The sustainability of Cuba

I recently took a look at The Community Solution, which Prof. Goose also posted about over a month ago and the other day. The organization advocates developing small local communities with the following characteristics:
  • Physically limited – a small place
  • Food production incorporated – live closer to food sources
  • Nature available for education and recreation
  • Ease and safety of walking and biking
  • Low energy – minimal machine transportation
  • Closer living to our work, schools, and shops
Community Solution also sponsors the Second U.S. Conference on "Peak Oil" and Community Solutions, which features Richard Heinberg (author of Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World) as a keynote speaker.

In poking around their website, I found this power point presentation and this newsletter about Cuba. Cuba is an interesting case study, because they import very little oil and certainly don't have any domestic oil production. Once the Soviet Union ended its sponsorship of Cuba in 1989, the energy resources they'd been using suddenly evaporated. Community Solution argues that Cuba is already living in a post-peak-oil culture.

Of course, Cuba isn't exactly a utopian agrarian society today, but still, it survives. And under Communist control, at that! This interesting pdf from the USDA (of all places) details the current state (as of 1998) of agriculture in Cuba. In the early 1990s, the Cuban government began an economic recovery that allowed for increased foreign investment in some Cuban industries like mining, telecommunications, etc. But for the most part, Cubans grow their own food for domestic consumption. Yes, there's some importation of certain staples, but for the most part they are self-sustaining. This Canadian website provides more information on specifically how Cuban agriculture responded to the economic crisis of the 20th century.

(Edited to add: Commenter Bart points us to a few more Cuba links, including an excerpt of Bill McKibben's April 2005 article in Harper's called "The Cuba Diet: What Will You Be Eating When the Revolution Comes?". In fact, Bill Totten has the whole article on his website, and it's most definitely worth the read. Thanks, Bart.)

I'm not advocating Cuba as a model to strive toward. This assessment by the RAND Corporation does not paint a pretty picture. But I still think the Community Solution people might be onto something by looking at Cuba as a case study. Now, if only we were granted access to the country...

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Here are some more links about Cuba.

Re-posts of a talk by Pat Murphy at the Community Service Peak Oil conference last year:
the talk with slides embedded
text-only version of the talk

(there's a version on the Community Service website, but it's hard to find)


Here are excerpts from a long article by BIll McKibben in the Apr 05 issue of Harpers:
The Cuba Diet: What will you be eating when the revolution comes?


There are a number of other articles on the Web about the changes Cuba has gone through. But it's surprising how little has been written, considering Cuba's significance for the post-PO world.

Here is a link to some interviews with Pat Murphy of The Community Solution, including an interview on his thoughts about the lessons of Cuba:

Late last year, Cuba did announce an oil discovery in their backyard, about 100 million barrels.

Let's see, that's 1.2 days of world consumption at today's rates, or about $6 billion gross if you could pump it all today.

I think that the ETH Zürich solar zinc reduction process has far more potential; both Cuba and Brazil are large growers of sugar cane, and both could use the bagasse as the carbon source to drive the zinc cycle.  The zinc cycle in turn can supply electricity, motor fuel (two different types) and hydrogen for chemical synthesis.  (Click my blog link, it's at the top right now.)

I bet Cuba will be a late adopter of this technology - just a prediction.

Don't feed the troll.
I agree, karlof1, Latin America seems to be moving leftward at a surprising rate: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Venezuela, Uruguay, perhaps Ecuador, Mexico and Bolivia soon.

Part of it is due to peak oil. Rising oil revenues give Chavez a lot more maneuvering room. Bolivians realize what a goldmine they have in natural gas and push again for nationalization. Higher energy prices in Nicaragua bring demonstrations against the government.

Something I find missing in the Peak Oil analysis is how it's going to play out politically. There's a widespread assumption that the present political arrangments are eternal, that the population will simply submit.

We forget how quickly politics can change. Europe went from the Roaring Twenties to fascism and communism within ten years.

What is the rule of thumb for change in complex systems? Changes can take a long time coming, but when they hit, they hit with surprising speed.

If Cuba is our future I will kill myself before. Obviously none of you guys has ever traveled there and tried to survive on 10 dollars a month.

I wonder what these professors are smoking

oil traveler -

Yes, I've been there. And I've been to Angola, Nigeria, Colombia, Gabon, and most everywhere else there is oil of any kind. What makes Cuba unique is that they had most of their oil taken from them when Russia collapsed, and we tried to embargo and undercut them out of existence. Their response was to "power down" and go agricultural to feed their people. They have already done something people think will be impossible.

Before you laugh at $10/month, you should realize what could happen to the dollars in your pocket should the world decide to forego the dollar hegemony. Your $10 might turn out to be much less than what Cubans live on...

The American standard of living is going to decrease due to factors now outside of US control. You should wrap your mind around it, and research it if you don't believe it. Not in a years time, but a decade will change quite a lot....

sense -

citing something as a reference hardly qualifies as declaring them your best friend.

Get the chip off, dude...

"The Cuba Diet" by McKibben in Harper's is an excellent description of the situation. The whole agricultural system in Cuba is a fascinating combination of near-organic methods along with a dose of genetic engineering.
Cuba also has the advantage of being tropical, no frosts to worry about. Tomatoes grow till you cut them down. Those of us farther north will have a harder time.

Bart--I think we've speculated on the political fallout of PO on an almost daily basis, with opinions covering a wide spectrum. Most see PO driving economic trends that will effect financial trends that end up becoming political because of the dislocations caused. But as in the case south of the border, I would say we are seeing ongoing political fallout regarding PO. And isn't the Iraq war political fallout related to PO?

I was thinking about this last night: Is PO a Left, Right, Center, or none-of-the-above political issue? Does some sort of advantage come to the political group seen to "own" or "doing something about" the issue of PO?

Sorry folks but you have no clues about Cuba.
First of all: The oil was not "taken" from them, the Russians simply insisted on the usual price. Before the Cubans sold overpriced sugar to the Soviet Union and received oil at bargain prices.

The Cuban "economy" was based on this deal. They had a centralized monoculture that fell flat after 1991.

Do you know what the Cubans eat now? Rice and beans, beans and rice, sometimes a little bit of minced meat (not defined). You want fresh tomatos? Only for hard currency at the "free markets". A pound of tomatos will cost a three days wage.

Their electricity is off 8 hours a day or more... their electric equipment fries.

Btw there is no embargo. Every country except the US trades freely with Cuba. Now they made a new deal with Venezuela: You send us cheap oil, we send you cheap doctors (doubling as spies).

Free health care in Cuba? Check out a local hospital and see for yourself what's free there. Even aspirin is only available with dollars. And Westerners who donate drugs to hospitals never find out that the drugs are taken and sold for dollars which end up in the pockets of the government.

Cuba for Cubans is hell, my friends. That's why people drive their old Chevvies across the sea to escape.

Cuba is not a model for a post peak oil society, it's the ultimate nightmare.

Politics aside - it is hard to ignore Castro's politics, isn't it? - Cuba is not the best model for the post-petroleum age. Cuba is warm, sun-drenched. Up here in Canada, we need a lot more energy to survive.

My comment to the oil traveller is the following --

Cubans live better than 80% of Humanity. This my friend includes tha vast majority of people in India and China. So if you are thinking that you will be able to maintain the life style you have become used to by over consuming, you are in for a rude shock. If you think that the people in the rest of the world are poor because they are stupid, lazy and non entrepreunerial, you are in for an even worse shock. Go do some reading about the economics and causes of poverty, and you will be surprised by what you find there.

Just as a piece of additional information. the US consumes over 25% of the World's resources, when it has only 5% of the population.


Venzuela and other Caribbean nations including Cuba have formed the northern counterpart to PetroSur by founding Petrocaribe,; and in related news,, Venezuela is following Canada's lead including the extraheavy Orinoco oil in total proven reserves, now claimed at 318Bbls.

Chavez is taking the initiative, recognizes Peak Oil and has the growing political support from All of Latin America. Learning Spanish and gowing south is definately a worthy survival strategy--in terms of democracy, North and South America are going in different directions: less/more, respectively. Mexico's upcoming election next year should be watched closely as it looks very likely that Mexico City Governor Andrés Manuel López Obrador will win, leaving Plan Colombia as the only rightest/reactionary deathsquad/allied government south of the border. But Bolivia will come first.

I imagine the Khmer Rouge and North Korea have done pretty well by your standards too. If these are your friends you have worse problems then peak oil.

Rajiv, Cubans are not poor because they are lazy but because they a run by a bloody Communist dictator who enforces a centralized economy that does not work, does not encourage work. The only way people survive is to steal from state run companies and sell/barter those things.

They jail people for 5 years because they sell fish they caught in the sea themselves.

A medical doctor receives about 350 pesos a month that convert to 15 US$. He is not allowed to make any money or start a private enterprise to survive, even if it's just planting tomatos on his balcony and sell them.

5 tomatos cost 1 dollar at the free markets. How many doctors in the world do you know who "make" 2 tomatos a day?

I'm pretty much aware that we spend too much energy. But "professors" who advocate the "Cuban model" as a "model of sustainability" should get their brain checked in a Cuban hospital.

Have you ever seen a Cuban bus? They drink dirty diesel like it wase growing on trees and belch black smoke all over the place.

"Organic food" in Cuba? Well if you call rice with dirt and worms "organic", maybe.

And don't give me advice about Cuba. I lived in this fucking hell for decades.

Oil Traveler--OK, I'm not going to take issue with you on the cuban standard of living. I did say in the post that I didn't really think it was a model we should actually strive toward.

HOWEVER. What's interesting about Cuba is their advances in agriculture despite the lack of many modern farming implements, fertilizer, etc. Now, how they're able to get their products to any kind of market is a different issue altogether. What if a post-peak world regained that kind of knowledge minus the Communist dictatorship? I'm not advocating their style of government at all. I'm just interested in how they make do without the Green Revolution.

And dude. Just because you disagree with something here doesn't change the fact that we're actually employed as professors. So you don't need the quotes. (Sorry, had to get that off my chest.)

Oil traveler -

I'll take my medicine. I haven't been there since 1990, so I guess things have actually gotten worse. And I used the word "taken" so as not to get into a lengthy discussion of what happened, but thanks for taking care of that.

Cuba was left no choice but to do what they did - or is that something they elected to do?

The point we are trying to make is that while it ain't sexy, we can move to use a hell of a lot less energy. Cuba is the extreme end of that - they had to do with almost none for some time, and not enough now. Their lack of a living wage has always been the core issue with Castro - you got to keep them poor to keep them under your thumb.

What I think the professors are trying to point out is that the food part of the problem has various solutions, and Cuba has used them, and they work. Distribution sucks - as usual - but the food can be grown. The model is the agricultural one, and they only got to see the best of what works, in the best light (naturally, but they probably didn't realize the show in progress). But the fact remains that it was working. However the little issue of who actually gets this produce wasn't anything they even considered - they are professors with a very narrow focus. Just as an economist would probably have noticed the distribution problem and never seen the food production aspect.

...And in the FWIW department, lots of places eat those worms. I used to eat them in ground meat when I lived in Colombia, just like everybody else.

You might want to consider a transfer or a new job - lots of other places to use your spanish that are much more palatable. Life is too short to hate where you live each and every day. And if you are in oil, then the job situation is wide open right now. Just don't go to west Africa....buena suerte...

oil traveler -- lies and 1/2 truths

True: USSR sold oil to Cuba at below-market prices. Cuba had been doing industrialized monocultures (more industrialized I think than the US in fact).

Lie: "There is no embargo" -- there is indeed a US trade embargo which affects Cuba significantly. Get real, traveler.

Lie: Attacking free health care in Cuba. By all accounts, the health system is outstanding for a country at its economic level; average longevity is comparable to the US. And tell us, why aren't there more medicines in the Cuban hospitals? Big reason -- the US embargo.

Lie: Attacking the Cuban diet as rice and beans. If you've traveled, you know that's the average diet in many Latin American countries.

Lie: Attributing the flight of Cubans to Castro. Have you ever heard of emigration from Mexico, Central America or any other poor country? It's a widespread phenomenon.

Remember that Cuba has been under threat from the most powerful country in the world since its Revolution. Assassination plots, invasions and embargoes. It's all documented, no secret. One of the worst effects from this pressure is in making the Cuban political system more rigid; this happens in any country when it is under attack.

Cuba does have problems, as do all countries. What is amazing is how much they have accomplished; in the cases of public health and education, coming close to rich industrialized countries. Agree with Castro's politics or not, there is a lot to learn from it.

If I were to live in a poor, low-energy society, I would much rather live in Cuba than in Bangladesh, El Salvador or most African countries.

If the US takes a bad tumble (dollar devalued, political instability and authoritarianism), Cuba and similar countries might be preferable.

But the reality is that we don't have to choose between the approaches of Bush and Castro. Let's talk about real issues, though, not right wing propaganda points.

J, what on earth makes you believe that I'm still in Cuba? That comment I made before would have gotten me 15 years in prison.

People in Cuba don't have the chance to "transfer" to another place that are much more palatable...unless they climb on a balsa and try to make it to Florida... and 50% of those don't make it.

Cuba, a Caribbean island surrounded by fish rich waters, is importing canned fish from Venezuela... does that tell you something? Did you know that Cubans are not allowed to own a boat?

Well you can always see Cuba as an example of what happens when you don't have enough energy. But please, don't try to push it as an example of sustainability. The oil they have is not used wisely, the waste factor is much higher in Cuba than in the US because they use energy inefficient equipment and just a few weeks ago Castro introduced Chinese electric rice cookers which are such energy wasters that most city are blacked out for 8 hours a day, sometimes 3 days in a row.

But to adress the points raised in the article:

# Physically limited – a small place
It's 700 miles from Havana to Santiago. Small place?

# Food production incorporated – live closer to food sources
They don't. Food production is heavily centralized and distributed. Often collected fruit is rotting away because it's in the wrong place and nobody transports it where it is needed in time.

# Nature available for education and recreation
I don't know what that means. Havana doesn't have much nature . Sure you can go to the campo but what's the point here?

# Ease and safety of walking and biking
Safety of biking? Do you know how many Cuban cyclists are killed every year because motorists simply ignore them? No biking paths, sorry, you're on your own with speeding cars and buses that spew noxious fumes. You do have traffic jams in Havana, believe it or not.

# Low energy – minimal machine transportation
That's ridiculous. Most Cuban machines are the worst energy wasters you can imagine.

# Closer living to our work, schools, and shops
Maybe by US standards. The big prefab blocks many Cubans live in are 20km away from work, commuting is in old Hungarian buses which waste energy and pollute.

The recommendations aren't bad but most simply don't apply to the Cuban situation.

traveler, you've got a lot to tell us, but why make everything into a propaganda point?

For example, WHY is Cuban machinery old and energy-wasting? Is it by design? Is it communism? Is it because Cubans are stupid? Or is it because Cuba is poor and under embargo -- and because of the cheap oil mentality in the past that almost all of us shared?

WHY is it unsafe to bike? Communism? Cuban ineptitude? Or is it the same reason that it's unsafe for any of us to bicycle in traffic dominated by cars and trucks? (And as I understand it, widespread bicycle riding is relatively new to Cuba.)

From some of your points, it sounds as if you left Cuba several years ago. Since then, agriculture and distribution seems to have opened up, some sectors becoming less centralized and state-controlled. Food -- which was minimal in the early 90s -- has become more abundant.

Your criticisms against Castro would be much more cogent if they were delivered with a rapier and not a sledge hammer. It's easy to dismiss your posts when you rant; it's hard to dismiss them if you are fair-minded.

I just wanted to mention a book writen by a leftist American (born in Mexicot city) living in Cuba during the "special period." Through the Wall by Margot Pepper.

Bart, I have hear all this before.

Lie: "There is no embargo" -- there is indeed a US trade embargo which affects Cuba significantly. Get real, traveler.

Cuba can trade freely with any other country. And there is NO US embargo in place for food and medecine. The US just insist on cash. You can buy your can of Coke or your box of Aspirin in Havana just fine. Of course the lack of access to US markets hurts. But the reason why Cuba's economy is in such a bad shape is not the "embargo", it's the system that punishes any free enterprise.

Lie: Attacking free health care in Cuba. By all accounts, the health system is outstanding for a country at its economic level; average longevity is comparable to the US. And tell us, why aren't there more medicines in the Cuban hospitals? Big reason -- the US embargo.

Again, there is no embargo for medecine. Cuba's health system was pretty good in Soviet times, now it's dismal. Please go and visit any hospital that does NOT treat foreigners. But bring your own bandaid.
(That's how your abverage free health care hospital looks like. And no propaganda, a Scandinavian tv team took the photos)

Lie: Attacking the Cuban diet as rice and beans. If you've traveled, you know that's the average diet in many Latin American countries.

ONLY rice and beans (of dire quality, including living maggots)? No milk for anyone older than 7 years? Chicken once a month if you are lucky? Other meat, never? (You get 15 years in jail for selling veal, it's illegal). No fishing allowed. Possession of self caught lobster: 5 years in jail. Have you ever seen a Cuban "libreta" (food card) and checked what they are able to buy as staple food (if it's available, that is).

Lie: Attributing the flight of Cubans to Castro. Have you ever heard of emigration from Mexico, Central America or any other poor country? It's a widespread phenomenon.

Stop insulting me. I spent 5 years in a Cuban jail for speaking out in Cuba. I boarded a makeshift raft together with 35 other Cubans. 22 died. They wanted freedom, not a house and a car.

Cuba does have problems, as do all countries. What is amazing is how much they have accomplished; in the cases of public health and education, coming close to rich industrialized countries. Agree with Castro's politics or not, there is a lot to learn from it.

What was accomplished in health and education was accomplished when Cuba was actually subsidized by the USSR. As soon as your "post peak oil period" set in, it went downhill. If Cubans manage to survive it's DESPITE Castro's politics, not because of it.

If I were to live in a poor, low-energy society, I would much rather live in Cuba than in Bangladesh, El Salvador or most African countries.

Live there for a year, like a Cuban without dollars. Then we talk.


If the US takes a bad tumble (dollar devalued, political instability and authoritarianism), Cuba and similar countries might be preferable.

If so, tourism to Cuba will collapse, Venezuelan oil will not flow and Cuba will be a tropical North Korea.

If Cubans manage to survive it's DESPITE Castro's politics, not because of it.

I don't really want to get into this anymore, but Oil Traveler, THIS is exactly my point. In my original post, I never, ever said anything good about Castro's policies. In fact, the post had nothing to do with the political or economic system at all. The point is that Cubans have been able to be ingenious DESPITE all of the obstacles. Now, hopefully in post-peak times in a non-Communist society, we'll also have a lot of other things working for us besides just our ingeunuity.

Again, your insight is welcome here, and you obviously had a difficult time of your life in Cuba, and, it seems, so do many Cubans. Perhaps it's difficult to look beyond the political situation there. But since you have so much experience, I want to try.

Maybe I can direct your expertise elsewhere. Did you read the linked McKibben article? I'd love to hear your impressions of it

bart, the five points mentioned are not all necessarily about communism.

I simply want to point out that they don't apply to the Cuban situation.

I left Cuba in 1994 but family members remain so I'm very much aware of changes and the current situation. Right now, the timid efforts of allowing some free enterprise are curbed again. Most people had to give up because they were taxed and fined to death by the government.

Food is abundant only for people with dollars. People who live on libreta and pesos only have a little more than they had in 1994.

The only way to survive if you don't have relatives abroad or access to dollar tourists is to steal from your workplace and try to sell the stuff. Most "legal" ways to make a living on your own have been phased out again.

ianqui, ok, maybe I get too emotional when it comes to Cuba.

But if you leave Communism out of all this it boils down to that: If you don't have enough oil/energy, you need to get creative.

And Cubans are ingenious people.

I'm not denying the progress made in agricultural research because oil is scarce. But Cubans without access to hard currency don't see much of this. Their libreta has barely changed in ten years. Calory input may have risen, but not quality input. All this great "organic" stuff is available at the "free markets", but at dollar prices. Almost all veal Cuba produces is exported: The revenue only fills Castro's pockets. You can't even buy orange juice for pesos. And yes, they grow oranges in Cuba.

That doesn't take anything away from the value of the research, so if you focus on that, fine. There is a lot in the US we could do to save energy. Hell of a lot.

But in Cuba you can't leave politics aside. Never.

oil traveler:  Preach on.  Academia is still full of Marxists; they need to be forced to confront the truth about the regimes they have supported (and still support).

E-P: I'm sure you're not trying to insult us, but I wouldn't call myself a Marxist. Perhaps Prof Goose and Heading Out will weigh in for themselves. And just in case you're about to say that you weren't talking about us per se, well, I don't think that making judgements based on stereotypes is productive. I think we're all aware here that the politcal system in Cuba is pretty shitty.

Glad to see specifics, oil traveler, and some shades of grey in your remarks (as vs black/white).

The situation has several causes, of which perhaps we can agree on several:

1. Cuba is a poor country, similar to Guatemala, Nicaragua, Jamaica, etc.

2. Before the break-up of the USSR, Cuba was subsidized in many ways, in particular by below-market petroleum. When the USSR dissolved, Cuba faced a major catasrophe.

3. The Castro regime is rigid and centralized, though it seems to be more popular than communist governments in Eastern Europe.

We might disagree about:

1. The effect of the US embago and its decades long military/political/economic pressures. The US really wants to overthrow Castro, and the US is not weak or foolish. The embargo is designed to hurt. If we weren't arguing, I'll bet that we could agree about this.

2. The viability of socialism or communism. You seem ambivalent, exasperated with the severe restrictions on politics and on individual entrepeneurs but (and I'm reading into your comments) proud of the social progress made since the Revolution.. For my part, I'm dubious about dogmatism of the left or right; I get into arguments with doctrinaire socialists and true-believer Republicans. I lean left but I read the business press.

It would be wonderful to get your insgihts and experiences, but do we have to reiterate the same old arguments? The experience that you and Cuba have gone through since the Special Period is of world importance. What worked and what didn't?

For example, one lesson seems to be that centralized, industrial agriculture has a limited future when oil is expensive. Local growing and distribution seem to be key. State-run agriculture seems to be a no-go.

Another lesson is that organic methods work. Government research and support yield great dividends.

Also, we have to give the Cuban government and people their due. After oil was cut off, there could have been famines, civil war, a super-authoritarian regime (think Cambodia, Ruanda, North Korea). From what I can tell -- would you disagree? -- the Cubans took a co-operative, positive approach, spread the pain around and were willing to abandon old patterns to adapt to low energy.

There are lessons here for all of us, apart from Castro.

There was a good article from Jan Lundberg at Cultural Change - Petrocollapse: Can you live without indoor running water?

For all you Cuba fans:

"Cuba devotes between $800 million and $900 million, more than 20% of its import capacity, to the purchase of food that could be very easily produced in the country. Such purchases, which do not satisfy the needs of the population, are made abroad as the result of the inefficiency that exists in the agricultural sector."

oil traveler,
do you want to discuss or propagandize?
do you have anything positive to contribute?
or are you so embittered that it impedes objective analysis entirely?
maybe you should get involved in something else that you feel happy about
bitterness leads to a stunted life

Close your eyes, bart, nothing to see here.
After all, the world has been doing that with Cuba for 45 years.
But for me your post-peakoil idyll of "sustainable agriculture" a la cubana ist just a nightmare. Ask Cubans when no "minder" from state security is present, what they really think about all this.
I didn't risk my life to flee that, just to have it reinstated in the U.S.
It doesn't work in Cuba, it won't work here, that's all.
I have more faith in the advanced science and technology of the United States to solve the problem.
For some reasons the lights didn't go out on January 1st 2000 as well.

Yes Oil Traveller,

It is a nightmare. But so is the war in Iraq, and so is the bone crunching poverty in Sub Saharan Africa. But some nightmares are better than others. Peak Oil without amelioration will lead us into one of these three nightmares. Take your pick.

Yes Technology may possibly bring solutions. But we don't know whether they will work. If they work, whether they will be enough. And we definitely don't know what problems and crises of their own they will bring. We do know that with or without Peak Oil, our reliance on fossil fuels is leading us to intense climate change. Our Land use patterns, and population increase is leading to a loss of biological diversity.

Taking the attitude "someone will find an answer to these problems (including Peak Oil,) but it is just not going to be 'me,'and I will continue to go on doing what I am doing currently" is a sure path into one of these nightmares.

Yes, the path taken by Cuba and Cubans (I am not talking Castro or communism here!) can teach us. So can the war in Iraq, and Sub Saharan poverty. Each of these situations point us to lost opportunities, paths wrongly chosen, and of course innovative ways in which people deal with adversity.

The terrifying nature of these possible nightmares should not paralyze us, but should mobilize us to action so that we can deal with this coming crisis.

Rajiv, there is a few things I don't understand

When I hear about all those peak oil crash doom theories ready to finish us off in the next years, it seems to be that those who spend a lot of money on future technology are ignorants.

Are they all idiots who can't see the light? Why would Airbus build a super jumbo? Why would we develop a Mars program? Why would any car manufacturer build anything but a one gallon car?

I'm very much in favor of conserving energy, using as little oil as possible.. for everything. Hell yes, sustainable agriculture is great. Just how many people can afford to shop at Freshfields? How do you feed 10 million New Yorkers by planting organic potatos?

I do not deny that Cuban people have taken some creative steps in surviving their personal oil shock and some technologies developed may very well teach us something.

But if you read the full text, that's not the picture I get.

The first photos show a hospital that ordinary Cubans are never going to see... the shot is from an international hospital in Havana that only treats people who have dollars.

The nexyt pictures show energy guzzling transportation. The camello is drinking diesel like there is no tomorrow and poisons the cities with black noxious smokes. The old American cars drink up to 20 liters per 100 km... what's sustainable about that?

So they use horse drawn carriages in small places. Do we need the Cuban example to "invent" that?

Or this:
"there are no slums as in Brazil and
other Third World countries."

Have you ever lived in an overcrowded crumbling house in Centro Habana, living in fear every day that it may collapse and bury your whole family?

Then I read this sentence:

"a world with a sense of
community, morality and values. This is a
sustainable world, one without agricultural
poisons and machine toxins, and a
world where people are living in harmony
with each other and the earth, rather than
in constant competition based on the
principles of capitalistic industrialism."

This is so over the top and absurd that I can only laugh. Have you ever witnessed the plight of ordinary citizens who spend 4 hours to buy some meagre provisions, who neede to steal that "people owned property" in order to sell it and survive? The aggressiveness and quarrels that break out in every queue, ever day, because food ran out again and you stoon in the blazing sun for three hours and got nothing? Have you ever met a guy who raised ten chickens on his balcony and when he tried to sell his eggs in the street the police conficated his eggs because he was "enriching himself"?

Have you ever visited the city of Moa, which is so intoxicated by the nickel smelter that every third child has asthma? A city where a white shirt will be rust-brown in ten minutes, if you wear it. A city where the first thing you do in the morning is coughing and trying to get the acid burn out of your throat?

Have you ever seen 13 year old girls selling their body to 60 year old tourists so that the family finally gets a decent meal? No, my friend, this is no propaganda, that's reality.

The author does nothing more than project his own utopia of a "green" lala-land. The last sentence says it all:

"We wish Wendell Berry and Wes
Jackson could visit Cuba as we did and
see an agrarian way of life being reborn.
Wendell’s poem notes, “I don’t like
machines... Some day they will be gone,
and that will be a glad and a holy day.”
Cuba is well on the way to that glad
and holy time."

Look elsewhere. This is not what you are going to find in Cuba. What you will find is people desparately trying to survive because a stubborn regime doesn't allow them a decent life which they could have if they could make thzeir own choices.

oil traveler,
you point out the problem of romanticizing Cuba and the rigidity of the communist government. fine.

you do not address the issue of what a poor country can do when it falls off the energy cliff. the question is not cuba or the US. the question is cuba or guatemala; cuba or bolivia; cuba or nicaragua. and especially when the country in question experiences a huge jump in the cost of energy. if you look in the news, you will see reports of riots and demonstrations when energy prices rise (e.g. nicaragua, indonesia, truckers in europe); this is just a small taste of what could happen.

when any country runs into severe shortages, there will almost certainly be rationing and increased government control. it happened in the US and europe during ww2. there were limitations on the businesses people could operate. just as in cuba, there was corruption and black markets.

in countries with a weak democracy, when rationing, etc. does not occur,there is hoarding, famine and civil war.

one of the key factors in how a country copes is whether the leadership is able to project a sense of social solidarity. is the population convinced that the pain is being shared, that arrangements are more-or-less fair?

many of the issues are the same whether the government is capitalist, communist or social democratic. if i were in charge of emergency planning for any country, i would want to study cuba's special period in depth. some things they did very well, some things not.

romanticizing or bitterness: neither work well as emergencies approach.


I lived the first and harshest years of the "Special Period".
That spirit of solidarity did hardly exist, it was something propagated by the government. Even the slightest protest was met with brutal suppression. In Cuba the Party controls everything...every house has a control guy. Any dissent can cost you years in jail.

Yet in 1994 things had gotten so bad that people took to the sea in makeshift rafts and probably up to 50000 Cuibans perished..we may never know.

In summer 1994 there were riots in the narrow streets of Centro Habana. For a short time we thought we could topple the government but the revolt was not organized and when it reached the larger streets people were met by tanks.

The government did react: It legalized the dollar and allowed some form of free enterprise. This led to an apartheid system between those with dollars and those without. With dollars you would buy anything, without... nothing.

I don't know what example Cuba can be for you. You claim that "sustained agriculture" brought the did not. Production fell sharply and despite all those wonderful measures you admire production has barely risen ever since because of that. Cuba is slightly better off today because relatives in Miami send 1bn dollars a year and tourism provides another 2 bn (of which 50% have to be spent on imports).

Cuba uses up a lot of its income for food IMPORTS. You wouldn't have those in post peak oil times.

Without tourism, dollarization and money sent from abroad Cubans would still be starving like they did in 1993. It shouldn't. It's a tropical fertile island surrounded by fish rich sea.

Not to be suspicious or anything, oil transport, but could you substantiate some of your story? You write excellent idiomatic English for someone whose native language is Spanish. To be honest, you write like a professional writer, which seems strange. Perhaps you should identify yourself and point to your other writings.

On a few of the points that I've studied (for example, the US embargo), your statements are incorrect or propagandistic. You don't draw on any of the scholarly research, and (this also seems strange to me) the personal accounts are melodramatic and rather vague. Most of the points and arguments you make are from anti-Castro sources (though you do a very good job of presenting them).

Given the fact that you have hijacked this discussion, could you be more forthcoming about yourself? You are not "a regular guy" who just happened to come upon an interesting website. If you are a professional writer, why are you wasting your time on propaganda? Why not write something substantial and real? If you are a pro, you know what I'm talking about.

To try to return the thread to its original subject, the talk that Richard Heinberg gave at the FEASTA conference on food after peak oil has been posted at . He gives the big picture of food production and devotes a few paragraphs to Cuba.