“El periódico ha de estar siempre como los correos antiguos, con el caballo enjaezado, la fusta en la mano y la espuela en el tacón.  Debe desobedecer los apetitos del bien personal y atender imparcialmente al bien público”.
José Martí

Cuba Shouldn’t Progress into the 20th Century

Jeffrey Sachs. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

Jeffrey Sachs. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

“I recommend that the Cuban people don’t progress into the 20th century,” stated Doctor in Economics Jeffrey Sachs. He said this at a conference held at the Antonio Nunez Jimenez Foundation for Nature and Humanity, which very few people attended, much less than the number of people invited.

The government’s absence from the event was particularly surprising, especially as it had to do with Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University and the UN Millennium Project as well as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s Special Advisor on the Millennium Development Goals.

The US professor is also an advocate for a sustainable global economy. This idea includes the name of the social model being promoted in Cuba, even though the majority of Cubans are more worried about prosperity than sustainability.

Basically, Jeffrey Sachs advises us that in our search for prosperity, we must not forget sustainability. Throughout the harshest years of our economic crisis, Cuba developed alternative practices such as organic farming, which is extremely valuable in the world today.

 Iniciativas como la de Funes y su finca ecológica demuestran que en Cuba la agricultura orgánica es pocsible. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

Initiatives, such as that of Funes and his organic farm, show that organic farming is possible in Cuba. Photo: Raquel Pérez D;iaz

A few days ago, The New York Times spoke of the possibility the US has to import organic food from Cuba, sowed without tractors and grown without using chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Cuba doesn’t need great investment for this to become a reality, what it needs is foresight.

Initiatives are needed such as that of engineer-farmer Fernando Funes, who has proposed to create a school on his organic farm in order to teach fellow countrymen about what they can do with the natural resources available to any farmer.

We also need our institutions to invest in this kind of agriculture so it can grow. If, beforehand, it existed because we didn’t have any other option but to use oxen, today it should be practiced in the firm belief that it will reap more profits for the farmer and is more sustainable for the country and for humanity.

Cuba has everything it needs to achieve sustainable farming, from a shortage in tractors to research centers which produce bio-fertilizers and biopesticides. In fact, the majority of the few vegetables and root crops we were able to eat during the Special Period in the ‘90s were organic.

However, as economic decisions remain centralized, it’s difficult for farmers to approach the market, which is essential for promoting this kind of farming. Years could pass before the import-export bureaucracy understands such a concept.

Mientras en otros paises se promueve el uso de la bicicleta en Cuba se elimina el carril bici y se deja a los ciclistas a merced del tráfico. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

While other countries promote cycling, cycling paths were erradicated in Cuba leaving cyclists at the mercy of traffic. Photo: Raquel Pérez Díaz

Or maybe they’ll never understand it, which is what happened with bicycles here in Cuba. During the Special Period in the ‘90s, loads of bikes were imported and bicycle factories were opened. However, as soon as a little bit of oil came into our hands, bikes were put to the side, and the government got rid of cycling paths, among other things.

Therefore, while cities in the developed world are promoting cycling, Cuba took apart its cycling system, under the false idea that using motor vehicles constitutes “progress”, which Jeffrey Sachs himself rejected at the conference.

Cuba is a country that doesn’t have its own oil reserves, however, it continues to base all of its transport on petrol and diesel. It seems that some of us have forgotten that this dependency once paralyzed our economy. Back in those days of the early 90’s, I made a 300 km trip along the main national highway without seeing another car on the road.

Jeffrey Sachs’ warning hasn’t come out of the blue. It’s clear that some people want us to “advance into the 20th century” and eat junk food. Not too long ago, someone with a famous surname said that Cuba was open to Coca Cola and McDonalds setting themselves up here.

Many generations of Cubans have lived their lives forced to abstain from consuming, which today can now be taken to the other extreme, confusing wellbeing with consumerism. It could be a disaster in the long run as the country is very limited in national resources.

Officials say we’re in the pursuit of a prosperous and sustainable socialist model. The most important thing for the ideologists is that this model is socialist, but for everyday Cubans it’s finally being able to achieve some kind of prosperity. I’ve only heard a few people defending sustainability.

Maybe we should start off by discussing and defining what socialism, prosperity and sustainability are so we can then seek out a balance that allows us to develop in harmony while creating a fairer society, where we can all enjoy a higher quality of life without destroying our surroundings.

Translation: Havana Times

About Fernando Ravsberg

Nacido en Uruguay, corresponsal de Público en Cuba y profesor del post grado de “Información internacional y países del Sur” de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Fue periodista de BBC Mundo, Telemundo de EEUU, Radio Nacional de Suecia y TV Azteca de México. Autor de 3 libros, El Rompecabezas Cubano, Reportajes de Guerra y Retratos.


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