File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/marxism-international.9710, message 531

Date: Mon, 27 Oct 1997 14:41:54 -0500
Subject: M-I: Sustainable Development in Cuba


>But why is it considered a 'degradation' of the forest for people to eke
>out a living from it? If anything it is a degradation of the people.
>What should they do? Starve? Is the forest worth more than they are?

Heartfield, this is a Marxism list and you should make an effort to draw a
class distinction somewhere along the line. The palm oil planation owners
who setting fire to the Borneo rain forests are not the same as the
peasants who are desperately looking for a plot of land to cultivate or
famish. Your entire post leaves out the former and sheds crocodile tears
for the latter.

Marxists have an obligation to quanitify the differences between the two
types of destruction of old-growth forests. For the former group of people,
we advocate militant resistance such as the form that Chico Mendes mounted
in Brazil. For the latter group, we recommend political organization and a
socialist agenda.

I have worked closely in the past with Ministry of Agrarian Reform in
Nicaragua and your classless analysis would have left them bemused at best,
sick to their stomach at worst.

A sensible land policy is possible when capitalist export agriculture is
abolished. There are all sorts of initiatives being taken in Cuba today
that attempt to conserve natural resources as well as feed the people. This
comes from the Global Exchange Web Page and points to the sort of Green-Red
synthesis we need:

A Patch of Green: Supporting Sustainable Development in Cuba

In the early 1990s, Cuba's capacity to provide for the basic needs of its
people was shaken by two factors:

--the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, which had accounted for over 75
percent of Cuba's trade;

--the tightening of the U.S. embargo, which prohibits trade with Cuba,
including trade in food and medicine.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Cuban people enjoyed the highest
quality-of-life indices in Latin America and rivaled the United States. A
child born in Havana, for example, was (and is still) twice as likely to
survive to adulthood as a child born in Washington, DC.

Yet since the economic crisis that began in 1989, the Cuban government has
been unable to provide enough of basic necessities. Lack of diesel fuel,
lengthy electrical power outages, shortages of pharmaceuticals, toiletries,
and basic foods became all too common in Cuba. Recurrent tropical storms,
such as the October 1996 Hurricane Lili, exacerbated the already difficult

To address the critical shortages, Cuban farmers, doctors and scientists
have turned to a variety of traditional, alternative and renewable
technologies in the production of food, medicine and energy in order to
achieve a sustainable economy. The decision to move in the direction of
sustainable development reflects both the Cuban government's desire to
achieve a more self-sufficient economy and Cuba's international leadership
in the movement to protect the global environment.

A unique combination of factors positions Cuba as a potential model for
many developing countries in the area of sustainable development.

With just 2 percent of the population of Latin America, but 11 percent of
the scientists, Cuba has the human talent necessary to achieve its
sustainability goals. And Cuba's scientific community enjoys an
unprecedented level of government support. Plus, the profit motive plays
only a limited role in Cuban agriculture, healthcare and energy: thus greed
is far less of a motivator than are society-wide needs of sustainability.
Finally, national economic planning=D1despite its many flaws=D1gives Cuba the
capacity to implement prioritized policies and practices island-wide.

Cuban agronomists, doctors and scientists have asked Global Exchange to
become partners with them in their effort to achieve sustainability. What
follows is an introduction to several of the projects we are focusing on,
and ways you can get involved.

Before the economic crisis of the early 1990s, Cuba provided all children
under the age of fourteen with one liter of dairy milk per day. Now it can
only provide milk for children under seven years of age. The government's
new goal is to provide soy yogurt for the children 7-14. Since the spring
of 1994, a team of top Cuban engineers and food scientists has managed to
refurbish 30 dairy factories to produce soy yogurt, with 10 more to be
converted by early 1997.

A major economic drawback is that almost all of the soybeans are presently
being imported. Cuban technicians feel they could reduce the cost of
producing their soy foods by 75 percent if they could develop the capacity
to grow their own using seed varieties suited to Cuba's soils and climate.
Global Exchange is helping Cuban scientists with the information,
technology and financial resources for inputs they need to develop an
indigenous soybean seed bank. The seed bank will provide small farmers and
cooperatives with seed which they can then plant and harvest to supply the
10,000 tons of soybeans needed annually by the Cuban soy foods factories.

Dr. Tom=87s Guzm=87n de Hernandez, vice director of Institute for Basic
Research in Tropical Agriculture (INIFAT) which oversees the soy project,
is also a co-founder of the Cuban Association of Organic Farmers. His model
for the future of soy agriculture in Cuba includes many small farms,
located close to the soy factories they serve, growing the soy beans

Support for the Cuban Association of Organic Farmers Due to the severe
shortage of hard currency for the importation of chemical fertilizers and
pesticides, Cuba has been forced to practice organic agriculture on a
nationwide scale, with some very exciting results. There are currently
30,000 organic urban gardens in Havana alone and an estimated 1,000,000
across the country.

Global Exchange and the Institute for Food and Development Policy organized
the first U.S. delegation to Cuba focused on sustainable agriculture. We
co-authored the seminal book on the subject, The Greening of Cuba. We have
since organized many delegations of professors and practitioners of organic
agriculture to Cuba, who have developed exchange programs through their
universities and communities. These relationships are now proliferating,
with scientists and farmers expanding their own joint projects between the
U.S. and Cuba.

For decades, Cuba's system of public health has been praised
internationally by the World Health Organization and other international
bodies. Cuba achieved the best health indicators in Latin America =D1the
lowest infant mortality rate and the highest life expectancy=D1statistics
that rival and surpass those in the developed world. Yet Cuba's recent
economic woes have had a devastating impact on the public health system,
especially in importing pharmaceuticals and spare parts for medical

The Cuban Ministry of Public Health has made a major commitment to the full
integration of alternative and traditional practices into its entire public
health system: in research, medical school training, family doctor clinics,
tertiary care hospitals, as well as the local pharmacies where "green"
medicines are now readily available.

Support for Cuba's Centers for Holistic Medicine Global Exchange supports
Cuba's Centers for Holistic Medicine, which research and practice Chinese
traditional medicine (acupuncture, acupressure, Chinese herbology),
homeopathy, mind-body relaxation techniques, hydrotherapy, chiropractic and
traditional Cuban herbal medicine. We have supported the Centers' efforts
during the past year, providing them with literature, experts and material

In April 1996, Global Exchange organized a delegation of U.S. doctors,
directors of holistic medicine clinics and other health professionals to
conduct an assessment of Cuba's successes and needs in this area. The
delegation met with the Cuban agencies devoted to various alternative
treatments. It visited the Gir=97n Medical School, which has pioneered the
introduction of these techniques into Cuban medical school training; a
dental clinic and training center using alternative and traditional
techniques; a health spa; pain clinics; laboratories for the study of the
psycho-social aspects of health; and other centers in which the techniques
are being integrated into conventional medical practice. The members of the
delegation now work with Global Exchange in helping to meet Cuba's material
and intellectual needs in this promising field.

Education on Diet and Disease  Global Exchange is working with the
Committee for the Prevention of Cancer through Dietary Modifications at the
National Cancer Institute in Havana on the development of educational
materials on the topic of diet and disease. Global Exchange has assisted
the Committee in producing 30-minute videos and slide programs on the
issue, and these are now being used in a series of workshops for physicians
and other health workers. We have provided the Committee's directors with
intellectual, managerial and technical resources. We have secured
invitations for Dr. Gilberto Fleites, director of surgery at the cancer
hospital in Havana, to attend conferences in the U.S. and other countries
on the subject. We also support Cuba's Vegetarian and Wellness Centers that
promote vegetable and grain-based diets, organic foods, exercise and
anti-stress activities such as yoga and meditation.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, which had provided Cuba with oil for
all of its energy needs, energy has become the number one problem
constricting Cuba's growth. Cuba is producing some of its own oil, but only
a fraction of what it needs. A Soviet-sponsored nuclear power plant near
Cienfuegos remains $1 billion short of completion and has suffered long
delays in construction. Cuban scientists claim that Cuba could meet all of
its energy needs using renewable methods if they had sufficient capital for
research and development.

Support for CUBASOLAR Global Exchange has formed a partnership with
CUBASOLAR, Cuba's foremost non-governmental organization promoting
renewable energy projects utilizing wind, hydro, biomass conversion, and
solar energy. Global Exchange arranged for a world-renowned expert in
biomass conversion to visit Cuba to discuss an advanced technology for
converting sugar cane bagasse to electricity. The scientist believes that
the Cubans, with appropriate technology, could meet all of their
electricity needs from the sugar cane bagasse alone. As a result of the
meeting, this expert helped the Cubans write a successful grant proposal to
the United Nations Development Program for $350,000 to conduct a pilot
project in biomass conversion in Cuba.

After the success of this first networking effort, GX organized a
delegation of alternative energy experts to attend an international
conference on renewable energy in Cuba in June 1996. The delegation, hosted
by CUBASOLAR, was taken on many site visits to solar, wind, mini-hydro and
biomass conversion projects in Havana and throughout eastern Cuba. These
U.S. experts have formed an advisory committee which now seeks to help Cuba
meet its material and intellectual needs in this area.

Solar Panel and Wind Turbine Installations One project involves the
installation of solar panels on the roofs of family doctor clinics in the
remote parts of Cuba, to provide at least some electricity to the 4 percent
of the Cuban population not already on the electricity grid. This project
enables the clinics to refrigerate medicines and to be used as community
centers where people can gather for educational workshops, television, and
cultural events. Global Exchange hopes to provide CUBASOLAR with funds for
the installation of solar panels on family doctor clinics in several remote
communities, thereby bringing electricity to thousands of rural people who
might otherwise suffer compromised health due to their extremely remote

Schools for Renewable Energy Global Exchange supports CUBASOLAR's efforts
to develop model alternative energy vocational schools and community
colleges throughout Cuba. The cost of refurbishing the schools and
equipping them with the curriculum basics is $10,000 per school. These
prototype schools can serve as models for the entire country but they need
material assistance to fulfill their great potential.

Computer Collection We received a formal request from CUBASOLAR to collect
used computers, modems and printers in the U.S. for the hundreds of
research centers across Cuba developing technologies in renewable energy.

The dozens of computers we have taken to Cuba have not only helped in this
sector, they have also proved vital to the functioning of medical
facilities and research institutions across the country.

A team of young Cuban engineers has asked Global Exchange to help them in
their work cleaning up the Almendares (Havana's largest river), utilizing
primarily biological controls. One half of Havana's sewage flows into this
river and only a small percentage of the waste is treated. This creates a
public health hazard, particularly for the communities that live along the
river. Havana's only large sewage treatment plant broke down several years
ago; another unfinished plant awaits completion. The engineers favor the
installation of many small-scale treatment plants and biological methods of
control, but they need material and informational assistance to move
forward. The scientific team is also working to convince factory management
along the river to either relocate or to invest in new technology that is
more environmentally benign.

The river cleanup project is part of a larger program to develop a
Metropolitan park in the 400 square kilometers that comprise the river's
watershed area, from its mouth at the Atlantic Ocean inland for seven
kilometers. The Metropolitan park, a long-time dream of city planners,
includes plans for reforestation, organic agriculture, a vegetarian
restaurant, reclamation of buildings for purposes of environmetnal
education, recreation and other community activities.

The team, which includes sociologists as well as scientists, has devoted
considerable time to raising environmental awareness among the people who
live in the area, holding educational workshops, and setting up
community-based water monitoring systems. "Without the participation of the
people who live here, we cannot move forward," they say.

This is the most significant river clean-up project in Cuba. There is still
time to rescue the Almendares before Havana's aquifers are contaminated.
Global Exchange is eager to work with these idealistic young engineers in a
rescue effort that would not only save an important natural resource
affecting thousands of local residents but would also provide important
lessons for other clean-up efforts in Cuba and around the world.

Get Involved in Positive Alternatives At a time when the world seems to
hurtle from one crisis to another, it is important for us to focus on
places where people are building positive alternatives to greed and
environmental destruction.

Why not get involved in this broad campaign to support ecological
development in Cuba? You could organize a showing of our video, Soy Cubano,
listed on the next page. To explore other ways you can help or if you just
want more information, please e-mail us by clicking here or call our Cuba
program at (800) 497-1994.

Louis Proyect

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