Posted by: righthandblink | May 18, 2016

Cuba – A Guiding Light

Cuba – A Guiding Light

Following its revolution in 1959, Cuba had become dependent on the Soviet Union for 85% of all its trade. When the Soviet bloc disintegrated in 1990, oil and grain imports from Russia plummeted. Cuban trade dropped by over three quarters in a matter of months. Fertilizer and pesticide imports fell by 80 percent, making agricultural production difficult even as food imports vanished. This was all compounded by the embargo imposed on Cuba by the United States. Officially known as “The Special Period,” this time-period in Cuban’s history saw the nation slide to the verge of collapse.

Because the Cuban economy was directly controlled by the state, and because there was little economic disparity in the country by this time, the shortages were shared more or less equally. Food rationing was instituted in the first 5 years. One could not buy food with money. Anybody who purchased food on the blackmarket would face the reprisals of the dictatorship. With imports of oil severely reduced, there were daily electrical blackouts for 14 to 16 hours. With little electricity, home refrigerators didn’t operate enough and food spoiled so families had to change to daily shopping and cooking routines. Nearly everyone lost weight, tens of thousands of children were seriously malnourished, and the population adopted a mostly vegetarian diet out of necessity.

By far, the major use of oil was for food production. Within a few years Cuban agriculture was transformed from consisting of 80 percent state-run farms to 80 percent employee-owned shareholder enterprises… and it went organic. Agriculture production was moved closer to the cities to reduce transportation, refrigeration, and storage costs. Transportation, in general, was also devastated by the cut-off of oil. Today there are few cars on Cuban roads, but nearly every vehicle is filled with passengers due to an official policy that hitchhikers have to be picked up.

Before the Special Period, farmers were the lowest paid professions, similar to the way it is in North America. After the Special Period, farmers are by far the highest paid profession.

A lesson we might take away from the example of Cuba is that people can do extraordinary things if motivated by a strong and clear appeal through a developed sense of ethics. In Cuba, efforts were ethically mandated from the top down, and most people had confidence that their efforts were not merely enriching a small group of powerful people, and that those making decisions were acting selflessly in service to the whole of society. For over a half-century, the people of Cuba have worked at building communal solidarity. Cuba had fostered a cooperative spirit among its populace. When the crunch came, the Cubans pulled together and carried their nation through a painful economic transformation. It focused on local community-based solutions that reflected the values of cooperation, conservation and curtailment.

What is discouraging about Canada, is that we live in an individualistic society. We are proudly competitive. When the crunch comes, will we be able to pull together and carry our community through the kind of painful economic transformation that Cuba went through? Could we respond to similar circumstances so successfully?


Renewable, Green and Healthy . . . for a Sustainable Tomorrow!

© 2016, Right Hand Blink



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