All Things Sustainable

ecology, economy, community


The Cuban Story

Mike from SCPA and our Cuban visitor Roberto Perez

Breaking the journey from Melbourne to Woolongong Roberto Perez, director of an important Cuban NGO, called in at the little village of Cobargo. The locals arranged for Roberto to speak and then showed a segment of the film “The Power of Community”. This was followed by dinner and finally a general discussion of questions raised during the evening.

A larger than life figure with a load of charisma Roberto experienced the crash that occurred in the early 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed and ceased its support of Cuba ending the supply of oil on which the country depended. During this time all international trade with Cuba ceased.

Cuban agriculture had been been geared to the export market and they grew things like tobacco, sugar and other commodities, there was no local food grown and hence no food security. When the food  and oil imports stopped the population faced starvation and paralysis. The story of how they dealt with this crisis is documented in the film “The Power of Community”

What I find interesting is the contrast between what happened in Cuba and what happened in Russia.

Cuba developed an agrarian community, growing food in and around its towns and in spite of extreme poverty they also chose to make sure that every child was educated and that free health and dental care was available to everyone. During the emergency they decentralised health care and education, establishing schools and universities in rural areas. Meanwhile Russia undergoing similar problems allowed its assets and wealth to be appropriated by so-called entrepreneurs and left its vulnerable citizens to fall by the wayside hence creating yet another oligarchy.

Now Cuba, still out in the cold as far as most international trade is concerned, has better health outcomes in terms of longevity and neonatal survival than the USA. It does trade with some South American countries, swapping doctors for oil for example, and it sent doctors to East Timor to help them in their time of need. They recognise that poverty and hunger are related to lack of access to land and they are developing a Usufruct system of land tenure that gives free access and use of the land for four years and if it is farmed successfully  then there is lifetime tenure.

I wonder which path our government would take if it was faced with a similar problem, would it drop education and public health and let the oligarchs win?  I am rather afraid that they would.