Ethan Arpi

Cuba: From Red to Green?

CastroIn 2001, during one of his excessively long speeches, Fidel Castro passed out at the lectern, an event which fueled serious speculation about the Cuban leader’s health. Three years later, after giving another drawn out speech, Castro tripped and fell, breaking his arm and shattering his knee cap. And last year, the C.I.A became part of the rumor mongering, reporting to Congress that Castro was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. According to the New Yorker, ?Castro has mocked the report and said that, even if it were true, he would be able to stay in office?citing Pope John Paul II as his model.? Now, El Comandante, who is suffering from another bout of health complications, has temporarily ceded power to his younger brother, Raul, while he recovers from surgery. So while the murky stew of innuendo and supposition continues to brew around the fate of the octogenarian leader, several newspapers, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Independent, have run stories on Cuba that have nothing to do with Castro and his ailing health. Ah, how refreshing!

Andrew Buncombe, for example, writes about the rise of urban agriculture in Cuba, noting that the preferred color of the Revolution has changed from red to green. According to Buncombe, in the last 15 years, Cubans have built more than 7,000 urban farms on over 81,000 acres of land, creating the world’s only self-sustaining agricultural system. In Havana alone, nearly 200 farms supply its residents with more than 90 percent of their produce. And to top it all off, without access to industrialized fertilizers (thanks to the trade embargo), Cuban farms are entirely organic.When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, Cuba, which was entirely reliant on imported food stuffs, found itself on the brink of famine. As Buncombe notes in his article, ?Nowhere was the effect felt more strongly than in the stomachs of the ordinary people. Figures produced by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization suggest that the daily calorie intake of the average Cuban fell from about 2,600 calories a day in the late 1980s to between 1,000 and 1,500 by 1993.?

The Cuban government responded to the crisis by creating the current system of urban farms, which are scattered throughout Cuba’s cities. Since the farms reached full production, annual calorie intake has risen dramatically and is now at 2,600 a day.

The farms are operated by local residents who are allowed to keep 50 percent of their harvest. The remaining 50 percent is passed on to the government and redistributed throughout the region.

Curiously, many farmers who participate in the program have developed their own private restaurants and stores that they use to sell their produce. Whether or not such private enterprise is in the spirit of the Revolution is open to debate. But regardless, these private businesses have started to cash in on Cuba’s latest agricultural boom.

So while pundits, conspiracy theorists, and policy wonks continue to speculate about the future of Cuba, another revolution has already taken hold. Professor Jules Pretty, of the University of Essex’s department of biological sciences, seems to suggest that the current green revolution?not the revolution of ?59?is closest to realizing the Marxist ideal of ending alienated labor: ?(In the West) we are worried that we don’t know about where our food comes from. In Havana, people are closer to their food production and that may also have psychological benefits.”

Alas, if Cubans could also be closer to their means of political production, things would probably be a whole lot better.

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World Resources Institute