Thursday, 18 February 2010

Cuba: Strides Towards Sustainability

Cuba: Strides Towards Sustainability • by Helen Yaffe.

Cuba's successful models of sustainable development - food, housing and health - are now being widely replicated throughout Latin America.

by Helen Yaffe

CUBA marked the 50th anniversary of its revolution in 2009. The Cuban people have withstood five decades of hostility from the United States and its international allies. However, Cuba's best form of resistance has been not just the assertion of national sovereignty, but the creation of an alternative model of development which places ecology and humanity at its core.

Applying the yardsticks of conventional economics to assess Cuban society, for example focusing on disposable income, GDP or levels of consumption, commentators often conclude that the revolution has failed to pull the Cuban people out of poverty, but such criticism omits the fact that the Cuban state guarantees every citizen a basic food supply ('ration'); most incomes are not taxed; most people own their own homes or pay very little rent; utility bills, transport and medicine costs are symbolic; the opera, cinema, ballet are cheap for all. High-quality education and healthcare are free. These provisions are part of the material wealth of Cuba and cannot be dismissed - as if individual consumption of DVDs and digital cameras were the only measure of economic growth.

The challenge is to disentangle our understanding of development from the notion of economic growth. Against great odds, Cuba has transformed itself from an underdeveloped 'neo-colony' into an independent state, boasting world-leading human development indicators, internationalist education, healthcare programmes and sustainable development.

It is no mere coincidence that Cuba is the only country in the world, according to the WWF's 2006 Living Planet report, to have achieved sustainable development: improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of its ecosystem.

Domestic solutions

The collapse of the socialist bloc between 1989 and 1991 led to a collapse in Cuba's foreign trade. GDP plummeted 35% by 1993 and there were critical scarcities of hydrocarbon energy resources, fertilisers, food imports, medicines, cement, equipment and resources in every sector. Cuba was compelled to search for domestic solutions.

In agriculture, organic fertilisers and pesticides, crop-rotation techniques and organic urban gardens called organoponicos were developed, while tractors were replaced with human and animal labour. Bikes were imported from China and car-pooling was established. As the economy improved, Cuba extended these measures, introducing ecotourism and solar energy.

While economic reforms were introduced, including concessions to the 'free market', free universal welfare provision, state planning and the predominance of state property were maintained. Incredibly, given the severity of the crisis, between 1990 and 2003, the number of Cuban doctors increased by 76%, dentists by 46% and nurses by 16%. The number of maternity homes rose by 86%, day-care centres for older people by 107% and homes for people with disabilities by 47%. Infant mortality fell and life expectancy rose. Internationalist links also increased, as thousands of Cuban specialists, including healthcare professionals and educators, volunteered to work in poor communities around the world. By November 2008, Cuba had nearly 30,000 doctors and other health professionals working in 75 countries, providing healthcare and training locals. Its literacy programme has taught over 3,600,000 people from 23 countries to read and write.

2006 dawned as the Year of the Energy Revolution in Cuba, a major state initiative to save and rationalise the use of energy resources: install efficient new power generators, experiment with renewable energy and replace old durable goods (refrigerators, televisions and cookers) with new energy-saving equipment. Ten million energy-saving light bulbs and over six million electric rice cookers and pressure cookers were distributed free of charge. The aim was to raise the island's capacity for electricity generation and save the government millions of pesos formerly spent on subsidised fuel. State subsidies mean that energy consumption is not rationed through the market, so energy efficiency, not price hikes, is the principal means of reducing consumption.

Building on the campaign for energy efficiency, in 2008 Cuba launched a campaign to increase food production. Following the closure of many sugar mills, in 2007 up to 50% of Cuba's arable land lay fallow, while over 80% of the food ration was imported. The international rise in food and fuel prices saw the cost of Cuba's imports increase by $1 billion from 2007 to 2008. Now, idle land is being distributed in usufruct (rent-free loan) to those who want to produce organic food.

Already organoponicos in Havana supply 100% of the city's consumption needs in fruit and vegetables. They are supplemented by urban patios, of which there are over 60,000 in Havana alone. According to Sinan Koont of the Department of Latin American Studies at Dickinson College, Pennsylvania, 'It is not just about economics.producing food and creating employment. It is also about community development and preserving and improving the environment, bringing a healthier way of life to the cities.'

Central to understanding these achievements is the role of the state in Cuba. State ownership and central planning allow a rational allocation of resources, balancing environmental concerns and human welfare alongside economic objectives. Critics who point to the absence of multi-party elections and 'civil society' in Cuba fail to appreciate how the island's alternative grassroots system of participative democracy ensures that the state is representative of its population and acts in their collective interests. Under capitalism, private businesses regard the Earth's natural resources as a 'free gift' to capital. Western-style parliamentarianism dissuades short-term elected governments from calculating the human or ecological cost of their policies on the future, while economic growth wins corporate backing and public votes. The need for sustainable development creates an irreconcilable contradiction under capitalism because it implies obstruction of the profit motive which drives production.

The ALBA model

In December 2004, Cuba and Venezuela formalised their alliance with the formation of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). Between 2006 and 2009, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Honduras (under Zelaya), Ecuador, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda joined ALBA, turning it into a political and trading bloc of significance. Members are engaged in projects of humanitarian, economic and social cooperation through non-market, non-profit-based exchanges. The Bank of ALBA was inaugurated in December 2008 with $2 billion capital, operating without loan conditions and functioning on the basis of members' consensus. It contributes to freeing countries from the dictates of the World Bank and the IMF. In January 2010, a new 'virtual' currency for exchanges within ALBA will be introduced, undermining the leverage of the US dollar.

ALBA is the fruit of Cuba's internationalist welfare-based development model. It is also the expression of pan-Latin American integrationist movements and the ascendancy of social movements representing the interests of the indigenous and poor communities. These sectors demand rational development strategies which respect their traditions and environment. The April 2009 ALBA declaration, 'Capitalism Threatens Life on the Planet', reflects this:

'The global economic crisis, climate change, the food crisis and the energy crisis are the result of the decay of capitalism, which threatens to end life and the planet. To avert this outcome, it is necessary to develop and model an alternative to the capitalist system. A system based on solidarity not competition; a system in harmony with Mother Earth and not plundering of human resources.'

The 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution should be celebrated, not as a historical event, but as a living example, with increasing relevance, that it is possible to live with dignity, and sustainably, outside of the capitalist profit motive, with human welfare and the environment at the centre of development. It is a lesson we must learn urgently because, in the words of Fidel Castro at his speech at the Earth Summit in 1992, 'Tomorrow will be too late...'

Helen Yaffe is the author of Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2009, and is a Latin American history Teaching Fellow at University College London and the London School of Economics. This article is reproduced from Resurgence (UK) Magazine, (No. 258, January/February 2010).

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Cuba's aid ignored by the media?

Source: Al Jazeera

Among the many donor nations helping Haiti, Cuba and its medical teams have played a major role in treating earthquake victims. Public health experts say the Cubans were the first to set up medical facilities among the debris and to revamp hospitals immediately after the earthquake struck.

However, their pivotal work in the health sector has received scant media coverage. "It is striking that there has been virtually no mention in the media of the fact that Cuba had several hundred health personnel on the ground before any other country," said David Sanders, a professor of public health from Western Cape University in South Africa.

The Cuban team coordinator in Haiti, Dr Carlos Alberto Garcia, says the Cuban doctors, nurses and other health personnel have been working non-stop, day and night, with operating rooms open 18 hours a day. During a visit to La Paz hospital in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, Dr Mirta Roses, the director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) which is in charge of medical coordination between the Cuban doctors, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and a host of health sector NGOs, described the aid provided by Cuban doctors as "excellent and marvellous".

La Paz is one of five hospitals in Haiti that is largely staffed by health professionals from Havana...

...Read more.

By Tom Fawthrop in Havana.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Cuban Five Sentences Reduced

Three of the Cuban Five have recently won a battle to have their sentences reduced: Ramon Labanino from life plus 18 years to 30 years, Fernando Gonzalez from 19 years to 17 years plus nine months, and Antonio Guerrero from life plus ten years to 21 years plus ten months. This is a significant step forward for the international movement to free the five Cuban anti-terrorists from their political imprisonment at the hands of US imperialism. After their resentencing the three men said they 'feel profoundly moved and grateful for the permanent solidarity…so crucial in this long battle for justice.'

The Cuban Five are political prisoners held in US gaols for trying to stop terrorist attacks against their country. They were working to foil the persistent attempts by right-wing counter-revolutionary groups based in Miami to commit acts of sabotage and terrorism against Cuba. Among those they attempted to expose was Luis Posada Carrilles, who has openly admitted to terrorist acts including the bombing of a Cuban aeroplane in 1976 which killed 73 people. However when the Cuban government submitted information to the US government which would have helped prevent further terrorist action, the Cuban Five themselves were arrested in 1998, on trumped-up charges of ‘espionage’, sentenced in 2001 in a hostile Miami courtroom, and have been held in US gaols since, including spells in solitary confinement, while confessed terrorists like Posada Carilles continue to walk free on US soil.

In Cuba and around the world, the five are national heroes and symbols of anti-imperialist resistance. There are regular international protests demanding their release, in Cuba, Latin America, Britain and even the US itself. The five have continued their fight for over 11 years and resisted frequent pressure from the US to sell-out and spread lies about Cuban socialism in return for their freedom. In a joint statement made by Ramon, Fernando and Antonio after having their sentences reduced they said “we did not give an inch in our principles, decorum and honour, always defending our innocence and the dignity of our Homeland” and they reiterated that “although three of our sentences were partially reduced, the injustice remains for all of us.” They also noted that “the prosecutor publicly recognised the existence of a strong international movement in support of our immediate freedom that affects the image of the US judicial system…the absolute political character of this process is confirmed.”

Both inside and outside of the corrupt and racist US judicial system, the struggle continues. The campaign to free the five is an important part of Cuba’s ongoing socialist revolution. In a new year’s message Antonio Guerrero, one of the five, stated that we must "say with one voice, ENOUGH!”, that we must “think of socialism as a solution to the problems of the peoples” and as something “we have to defend and perfect daily.”

The Cuban Five were falsely tried, free the Cuban Five!

Luke Lucas

Friday, 5 February 2010

Haiti, Camagüey and Cuba

Cubans from the province of Camaguey have been very close to Haitians since, at the end of the 18th Century, many slave drivers escaped Haiti because of the slave revolution there. They arrived in Cuba with slaves, settling in the east of Cuba. From 1913 to 1925, more than 500,000 Haitian slaves arrived at Camagüey province. Many places took Haitian names, like: Caballón, Okay, Ouanamimthe and Haiti Chiquito. More Haitians arrived in Cuba in the 1920s, through the ports of Santiago de Cuba, Nipe and Nuevitas.

The slaves arriving in Nuevitas were distributed in trains, in the sugar cane compartments, and they were allocated as 'luggage'. Based in settlements with sugar cane workers, they brought a reservoir of Haitian culture. They kept up traditions, ways of dressing, alimentary habits, dances and the practice of religious cults. Nowadays, the rural community of Caobita is home to a Camagueyan center of Haitian culture where in the months of March and October, every year, Haitian traditions and museum artefacts are shown to represent the Haitian presence in Camaguey.

The Cuban presence in Haiti corresponds to a cultural tradition where the values of both countries are mixed. When the earthquake took place in Haiti on 12 January 2010, Cuban help from Camaguey was sent immediately. Cuban doctors were in Haiti before the earthquake giving free medical assistance to Haitian people. The very same day of the catastrophe Camaguey sent 37 doctors to Haiti.

In the middle of the devastation, Cuban doctors set up a hospital, helping all the injured that arrived there. These brave doctors, men and women, perform their jobs without looking for "filmstar" recognition, remembering that Che Guevara was a doctor as well. Unlike the US and the UN, they do not come with weapons, they are an army of humanity, generosity and solidarity in the service of people in need.

Only Cuban doctors work nights, they are not afraid of delinquents. They know Haitian people and they also know they are safe. Cuban doctors set up 6 physiotherapy rooms and they expect to set up three more. Physiotherapy is free and they hope that as people hear about it, more and more would come for the treatment.

Cuban epidemiologists have been sent to vaccinate people to avoid illnesses spreading. 20,000 people have been vaccinated already.

A team of psychologists and psychiatrists has been sent to help children and youngsters to overcome the consequences of the earthquake. They will create sociocultural and recreational places for their mental well-being.

There are 938 Cuban doctors in Haiti, half of them in the capital Port-au-Prince. 50,000 people have been seen by Cuban doctors and also doctors that studied in ELAM (the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba). Haitian doctors that studied in Cuba went quickly to help their people. By the end of the week, building brigades will finish building five more Integral Diagnosis Centers and they hope to have ten. Despite being a poor country, Cuba has sent ten tonnes of food and medicines to Haiti.

Solidarity is everything in Cuba. It is part of the human values of Cubans. This is the 'new man' Che Guevara spoke of and created.