Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You

by Dennis Machicao

With the surprising current events in regard to the normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba, there is excitement and high anticipation of re-discovering this mysterious communist island just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

Although there is much angst with the Cuban/American population about this normalization, I feel much like what happened in Eastern Europe, the influx of western and especially American culture will eventually give incentive to the Cuban populous to make their government change their communist rule. The younger generation will embrace the American cultural way of life as what happened in East Berlin that was one of the factors that brought down the Berlin Wall.  Hopefully though, Cuba will not become too Americanized and still keep the unique charm that has made that island so intriguing.

One of the things we are discovering about Cuba is their concern about the environment and sustainability. Many believe because of the many years of the US embargo of goods and the pulling out of their largest trading partner, the Soviet Union, sustainability has taken hold basically as a means of survival. We all know of the iconic cars of the 1950’s that are on the streets of Havana, but the majority of Cubans use bicycles or walk thus having reduced air pollution.

During its hayday Cuba was the largest exporter of sugar, contributing to the expansion of the New World in the seventeen hundreds and mainly to the US in modern times. There was very little diversity of corps and sugar was king. During the later part of the 20th century, like so many other countries, Cuba wanted to increase their crop yield and reduce labor and thus turned to mechanized farming and the use chemical fertilizers and pesticides. With the Soviet Union as their main trading partner, the Soviets supplied them with more intensive fertilizers and pesticide chemicals. At one time, Cuba was the highest consumer of agrochemicals in Latin America.

Now, having to fend for themselves, they realized that the non-diversity of crops, the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides all took a immense toll on their farmlands.

The local farmers and ranchers, discovered that the only way to survive was to go back to more traditional farming methods. By growing a more diverse mix of crops, initiating crop rotation, experimenting with seed diversity that would grow naturally in a particular environment, using no or little fertilizer in favor of organic materials and using beneficial insects to have healthier yields, the tide finally turned.

The small farms saw their soil start to regenerate to a healthier state, producing higher yields of crops. Basically what farming was before the industrial revolution, a sustainable ecological and organic way.  With land that had been abandoned, the government re-distributed it via farm cooperatives. To protect their rich soil from sea salt, they lowered the sea level. For their main means of power, they put their rivers to use and built hydroelectric power stations rather than using nuclear or wind power.

Politics aside, Cuba is indeed an interesting country and is per capita a more sustainable earth friendly country than most. Hopefully the re-establishing of diplomatic relations between both countries will benefit Cuba and the US. My hope is though that Cuba will still keep its sustainable path and not become too Americanized. It would be a shame to see a McDonald’s or Starbucks on every corner of Havana.

Image File Credit: Balint Foldesi

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