Cuba: Back to the Future 2/2

So I went to Cuba, to to experience this type of society with my own eyes, and before it would be spoiled by tourism from the USA. In my lectures I regularly compare countries, and Cuba always comes forward as a very good scoring country, in terms of human and sustainable development. How come, and can you compare it to our life, here in western Europe for instance? No , not at all, as I experienced . At least not from a materialist perspective. From any other perspectives yes, and in some aspects maybe even better : free education, free health care, a equal income, small but nevertheless, and every month a quantum of food. In fact as I realized: its the principle of a basic income, only not in money but in natural services. While their moral conscience is not compromised, since they hardly contributed to climate change or resource depletion. And they are, as I could enjoy, quit happy, very social and very musical.

Pretty soon after the Revolution succeeded back then, the changes as were announced by Fidel Castro during his imprisonment , have indeed been implemented: Land and houses were split even and given to the inhabitants, 10000 teachers were appointed, and schools built. Health care was developed, and compared to many other centrally ruled countries, in Cuba it has not derailed , into large scale corruption , or power abuse . In the contrary, the people have been regularly questioned on directions of development for the country, and is still united behind Fidel Castro, and now his brother Raoul Castro. As I could experience myself: Regularly I was pointed by a local to a large poster of Fidel, and as I made a picture of it, thumbs went up around me, from the people on the benches in a park for instance.

Of course the families that have fled the country, mostly previous land and property owners and now living around Miami in Florida , still go beserk about ht Cuban regime and are eager to go back and restore ‘order’, to imperialise again, but the people in Cuba are quit phlegmatic on this, and are searching for other ways. In the mean time they have one of best medical care services in the world, though a lack of medicines, due to the boycott, though some basic stuff is now allowed to import. Despite the impression from the press coverage about Obama seeking contact with Cuba, he has changed nothing in boycott, he only relieved the ban on travel form the US to Cuba. (which Trump wants to forbid again) .

Of course, the kind of regime as in Cuba has its disadvantages, and cant afford wide scale opposition, otherwise it does not work. Its one for all and all for one, without exception. But look at us: if you compare this with Europe, swelling in material luxury, and with the most expensive medicines at hand, while around us polar ice melts, and glaciers disappear [1], And climate becomes more unpredictable. But we are still denying any imports to Cuba: its a farce. While we have a wide scale political opposition , our system does not function proper very well, giving the mistakes made and challenges ahaed.

Somewhere between the two, might be the solution: Cuba tries slowly to enlarge trade freedom, without making same mistakes as the imperialistic industrialized countries. And we , after Paris , are not yet fully aware what this implies: In fact Paris has given us a absolute ceiling of maximum CO2 remaining to be emitted, 800Gt CO2, globally to have a chance to stay below 2 degrees global warming. Which sounds a lot, but is not: have a look at the counter on the Guardian website [2] We not only have to sustain our energy and material use, but also to drastically reduce it. Otherwise we have no chance at all, as I have been calculating, together with some international colleagues. To start with halving our energy consumption (energy graph, link blog), and then end up somewhere comparable to the early sixties of last century. Just before we found our huge gas bubble in the Netherlands, and the party of guzzling fossil fuels started, with keeping the whole house at 21 degrees, for 24 hours a day. Hurray.

By the way, early sixties, it can hardly be a co-incidence, its is more or less the level of development at which Cuba functions. The revolution in that time took its own responsibility, to share everything. Since they no longer joined the global game of squandering, depletion of resources and squeezing the workman , the financial economic growth was of course limited. And thats why you still see the stuff from the fifties and sixties to be in use, repaired and recycled. Renting a private room, you enter your own youth, (at least the somewhat older among us) the decoration is still the same as back then: and all brown-orange. And mind you, nothing wrong with that, I have , back then and now, slept very well. And I was raised in the sixties, to a satisfying level I would say, and even despite a house that was not heated 24 hours to 21 degrees.

Of course heating is not a big issue in the Cuban climate . But think of their cars, nearly half are from the fifties and sixties, most are beautifully maintained, and still driving around. Not for tourists( also) but mainly and mostly for their own transport, more or less as shared cars: since there are overall not so many, hiking is daily practice for many. As it was for me as well in the sixties and seventies, to go from home to the university. Currently most old cars in Cuba have a new engine, usually a VW golf motor, as the chauffeurs showed. It strengthened me in my belief that anything can last long , as long as it is maintained and taken care of, in stead producing new things over and over again. : As with electrical cars nowadays: in stead of producing new ones, we should just replace the engine in the old cars. I bet they will do this at first in Cuba.

What I want to say is: there was nothing wrong with the sixties.

The sixties way of life, should be our reference and starting point, to see what can be improved and what can not, without making the same mistakes again. Which is exactly what Cuba is looking for : how to grow, without with introducing capitalism and its side effects. As professor Fernando Martirena form the university of Santa Clara, of which I was a guest, explained: ” The world can no longer afford itself western style democracy”. I could only agree with him. He is a sun of parents living in Miami, enjoying a complete different life style, while he is trying to help out the government in search of a new balance, He has been asked to re-introduce the building method developed in the Special Period.( see previous article) It provides work, uses local resources economically and independent from import. Its not strange: the method is introduced in the built up of Haiti, and supported by the UN he is asked by the Indian government to introduce it in several parts of India.

For us its difficult to grasp: Since we will have to start limiting ourselves, and go back in wealth to the global average sustainable level. And we are doing bad at the moment. The energy and material consumption keeps growing, as does the total emitted CO2. We even fall back to colonialism: After spices, labor slavery, and resources, now in CO2: We think we can maintain our devastating life style by building wind turbines and PV plants, and retrofit houses in a way that we can maintain the luxury of a house 24 hours at 21 degrees.. Consuming ever more material and energy for that. More as we could claim for our fair share of the remaining budget, reducing the budget for developing countries again.

What was it again that Fidel Castro said at the UN climate conference in Rio 1992…: “Unequal trade, protectionism and the foreign debt assault the ecological balance and promote the destruction of the environment. If we want to save humanity from this selfdestruction, wealth and available technologies must be distributed better throughout the planet. Less luxury and less waste in a few countries would mean less poverty and hunger in much of the world.

Stop transferring to the Third World lifestyles and consumer habits that ruin the environment. Make human life more rational. Adopt a just international economic order. Use science to achieve sustainable development without pollution. Pay the ecological debt. Eradicate hunger and not humanity “. [3]

We cant afford to eat someone else’s share. We have to become more nationalistic: Not in a political sense, but in a resource sense: There is no land abroad anymore, that is uninhabited and can be plundered for free. Today there is people living everywhere, needing their own resources. So we will have to deal with it ourselves No more hunting an gathering, wherever in the world, no more plundering and exhausting, and trying to force other countries with boycotts to join our party.

Of course, a revolution is never charming, there are victims. Though even if its not all ideal, there is much to learn from Cuba, as in practice as well as from the statistics and rankings. Most striking is : if all people live at a more or less equal level, there is less competition, less jalousie, and one can be happy with what is available. ( In Cuba, But also experienced back then in former Eastern Europe) And many studies have confirmed this: more stuff does not make us happier. [4]

Looking to our industrialized countries, there is a lot to do. There is need for a re-evolution. Back to the future, the sixties as reference for the future: and bringing new developments within the carrying capacity of the earth. ( and the size of you country) .

How to deal with that? Not within the current economy , thats for sure. Its based on free depletion of resources, of creating debt on two sides: on the resource side and the money side. As Guy Standing phrased it: If private wealth grows, common wealth decreases. [5] Cuba is coming from the collective, and wants a bit more private. We come from private, and will need much more common or collective organization. Like a basic income for all? And in natural or in money? Or a basic income, as a CO2 budget ( ‘income’): in due time it should be 1 ton CO2 per capita per year. (now 10) Studies point in that direction [6] Which implies reduced living area, reduced heated area, maintaining in stead of renewing stuff, hanging the laundry outside to dry, bicycling, cars that last 50 years, restore the value of labor, and of social structures in stead of growth competition. Thats not about extrapolating current technologies, but of reorganizing society. Of course with the Sun as sole energy source. And did not Fidel Castro state at some point: The Sun is the energy source of socialism…?





[5] see the video of his speech at SBE16 Malmo here: [6]

Author: ronald rovers