is the "library of survival strategies" that life has learned through evolution.
And life is always diverse. It is anything but uniform. Social stability, political consensus and a certain economic candor with which Cuban society developed and evolved during the first revolutionary years contributed to making some believe that society was homogenous. It was not, because it was alive. Today the changes in the economy have opened cracks in that supposed homogeneity.
The only strategy offered by the state until 1994 was: "We do not know how long this tunnel will be or when we will see the light, but we are all equal and together we must resist." Things changed at the end of that year, with the raft crisis and the events of August in the Malecón, which were the spark that showed how worn down the never ending resistance was. The strategy changed and became more realistic: "Every person must figure out how to get through the tunnel. We can't be equal, many will get out, but not all." In a certain sense this officialized the individual logic, accepted inequalities, postponed--for how long?--what the socialist ideal should be: a society where everyone has a place.
An Unfortunate ReportHeterogeneity is ever more visible in Cuba, in the economic, social, ideological and even political spheres. New survival strategies have been initiated with the crisis, and, as is logical, some are of unabashed competition while others are of decided cooperation. Selfishness is emerging and solidarity is consolidating. Paths are open to both healthy skepticism and corrosive mistrust. Opportunism is detected and honesty is tested. "Here there's no double discourse, like before. Now there are at least five discourses!" one person told me. There is corruption, and at various levels. And there are daily heroisms, at all levels. The investment in authentic values made in Cuba over so many years was such that the balance still appears to be full of hope, although Cubans, torn apart by change, are perhaps the ones least aware of the wealth of riches that is their habitat.
But it cannot be said that before the changes all values were positive and now there are only anti values or dangers or threats of losing the values from the past, as suggested by the Manichean and simplistic report from the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Cuba at the end of March. It's an important document, because it's the first time in these years of crisis that the country's top political body has globally addressed the ideological changes that the economic changes have provoked. But it's a reductionist document. It proposes a purity that only exists in the laboratory and is never found by any living beings in their own natural habitats. The report does not realize what's going on. What's happening is that the riches of biodiversity are being revealed and there's a strong demand to recognize that socio diversity.
Biodiversity: Defense of the RevolutionHomogeneity is never the ideal habitat for life. Part of our world's environmental crisis is that: the gene bank is ever more reduced each time fewer species are planted and the soil is depleted. There are more and more species that destroy and the habitats of other species are reduced and disappear. The powerful destroy the cultural diversity of Homo sapiens, imposing on our species its thought and consumption patterns. And civilization is making us ever more poor and bored.
We have discovered that more biodiversity gives us more life. And better life. Equal in society. A society's cultural biodiversity guarantees its evolution, new and vigorous forms of life. It's the same in Cuba: socio diversity, biodiversity in the revolution--plural opinions expressed and contrasted, plural opinions taken up and debated--will guarantee life to the revolutionary project.
Defending the Cuban nation, defending its territorial and social habitat and ethics earned with the revolution, requires promoting diversity. This demands a new educational and communications strategy, without fearing an "ideological watering down." Because the substance of life is precisely in plurality.
And Martí, so smart, knew this: "A people," he wrote in the newspaper Patria over a century ago, "is made up of those who resist and push, of whose who are wealthy and hoard, and of justice, which rebels; of arrogance that subjects and depresses, and of decorum that does not deprive arrogance of its role nor cedes its own. The country is made up of the rights and opinions of all the children of the country, not the rights and opinions of a single class of its children; and the government of a people is the art of channeling their realities, whether they be rebellions or concerns, by the shortest possible route, with the only condition being peace, which is that in which no right is limited. Republics are not made in a day..."
Mother Nature was also not made in a day.