I Visited Cuba's Farms and It Made Me Rethink Obama's Rapprochement


Although I had turned down other opportunities to visit Cuba recently, I quickly signed up to join the Food First trip. The itinerary was appealing: visits to farms under various types of ownership, discussions with government and private citizens relating to food and agricultural policy and other issues, and time to explore old Havana.

A retired physician with no expertise on food and agriculture, my interest could be summed up, “I eat, therefore, I am.”

Food First is an organization engaged in research on improving food production and its equitable distribution. Several of my companions on the visit were agricultural and food researchers, some having been farmers. Others were avid and active gardeners. About half spoke Spanish. Together they enriched our interactions with Cubans, further expanding my knowledge and making me feel less like a tourist.

From the hefty packet of reading materials Food First distributed before the trip, and supplemental reading afterward, I learned the various transitions in agricultural policy in Cuba since 1959 and what caused them. The first part of this essay summarizes the reading. The second describes the observations on the week-long trip. Although the reading and the observations did not come close to making me an expert on Cuba, they stimulated me to think more broadly about reducing inequality in wealth, on which I reflect in the third part.

I. Background

Until the overthrow of the Batista regime in 1959, large plantations, latifundia, owned by wealthy planters or absentee owners, including companies from the United States, dominated agriculture. They were devoted to single crops — sugar, tobacco, coffee. The new government under Fidel Castro expropriated most land, with part taken over by the state and part given to peasants (campesinos), many of whom had worked for large landowners. The maximum holding was limited to 988 acres. A second agrarian reform in 1962 established an upper limit of 165 acres “in order to eliminate the landed social class and thus the exploitation of farmers.”

The agrarian reform required the government to compensate the owners in Cuban bonds, a policy that was rejected by the United States, but other countries with holdings in Cuba “were more amenable to Castro’s terms, apparently convinced that there was no chance they’d ever get a better deal.” The large state farms continued to produce single crops, employing salaried workers. The campesinos could plant for their own subsistence either individually, or in cooperatives in order to improve efficiency. Agencies were formed to assist farmers to improve yields. The state farms continued to rely on industrial fertilizer and chemical pesticides available at the time. The rural population fell from 56 percent in 1956 to 28 percent in 1989 and to less than 20% by the mid-1990s. It is now about 22 percent.

Many wealthy Cubans, in the cities as well as the countryside, fled to Miami. Former servants, their relatives, and others quickly occupied their large houses, many mansion-like.

The U.S. imposed a partial embargo (exempting medicines) on trade with Cuba in October 1960, and in February 1962, before the Cuban missile crisis, prohibited all imports from Cuba. Consequently, U.S.-Cuba trade dropped sharply in 1960 and disappeared by mid-1961. The U.S. stopped buying Cuban sugar, a major source of revenue for Cuba. As a result, Cuba signed trade agreements with the Soviet Union and its allies, which purchased Cuban sugar above market prices and supplied Cuba with industrial fertilizer, pesticides, oil, and food as well, to maintain a mechanized, industrial economy.

Trade between Cuba and the Soviet Union virtually ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, heralding what Fidel Castro labeled “The Special Period in Time of Peace.” Between 1989 and 1995 per capita caloric and protein intake each fell by about 40 percent resulting in an estimated average weight loss of about twenty pounds, presumably in adults.

“The consequences of the food security crisis,” Funes-Monzote notes, “would have been far more dramatic without the government’s ration system.

The reversal of this dire situation was largely a result of a transformation of Cuban agriculture from dependence on industrial fertilizer, pesticides, and machines to the use of organic fertilizers (made primarily from manure, vegetable waste, and vermiculture (worms)), natural pesticides, and draft animals (e.g., oxen) instead of tractors. Beginning in 1993 the government reduced the size of state farms and in the ensuing years three types of cooperatives were created or expanded. All of them were based on usufructs: the government leased the land free to farmers for ninety-nine years.

The first type consisted of the previous workers on the state farms when they were leased land formerly held by the state (UBPCs). The second were farmers who gave their land to the cooperative, transforming it into collective property (CPAs). In the third type, campesinos continued to own land and equipment individually, but jointly bought inputs from the state (CCSs), which also provided credit and services. All three types continue to exist. They cultivate crops and raise animals for self-provisioning, but also must satisfy quotas of sales of their products to the state. After they meet these requirements, they can sell any surplus at farmers’ markets, which have increased since the special period, or to middlemen. Campesinos can also own their own land outside the cooperatives. Funes-Monzote states that the campesinos “served as a model for restructuring Cuban agriculture.” They out produced the state sector in livestock.

Another factor increasing food production was urban farming (organoponicos) in vacant lots, backyards, and rooftops within 10 km of the center of major cities. Vegetable production in urban agriculture rose from virtually nothing in 1994 to 4.2 million tons in 2006, enough to supply 300 g of vegetables per capita per day — the amount recommended by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization — to urban citizens.

The urban plots provided new jobs, as did the increase of small plots in the rural areas. As a result of these changes, caloric intake rose 33% between 1994 and 2000, still not completely regaining the 1989 level. There remains, however, a shortage of farmers and farm workers.

II. The visit

We spent the afternoon of our first full day in Cuba visiting the farm of Fernando Funes-Monzote, whose scholarly paper I cited above, outside Havana. Fernandito — his father is also Fernando — told us that he has accomplished more as a model farmer than as an academic. But the work is backbreaking. After the second agrarian reform, the land was held in usufruct by a campesino who, as he grew older, let it deteriorate. With financial help from his father and father-in-law, Fernandito obtained it less than four years before our visit.

The state allows such transfers for up to 165 acres with the land still in usufruct, which can be passed on to one’s descendants, but not to others without the government’s permission. Fernandito built a house on the land and pays taxes. After he took possession, the first tasks were to clear arable and pasture land with machetes and pick axes and build a well forty meters deep that took seven months of hard labor in which Fernandito fully participated. From early on, he raised bees and now has a thriving honey business.

In a series of rectangular troughs that slope downward from the cows’ stalls, Fernandito collects and converts the manure from his cows into fertilizer, using a solar-powered biodigester and capturing the methane byproduct to fuel the stove in his house, which is uphill from the digester. Animals have completely replaced tractors for harrowing and other chores.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"603567","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"429","style":"width: 600px; height: 402px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"640"}}]]

Farm workers plow a field in Cuba's Vinales Valley (image: Romtomtom/Flickr CC)

Fernandito’s land is part of an arc of private holdings that run 5.5 km down to the sea. He would like to see his neighboring farmers adopt his productive techniques — so far they haven’t — and provide a greater surplus of food. Under existing law, which limits the number of acres of each private farm and restricts sale of land outside one’s family, Fernandito cannot obtain this land.

Initially, the few workers he hired were paid in kind and cash as needed. His earnings from lecturing internationally helped, as did the sale of surplus honey. After the first year and half he was able to hire additional workers, paying them salaries. Now he has ten workers, paying them twice the surrounding wage. His wages are higher than in many jobs in the city with the result that he attracts workers — e.g., a librarian, and education and health workers in — from the city. Maria Salcines, now the head of Vivero Alamar, a twenty-seven acre organic urban farm cooperative (organoponico) in the Alamar district of Havana, told us she is also attracting workers from city jobs.

The coop’s 175 workers work seven hours a day, except in the brutally hot summer when they work six, receive a free lunch all year round, and are paid between 350 and 700 pesos a month plus bonuses that can be as high as 600 pesos distributed every 15 days. After one year as a salaried worker a coop worker can join and begin to receive shares; after fifteen years she can receive full shares as well as her salary. A fully vested coop member can make as much as a doctor.

One worker at Vivero Alamar pointed out, “Everybody has a fixed salary according to the function he performs. It is a non-egalitarian policy but according to each one’s development and capacities.”

After years of being told that farming was demeaning and then, after 1959, when many more rewarding urban jobs became available, young people didn’t want to work on farms. “And now,” a young man born a campesino said, “They’re looking for a job here because the cooperative’s compensation is attractive in the community…Once here, a lot of them have changed their attitude, they see matters differently. So the young people remain permanently, which wasn’t common before.” Still, 60 % of all the workers at Vivero Alamar are elderly, many of them having retired from their urban jobs. An 82 year old said if he stayed home he’d atrophy and he’s better off physically and mentally by working. Another coop member said, ““Production belongs to you and you are proud of it. In other words, we are all owners.” Still, there is a shortage of farm labor.

Both farms have research components including raising and studying insects, including ladybugs that eat other insects. When leaf-eating aphids increase past a threshold level the Alamar farm releases them in the fields. At Vivero Alamar one worker said that to get equivalent yield using chemical products (“industrial fertilizer”) they’d have to use 40 tons. If they used that much in their urban farm, which is surrounded by apartment buildings, “the area wouldn’t be livable.”

At other farms, both urban and rural, near Havana and near Viñales in Pinar del Río, a western province, we saw the same use of organic fertilizer and learned how natural pesticides were used: flowers (Marigolds, for instance) were planted at the ends of rows to attracts pests away from the crops planted in the beds, and corn was planted along the sides of the beds for the same purpose. In addition, planting different crops in neighboring rows — diversification — helps. These methods seem to do the job and among the campesinos there is distrust of genetic modification, for instance, BT corn to make it moth resistant, although the government has pursued GMO research. Among farmers and government agencies there is active study and trading of seeds in an effort to improve yields and hardiness.

Tobacco is grown at a cooperative farm we visited in Viñales. The state supplies the resources and buys most of the crop, most of it for export. After the head of the coop failed to mention it, Food First’s Eric Holt-Gimenez pointed out that tobacco cultivation on the farm still uses industrial fertilizer and pesticides. Several members of our group thought growing tobacco was immoral. Apparently, smoking has declined in Cuba, but we still saw people smoking, perhaps not as much as in the U.S. in the 1960s.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"603566","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"738","style":"width: 600px; height: 346px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"1280"}}]]

Harvesting tobacco in Cuba's Viñales Valley, where crops are grown mostly by traditional agricultural techniques. (image: Manuel Rivera-Ortiz/Wikimedia Commons)

The past year, Fernandito’s farm produced enough vegetables and fruits to sell to twenty-five restaurants; next year he hopes to sell to fifty and then to hotels. Most of the produce of Alamar’s urban farm is sold to the local community at the farm’s market adjacent to the farm. The remaining 5-6% surplus is sold to hotels.

Since 2000, the number of private restaurants has increased, partly I suspect because more food is available and party because of the expansion of tourism. Cubans have been encouraged to establish paladares, restaurants in private homes. We ate in several of these as well as in state-owned restaurants in old Havana. The food for us (and tourists) was more than ample and quite diverse; lots of green vegetables, rice, casava, and potatoes, with chicken, beef, pork, and fish usually options for the main dish. I doubt many Cubans eat as much, but on the streets and farms I did not see anyone starving. Obesity is not nearly as prevalent as in the US.

At two of the paladares we met the owners who were proud of their success and hoped to expand further. They projected an entrepreneurial spirit. Music seemed to be an essential ingredient at the restaurants, usually groups of five or so: key-board, trumpet or variant, guitar, percussion, maracas, flute, with one or more doubling as vocalists. At one restaurant we heard a very good jazz band (Alexis Bosch’s) playing a mix of bop with Cuban son. Spanish was the predominant language at the tables, which often consisted of mixed groups, from white to all shades of black, but I could not distinguish native Cubans from other Latin Americans or Spaniards. The mood was gay, with lots of dancing. Even I made a feeble effort.

In an ornate mirrored conference room at the Instituto Cubano de Amistad con los Pueblos, a representative of the Ministry of Agriculture conceded that Cuba imports corn, soya, wheat, rice and poultry. Vietnam is the largest exporter of rice to Cuba and provides it on credit. To import it from the U.S. — obviously much closer — Cuba would have to pay cash, which it can’t afford. Even the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture concedes, “Cuba is likely to develop comparative advantages in the production and export of certain citrus and tropical fruit, vegetables, tropical plants, and cut flowers.” Indirectly, USDA attributes this “to strides in organic production.” In 2013, the United Nations classified Cuba as an upper middle-income country.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"603569","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"567","style":"width: 600px; height: 400px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"850"}}]]

Kids going to school in Havana, Cuba, 2008. (image: Radmilla Suleymanova/United Nations)

Our visits did not only concern agriculture. Miguel Coyula, an urban planner and architect gave us the fascinating history of Cuba from the 16th century onward, explaining that Cuba stood as the gate between the “old” and “new” worlds. He was delighted that old houses had been preserved but angry that many are in great need of repair. Cubans who fled to the United States cannot reoccupy their old property, but they can buy new property if they claim to be Cuban citizens while retaining their American citizenship. In fact, “…most of the new businesses opening up in Cuba are being done with Miami money.”

Both Miguel Coyula and Gisell Arandia, an Afro-Cuban writer and artist who invited us for dinner in her home, expressed concern about the role of Miami Cubans. Most of those who fled were white and wealthy. When they sent money back to relatives who remained it was again largely to whites who accumulated more wealth. They fear that this inequality may generate a resurgence of racism as more white Cubans return from Florida take up residence.

In this brief description, I have minimized citing the myriad numbers that were a part of almost every presentation: number of acres, number of cooperatives, number of campesinos, number of bee hives, head of cattle, etc. The biggest reason is that I could not write these down without losing the gist of the presentation in which they were embedded. Nor have I commented on the veracity of what was presented. The combination of telling — usually the first part of our visit to a farm — and showing — the second part in which we strolled around the farm and had more opportunity to ask questions of any worker, laid most of such concerns to rest. Our interpreter, Amircal Salermo was proud of what Cuba had accomplished by the revolution, especially since 1991, but candid about its deficiencies. I never heard one of the Spanish-speaking members of our group complain about, or correct, his translation.

Skeptics, however, will doubt that what we were told reflected how citizens feel about Cuba under the Castros. None of the following scenes were planned and they gave me a fleeting glance about how people felt, including their willingness to speak candidly, and act spontaneously.

At the organoponico in Alamar we were joined by the fourteen-year old son of our interpreter, and one his friends, whose school and home were nearby. I engaged him in conversation as we walked around the farm, mainly discussing the educational system. Before parting, I remarked that his English was very good and asked whether that was due to his father or to his school, in which English is taught. He smiled and without hesitation said, “My father. The English teaching in the school is not very good.”

On our first night in Viñales we went to a “block party” sponsored by one of the CDRs (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution) that exist throughout Cuba. There were brief welcoming speeches, but we were there to have fun eating, talking and dancing. How much of this was staged I cannot say, but the very bright ten-year old who, with her parents, was part of our group, was immediately taken in hand by like-aged Cuban children. That could have been planned, but she then spent the entire evening with her newfound playmates, singing and dancing. She seemed to know the steps of their dances; either they are universal or she’s a very fast learner. A country may be able to hide some things, but not the happiness and spontaneity, or lack thereof, of its children.

In the Havana airport on our way back to Miami, two unrelated members of our party became acutely ill with vomiting and diarrhea probably due to food poisoning. Our leader requested medical attention for them. The doctor who staffed the airport for the Cuban health care system arrived promptly. He gave each of them a shot of Gravinol, an anti-histamine-like antiemetic, and an oral rehydration packet. The treatment worked, at least temporarily. I cannot imagine such prompt attention in a U.S. airport. Although they were both foreigners (Americans), neither was charged for the intervention. We had been told in advance that if we got sick in Cuba, the Cuban system would cover it.

By chance, on my return flight from Havana to Miami, I sat next to a Cuban sound engineer for a major American news network. About 60 years old, he bought a house in Ft. Lauderdale about three years ago where his wife lives. He is a Cuban citizen, paid by the network through a Cuban company and has a green card to commute to and from the U.S. One of his daughters is a doctor in Florida. She had to take supplemental training after getting her M.D. in Cuba. The other works in the video/film industry in Cuba, choosing not to emigrate. As he has worked alongside American-trained engineers he was able to say that his training in Castro Cuba was as good as similar training in the United States.

Comparing Fidel and Raul Castro he told me that Fidel was right for the revolution but that Raul is right for now. He was proud of Cuba’s health care and educational systems brought about by the revolution. Things have gotten much better since the Special Period he said, but there still is not enough food. I didn’t pursue whether he meant in variety or quantity. Food is still rationed.

I asked, “In which country are poor people better off, the United States or Cuba?” Unhesitatingly, he replied, “In Cuba.” His response reminded me that Maria Salcines had told us that when she went to the U.S recently to help promote the video Tierralismo conditions in our inner cities horrified her.

III. Reflections

Today, Cuba is the world’s longest standing revolutionary regime in which policies aimed at reducing inequality of wealth have been maintained. These include: redistribution of land and limiting the size of any holding while improving agricultural productivity; universal education and healthcare; and food rationing to ensure that everyone has something to eat. Cuba has withstood invasion, embargoes, and expatriates who not only encouraged hostile policies but whose money sent to their relatives in Cuba eroded wealth equality.

Some will argue that the sometimes violent efforts to end the revolution are justified by a lack of democracy in Cuba. Although members of our group learned of efforts to curtail freedom of speech of intellectuals to this day, I don’t think that this issue is as important to the vast majority of Cubans as it is to the expatriates, a small minority, many of whom had their property expropriated. Moreover, Cuban policies are debated.

Several Cubans with whom we spoke made the point that when major policy changes were being considered, the people are consulted at the community level and policy changes must be ratified by the Parliament. Emily Morris in a friendly but objective critical review of Cuba during and after the special period writes that post-1990, “National debates have been launched at critical moments, involving assemblies throughout the island, open to everyone.” Disagreement on policy changes is evident: Whether organic agriculture can supply all of Cuba’s agricultural needs is debated. Some government agencies favor the use of genetically modified organisms, with their introduction albeit on an experimental basis, while the agroecology movement vehemently opposes them. The revolution itself is not up for debate.

It is, moreover, disingenuous for the U.S. to condemn lack of democracy when it has helped overthrow democratically elected governments since 1953 in Iran (Mossadegh), Guatemala (1954, Arbenz Guzman), Congo (Lumumba, 1960), Chile (1973, Allende), and, unsuccessfully, in Venezuela (1999, Chavez). Indeed, armed uprisings that have reduced inequality of wealth (Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua) have survived longer than democratic reform efforts to reduce inequality.

Beginning in 2000 the United States has taken a less hostile approach with passage of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSRA), permitting the resumption of some exports to Cuba, and culminating in the historic announcements by Presidents Obama and Raul Castro in December 2014 that they would open negotiations to normalize relations.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"603563","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"360","style":"width: 600px; height: 338px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"640"}}]]

President Barack Obama and Cuba’s Raul Castro met on April 11, 2015, in the first formal meeting of the two country’s leaders in a half century. (image: State Department)

An important but understated reason for this shift in policy, I believe, is the benefit in trade that will accrue to both countries. In a recent publication, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) traced the increase in U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba, peaking in 2008 at $685 million per year, declining to $286 million in 2014. TSRA did not lift credit restrictions on sales to Cuba. This USDA report notes, “credit restriction enables other countries to compete more effectively with the United States for agricultural sales to Cuba…by extending credit and favorable payment terms, while U.S. exporters are prohibited from doing so.”(9) Indeed, since 2007, the U.S. market share of agricultural exports to Cuba relative to the rest of the world has fallen.

As already noted, the USDA believes Cuba is likely to develop comparative advantages in the production and export of certain fruits, and vegetables and some other agricultural products. Considering that after Canada and Mexico, Cuba is our nearest neighbor, importing these products from Cuba will be less costly than from further away. Unfettered importing will, however, require repeal of the Helms Burton Act unless the U.S. deems the current Cuban government democratic.

Although the percentages are in dispute, Cuba is currently importing certain agricultural products, notably rice, corn, wheat, and poultry. It is constrained from importing these from the U.S. because it cannot obtain credit and must pay cash. It would be beneficial to U.S. farmers to be able to export these products to Cuba because they could do so at mush lower transportation costs (borne by Cuba) than countries farther away. Buying rice from Mississippi would be a lot cheaper for Cuba than importing from Vietnam, currently one of its largest sources.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"603570","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"527","style":"width: 598px; height: 527px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"598"}}]]

Growth of U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba has been dampened by the financial restrictions imposed by embargo. Other exporting countries filled in the gap; Vietnam and Brazil export rice to Cuba, the EU exports wheat, and New Zealand exports dried milk. (image: USDA)

Closely allied with the mutual benefits of expanding trade is tourism, which Cuba has expanded in recent years, loosening travel restrictions in 2012. In this area, too, Europeans and others have greatly outpaced Americans in visits to the island. Tourism has brought badly needed hard currency into Cuba. As more middle class Americans visit the island with their dollars, their acquisitive lifestyles may appeal to Cubans. This may be further encouraged by Cuba’s recent policies toward Miami Cuban businessmen, allowing them to invest increasingly, starting with cultural exchanges, moving on to restaurants and housing.

A more cynical view explaining the rapprochement is that having failed to bring down the regime by violence and embargo, the U.S. can kill it with kindness. In contrast to the persistent hostility of most of those who fled immediately after the revolution many in the younger generations of Miami Cubans favor resuming relations. As Carlos M. Guttierrez, the Secretary of Commerce under George W. Bush, wrote in a New York Times op-ed:

There are those who will always wish for the past, whether it is pre-Castro Cuba or the days before the current rapprochement. Some of my fellow Cuban-Americans insist that continuing to squeeze Cuba economically will help the Cuban people because it will lead to democracy. I wonder if the Cubans who have to stand in line for the most basic necessities for hours in the hot Havana sun feel that this approach is helpful to them.

Since returning from my trip, I’ve vacillated on whether this new opening — if it continues to materialize — will deconstruct the values of Cuba’s revolution that have survived the various military and economic attempts to destroy them.

We encountered farmers and others with an entrepreneurial spirit. They seem to tolerate limits imposed by the state — limits that curtail the unequal accumulation of wealth. For instance, limits on the size of farms and on the transfer of land prevent a private farmer from gaining land and productivity at the expense of his or her neighbor. Long-term leasing (usufruct) gives the government additional control.

Members of cooperatives, including urban farms, seem to have more of a communitarian spirit, recognizing that working together and sharing the income will be better for everyone. But remember the worker at Vivero Alamar who said, “Everybody has a fixed salary according to the function he performs. It is a non-egalitarian policy but according to each one’s development and capacities.” Actually, this only becomes “non-egalitarian” when the second part of the Marxist slogan is ignored: When each receives according to his needs.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"603568","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"450","style":"width: 600px; height: 338px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"800"}}]]

Organoponico Vivero Alamar is a co-operative producing organically grown vegetables and medicinal plants. Originally created during the "Special Period" after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the farm has grown to 10.4 hectares, and employs many from the local community, in particular senior citizens. (image: Nils Aguilar/Wikimedia Commons)

Is the communitarian spirit deeply enough ingrained in Cubans that it will prevail despite the temptations from abroad?

Healthcare, education, and social security (low unemployment, old age provisions) are components that Cubans have reason to cherish, but the allures of an acquisitive lifestyle placed before them through modern mass communication among countries, already evident to many Cubans despite restrictions, may be hard for them to ignore.

The generations that remember how difficult life was in Cuba before 1959 are dying out. Will their children and their children’s children have the same ability to resist temptation?

Radio, television, and the internet have allowed people in different lands to hear and see how others live. And what is communicated by the mass media is seldom how poor people live, but rather how the rich do, whetting the desire of poor people everywhere to emulate. Despite the concerns of two intellectuals with whom we spoke I’m not so sure that overt racism will return to Cuba. On the streets of Havana and Viñales, and on the farms we visited, the degree to which people of different color were working and playing together was remarkable compared to North America. Racism is precluded by a high degree of admixture.

Ironically, a return to “a democratically elected government” — one of the conditions for ending the embargo under Helms-Burton — may bring about, as the Act intended, the repeal of land reform and other measures to limit inequality of wealth. As we have seen in the United States, especially since the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision, the use of the wealth of the one tenth of one percent to elect officials at all levels of government who will do their bidding, distorts democracy. The wealthy Cuban expatriates in Miami and elsewhere will not flinch from giving their support to policies that will increase inequality in Cuba. Frank Mora, an official under Obama recently noted about Cuba:

There will be people making more money, and some may transfer that economic power to a desire for political reform. On the other hand, those same people may help put the brakes on by supporting the regime, so as to protect their investments. Both China and Vietnam have adopted market economies without regime change.

Reducing climate change is an issue from which the United States and other countries can learn from Cuba. Born out of necessity when trade with the Soviet Union ended, Cuba has been able to grow most of its own food with minimal use of petroleum and petroleum products, remarkably reducing its carbon footprint. But food is not the only area. There are many fewer cars on the streets and roads, although, again of necessity, many of them are American gas-guzzlers of the 1950s. In Havana and on the main roads in the countryside, busses and open trucks carrying groups of workers were more frequent than cars.

One shudders to think that if the rapprochement continues, and inequality is increased, what will happen when Cubans buy cars in droves and take to the roads.

Viva la Revolución.

A fully foot-noted version of this paper is available from the author at nholtzm1@jhmi.edu.


With the U.S. and Cuba Normalizing Relations, American Companies Are Eager to Set Up Shop

AlterNet Comics: Matt Bors on Lifting the Trade Embargo on Cuba

Four Ways Mexico’s Indigenous Farmers Are Practicing the Agriculture of the Future

Ecovillage Survives as Haven for Deep Ecology in Mexico's Central Mountains

El Salvador Farmers Successfully Defy Monsanto

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}
@2022 - AlterNet Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. - "Poynter" fonts provided by fontsempire.com.