Cuba: Surviving the Blockade | Street Jazz

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Cuba: Surviving the Blockade

Posted By on Sun, Feb 1, 2009 at 11:14 AM

It may be particularly interesting at this point, considering the changes in our economy, to look at how the Cuban people have weathered the embargo imposed by the United States. This is another excerpt from “Ozark Mosaic.”

Surviving the Blockade
Cubans develop sustainable agriculture
Written by Richard S. Drake

Most Americans find  themselves living in a period of almost unparalleled luxury and comfort. Every necessity, every luxury, is within our grasp, if we can afford it. While we know that thousands of our fellow Americans go to bed hungry (and many have no beds), for the most part we find ourselves blessed by whatever forces run the universe.
Fayetteville resident Barry Rogers recently had the opportunity to visit Cuba, a country living under the harsh edicts of a “blockade” first ordered in the 1960s. What he learned there may provide valuable insights into how we might survive, should the economic tide turn against us. Rogers spent a week in March as part of an agricultural delegation sponsored by the humanitarian organization Pastors for Peace. They were treated to the gardens in Havana, farms, vocational schools and a university.
The trip was part tour, and part informational visit, so that those from outside Cuba might learn more about the realities of Cuba, and not rely on myth or propaganda. The tour, titled  “"Agriculture in Focus/ Sowing Sustainable Relations,” offered participants the opportunity to learn about the new methods being developed in Cuba to further sustainable and organic farming.
Participants (who came from different parts of the United States) spent part of their time in Havana, and the rest in the farming area of Pinar del Rio.
After the “official” week was over, he opted to stay another week.
Back to the drawing board
Denied the use of pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides (restricted under the blockade), the Cuban people have been forced turn their island into a sort of living laboratory, and embrace the concept of “sustainable agriculture.” While some vestige of industrial agriculture exists in Cuba (especially with regards to cash crops such as sugar cane, coffee and tobacco), a national movement is underway to make the economy completely sustainable.
Political reality is the reason for this effort. In the 1980s Presidents Reagan and Bush tightened the embargo, which had been placed in effect after Fidel Castro led a successful revolution against Batista, the former dictator. But things also became tight after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had propped up Cuba financially for decades.
By necessity, the main focus of agriculture at this period became a matter of increasing productivity and efficiency. Since the Cuban government had been promoting the concept of farm cooperatives, the infrastructure for such an effort was already in place.
 Half of the profits accrued from the coop's efforts go to the farmers, and the other half goes to the actual coop itself.
As a result, Rogers says, “They pretty much restructured agriculture, making smaller farms, more cooperatives and acreages. Of course they don't have the fertilizers and chemicals that they used to, so they have had to do a lot of organic and biological control. By being forced to do that, they have developed some interesting methods, in order to just make do.
“They are real conscious of using everything to its fullest potential. It is not really primitive. They do have machinery, but they also use a lot of oxen in the fields. They are as modern as they can be. In some ways they are more modern, because they are using biological control.”
The efforts seem to be paying off, given that there has been a 12-13 percent increase in agricultural production in the last three years, while the importation of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has decreased by over 200 percent.
Some of the methods for sustainable agriculture follow a basic plan:
* Integrated handling of pests - biological methods are used in efforts which are designed not to eradicate, but to control.
* Organic fertilizers and bio-fertilizers - emphasis is put on recycling of plant biomass and animal wastes.
* Preservation and recovery of soils - this is achieved through tillage, rotation of crops, and the addition of organic materials.
* Animal power - the use of oxen, horses and alternative energy sources, which has at least partially been motivated by the fact that many tractors do not run, since there is a shortage of fuel and working equipment.
* Alternative mechanization - to help preserve soil, reduced tilling is one of the methods encouraged.
* Urban agriculture - this includes organoponics. This is also a tremendous cost saver, since it can reduce fuel costs in transporting food from the larger farms outside the city, directly to the cities.
* Smaller farms - for example, farmers are urged to have around 20 cows, where before they might have had between 200-300.
Emphasis is given to growing citrus fruits, vegetables, sugar cane, tobacco and coffee.
There is also a reversal in migration trends, in that many are now leaving the cities, and returning to rural areas.
Though research facilities have been limited to the point of poverty by the embargo, agricultural research continues. “They have nothing as far as laboratory equipment or computers, but they have still managed to develop innoculants for plants. They lack the resources to be a well-oiled machine, but with what they have, they do pretty incredibly.”
One of the key factors behind the revolution in 1959 was the support given to Fidel Castro by Cuba's farmers. After the revolution, the Castro regime set about an extensive program of agrarian reform. For example, title to the farm lands was primarily given to those who had worked the land.
Basic needs met

Rogers did not see many traditional stores in Cuba. “They have bakeries where you can buy bread, and places you can get produce or meat and things like that. But as far as grocery or clothing stores, or movie rental places, no . . . there were a lot of people selling things on the street.
“There were a lot of old American cars, pre-1959, but they are still there.” He noted that more people seemed to be riding bicycles than driving cars.
Embargo creates solidarity
At the time of the trip the United States government was considering relaxing the embargo, which excited those Rogers spoke with in Cuba. There exists a great anger about the embargo.
Barry Rogers would like Americans who don't have the opportunity to travel to Cuba to realize that it is not a “communist” country, and that there isn't a great deal of  political oppression. He says, “I didn't see soldiers in the streets with machine guns like in Mexico.”
Rogers discovered a great sense of solidarity among the Cubans that he met. No doubt much of this is due to the siege mentality brought about by the embargo, which been criticized in many quarters. Certainly the resentment concerning the blockade has done much to shore up Castro’s support in Cuba.
He says, “It really seemed to me that a lot of the people I talked to really admired Castro and supported what was going on in Cuba. For one thing it is a real struggle to get through every day. It is not like most other third world countries, because there is order, the government has been in power. Everybody gets food every day, and everyone is educated, and gets free medical care from birth to death.”
But that solidarity also means that the people of Cuba are prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to survive, and to provide meaningful lives for themselves and their children. Barry Rogers came away with the strong feeling that the people have no desire to become a sort of “banana republic,” or to have their island turned into a playground for the wealthy of foreign countries, as it was prior to the revolution.
Caravan comes to Fayetteville
Barry Rogers became involved with Pastors For Peace through his wife, Julie, who has accompanied several caravans to Chiapas, Mexico.
Pastors For Peace organizes groups which travel throughout the world, helping countries in need. They will be sponsoring an aid caravan to Cuba in July, similar to those they have organized to Chiapas. Among the goals of this caravan are sending bookmobiles and ambulances throughout the country.
Sponsored by the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization/Pastors For Peace, the upcoming caravan is described as “an act of non-violent civil disobedience.” People from all across the United States, as well as Canada and Europe will participate.
An important goal of the organizers is to demonstrate to American policy makers that a broad-based coalition of people from around the world feel that the blockade is inhumane.
Ozark Gazette - July, 1998



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