News From Cuba

News From Cuba

News articles posted here pertain to Cuba's successes and struggles in the fields of environmental protection and sustainable development, as well as commentary on global environmental issues by respected Cuban environmentalists and experts in sustainable development.

Redefining Socialism in Cuba by Garry Leech, Counterpunch, September 18, 2015

New Cuban Cooperatives                                                                                              by Dave Lippman, youtube, May 2015                                

An arugula-growing farmer feeds a culinary revolution in Cuba by Nick Mirof, The Washington Post, August 24, 2015

CAIMITO, Cuba — Like all homestead stories, Fernando Funes Monzote’s starts with an epic battle against harsh elements and long odds. Funes, a university-trained agronomist, settled on a badly eroded, brushy hillside here outside Havana four years ago and began digging a well into the rocky soil. The other farmers nearby thought he was crazy, or worse — a dilettante with a fancy PhD whose talk of “agroecology” would soon crash into the realities of Cuban farming. Funes had no drill, so he and a helper had to break through layers of rock with picks and hand tools. Seven months later and 50 feet down, they struck a gushing spring of cool, clear water. “To me, it was a metaphor for agroecology,” said Funes, 44, referring to the environmentally minded farm management techniques he studied here and in the Netherlands. “A lot of hard work by hand, and persistence, but a result that is worth the effort.” Today Funes is one of the most sought-after figures in Cuban culinary circles. Finca Marta, the 20-acre farm he named in honor of his late mother, supplies organic produce to many of Havana’s top-rated “paladares,” the privately owned restaurants that are transforming the island’s reputation for uninspired dining.   Funes grows more than 60 varieties of vegetables, fruits and herbs in carefully terraced planting beds designed to conserve water. He’s planted woody shrubs to divide his cattle pastures with “living fences” that also provide habitat for birds. His beehives yielded 1.5 tons of honey last year. The farm and its irrigation systems run almost entirely on solar power, and Funes operates a “biodigester” that captures methane from manure and pipes it right to the kitchen stove where it burns clean and blue. Funes’s vision of Cuban agriculture is radical, because it’s a throwback. He advocates smart, resource-efficient artisanal farming as an alternative to both capitalist agribusiness and the disastrous state-run agricultural model implemented here in the 1960s, whose legacy is a country that imports 60 to 80 percent of its food. With Cuba restoring relations with the United States and looking to reinsert itself into the global economy, Funes sees the very survival of Cuban rural culture at stake. His goal, he says, is to give Cuban farmers a way to make a living at a time when so many have given up on it and moved to urban areas. “If we don’t want foreign companies to come in and dominate Cuban agriculture all over again, that means we need to give Cuban families a way to stay on their farms,” said Funes, who grew up at an agricultural research station where his father, a crop scientist, and his mother, a biologist, both worked. Twice a week Funes stuffs his old Russian Lada sedan to the roof with Italian arugula, cherry tomatoes, endive and bean sprouts and delivers fresh greens to more than two dozen restaurants in the capital. Such items are virtually unknown to most Cubans but are increasingly sought after by chefs catering to tourists, foreign residents and a small but growing segment of Cuban consumers who are looking to break out of the pork-and-plantains routine. “More and more Cubans are discovering these vegetables and learning to broaden their horizons a bit,” said Alain Rivas, the head chef at El Litoral, a two-year-old cafe along the oceanfront Malecón boulevard, one block from the U.S. Embassy, that offers fresh organic salads with ingredients from Funes’s farm. At $8 to $10, the salads are well beyond the means of ordinary Cubans, but Rivas said many of his customers are local. Rivas often plans his menu by talking first to Funes, a level of farm-to-table coordination that is also unheard of here. A few years ago, barely anyone in Cuba had cellphones. Now Funes keeps in touch with chefs, restaurant owners and other customers by e-mail and text message and says better planning minimizes waste. Most Cuban farmers don’t work this way, overproducing crops with the expectation that much of their harvest will be lost because they don’t have the means to reach markets quickly. This approach yields a glut during the winter growing season, crashing prices. Then high-demand vegetables, such as lettuce and tomatoes, go scarce again during hot summer months when crops quickly spoil under the broiling Caribbean sun and growers don’t want to risk the losses. “Part of the problem could be solved by more efficient distribution and coordination,” Funes said. The other part, of course, is better access to equipment and technology. In recent years, Cuban President Raúl Castro has transferred millions of acres of unproductive state land into the hands of private farmers and cooperatives in an attempt to reduce food imports. But the results have been underwhelming. There’s a greater abundance and variety at produce markets, but prices have mostly increased, in part because so many intermediaries are involved. Cuba’s crushing agricultural bureaucracy still makes it essentially impossible for farmers to import tractors, trucks and other agricultural equipment that could boost production and cut costs. Government pledges to create wholesale markets for tools and other farming supplies have yet to materialize. Funes would like to upgrade his Russian sedan to a refrigerated truck. He’s adding a maternity home to his delivery route as part of his expanding social mission and wants to begin distributing a weekly produce basket to ­individual families, a Cuban version of the CSA (community-supported agriculture) subscription model. Funes said he doesn’t need more land and can increase his harvests simply by more-intensive methods. And he’s more interested in getting other Cuban farmers to adopt better practices and try a little agroecology in their fields. “It doesn’t matter what you call the system,” he said. “What matters is the use of natural resources and the possibilities you can provide for farmers to make a living and remain rooted on their land.” By Nick Miroff, The Washington Post August 21, 2015 Nick Miroff is a Latin America correspondent for The Post, roaming from the U.S.-Mexico borderlands to South America’s southern cone. He has been a staff writer since 2006.

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UN agency praises Cuba’s food security program By W. T. Whitney Jr, June 15, 2015  

United Nations agencies, notably the World Health Organizations, UNESCO, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), have often praised Cuba for achievements in satisfying its people's basic needs. On May 30 in Havana, the FAO representative in Cuba, Theodor Frederick, testified to the Cuban government's success in maintaining food security for all Cubans. He based his remarks on the recently published FAO document titled "Panorama of Food and Nutritional Insecurity in Latin America and the Caribbean- 2015." Some of the data provided in that publication appeared earlier in the FAO publication "The State of Food Insecurity in the World – 2014," which offers a wide-ranging survey of hunger in the world – more precisely, under nutrition. It cites a total of 805 million persons who were hungry that year, or nine percent of the world's population. Latin America and the Caribbean "registered the greatest progress [among regions of the world] in reducing hunger," according to the publication. Theodor Frederick's comments, taken from the "Panorama" report, are more revealing than the actual data as to Cuba's exemplary role within Latin America in promoting adequate nutrition.  That's because the FAO system of data recording abandons numerical specifics once the tally of hungry people in a nation falls below five percent. At that point numbers are replaced by "n. s." signifying "not significant." As reported by journalist Jose Manzanada, Frederick "emphasized the role of the state in Cuban food security, evidenced in generous subsidies provided to cover the costs of basic foods which supply half of the individual's nutritional requirements. The state [also] makes food available at health centers, schools, and workplace dining rooms that is free or at the lowest price. Food is provided for vulnerable groups such as people who are sick, handicapped, or elderly." Yet numbers appearing in the two FAO reports are telling. Under-nutrition afflicts 51.8 percent of Haitians, 14.7 of people in the Dominican Republic, 14.3 percent of Guatemalans, 12.1 percent of Hondurans, but fewer than five percent of Cubans. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the number of undernourished people dropped from 66.1million in 1990-02 to 34.3 million in 2012-14.  During the same period the percentage of the hungry fell from 14.7 percent to 5.5 percent.  In Cuba 600,000 people – 5.7 percent – were hungry in 1990-02. Since then the numbers have shown as "n.s." Importantly, "Cuba – with Venezuela – is among the 29 countries of the world – [11 of them in Latin America and the Caribbean] –  that have fulfilled the goal proposed at the 1996 World Food Summit in Rome in of reducing the number of the world's hungry people by half as of 2015." One of the Millennium Development Goals, proposed by the United Nations in 2000, spoke of hunger. The goal was set that over the next 15 years nations would reduce the percentage of their hungry people by half. Sixty three countries, all of them in the poor world, have done so; 17 are in Latin American and the Caribbean.  And 11 of them have "maintained the prevalence of under nutrition at below 5 percent," Cuba among them.  Caloric intake in Cuba has recently averaged a relatively high 3,533 calories per person for 2012 – 2014, according to the FAO. Manzanada, however, points out that Cuba may be facing difficulties in maintaining future food supplies. He claims that the $2 billion annual cost of importing food results in part from shipping costs that are 30 percent extra due to the U. S. economic blockade. He refers also to problems with food production, without providing details. Indeed, 2.5 million of Cuba's 16.1 million acres of usable land still remains idle, even though, beginning five years ago, 3.7 million acres have been delivered to 174, 000 new farmers or to cooperatives on a long-term usage basis. Presently Cuba has to import almost 70 percent of food it needs for domestic consumption. Significantly, Cuba has struggled not only to feed its own people, but has also promoted efforts toward food sufficiency in the region.  Cuban leaders joined former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in founding and shaping the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), an alliance epitomizing trends toward long – anticipated regional unity. In March 2015 at its third Summit meeting, held in Chile, CELAC launched its "Plan for Food and Nutrition Security and Eradication of Hunger 2025."  CELAC had collaborated in the effort with the FAO and two regional organizations.  The Latin American FAO representative, Raúl Benítez, told reporters he anticipates "a region free of hunger."

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Dividing the Pie: Cuba's Ration System After 50 Years by Medea Benjamin, Nation of Change, March 3, 2015

Cuba's ration booklet has been shrinking over the decades—it's just enough to keep people from starving. New rules allowing Cuba to use U.S. banks and obtain loans will lead to more imports. Could this be a win for both countries and a model of how to grow the pie?

La libreta, the Cuba ration booklet, encapsulates the debate about Cuba’s socialist experiment. Detractors say that the fact that food is still rationed after 50 years, and that over 60 percent of the island’s food is still imported, proves the failure of a bureaucratic, state-run economy sapping the entrepreneurial spirit of workers and farmers. Supporters say the ration book exemplifies the Cuban government’s commitment to the health and welfare of its people in the face of a relentless US blockade. They say that thanks to Cuba’s guaranteed food basket and free healthcare, the poor island nation has one of the lowest infant mortality rates and highest life expectancy rates in the world.

Both are right.

I lived in Cuba during the early 1980s, when the Soviet Union still existed and was subsidizing the Cuban economy to the tune of $4-6 billion a year. In those days, eating was an egalitarian exercise. The ration every family received for a small fee was enough to last all month and guaranteed everyone a decent diet. It included rice, beans, lentils, milk, coffee, weekly portions of chicken and hamburger meat, occasional fish and pork.

When the weekly chicken ration arrived at the market, you could smell chicken cooking in every kitchen in the neighborhood–fried chicken, soups, stews. As a nutritionist who had worked with starving children in Africa, I delighted in the knowledge that every family would be enjoying a good dinner. Sure, Cubans complained that they often couldn’t get the onion, garlic or tomatoes to cook the food to their taste, but the basics were always there.

Not today. The ration booklet has been shrinking over the decades. This would be fine if it reflected abundance, but it doesn’t. The worst period was right after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, when Cuba’s ability to import food dropped by 75%. During the terrible next decade, which the government dubbed the “Special Period” and people called “el tiempo de los flacos” (the skinny period), the rations fell by half, the average Cuban lost 20 pounds, and persistent hunger—something not seen since before the revolution—became a daily reality.

The Cuban economy has improved considerably since then, thanks in part to the rise in tourism dollars and to Venezuela’s subsidized oil. Still, the  but not enough for a good diet, much less a satisfying one.

Each Cuban receives a monthly ration of seven pounds of rice, a pound of beans, half a bottle of cooking oil, one bread roll per day, plus small quantities of eggs, chicken or fish, spaghetti, and sugar. There are items for special occasions — cakes for birthdays, rum and beer for weddings—and “vulnerable people” get extra rations. Children get a liter of milk and some yogurt. People with health problems, like diabetics, get extra rations.

Ninety-year-old Aleida Fernandez told me that when she developed high blood pressure, her doctor gave her a note that added three fish a month to her ration. “This way the government guarantees I get enough protein,” said a grateful Fernandez, who lives on a pension of $15 a month but has free healthcare and like most Cubans, pays no rent.

Cubans pay less than $2 for their monthly rations, which is an estimated 12 percent of the food’s real value. It’s a lifesaver for the poor but it leaves the government subsidizing every man, woman and child, regardless of income. With a price tag of over $1 billion annually, it’s clear why reform-minded President Raul Castro would like to see la libreta disappear.

In 2011 Castro said the ration system distributes food at “laughable prices” and that a system introduced in a time of shortages has turned into “an unbearable burden for the economy and a disincentive to work.”

But his proposal to eliminate the ration was scrapped when met with fierce opposition, particularly from low-wage state workers and retirees struggling to get by on $15 a month. “I can’t imagine how I’d survive if I had to buy my food on the open market,” complained retiree Ophelia Muñoz. “The market prices are so high that I can barely afford potatoes and boniato, much fewer beans or chicken.”

It’s a different story for Cubans who work in the tourist sector or receive remittances from their families abroad. With access to hard currency, they can afford market prices and they can supplement their diets with restaurant meals.

But the best food is reserved for tourists. Gourmet meals are offered in private restaurants called paladares that have cropped up all over the island. Poor Cubans can now see the sumptuous fare offered to tourists—lobster, shrimp, pork, steak—and they are left wondering why they are stuck with rice and chickpeas. “We’re not starving like people in Haiti,” said Berta Fernandez, a clerk who lives on a salary of $20 a month. “But we smell the pork roasting in the restaurant down the block and we’re left with this craving.”

The unequal access to food is just one reflection of what is becoming more and more of a two-tiered economy, with one group scraping by on national pesos and the other benefitting from access to hard currency. The revolution wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.

At an elementary school we visited in Havana, teacher Olivia Gonzalez said they don’t allow students to bring their lunches from home. Why? Because some students would bring coveted items like meat and soda while poorer students would have simpler fare. “We want the children to all have the same opportunities and not grow up with a sense of inferiority,” Gonzalez explained. “So it’s better for them all to eat the same.” To cut down on costs and provide healthy meals, many schools are trying to grow as much of their own food as they can.

Raul Castro is trying to find a middle way, stimulating the economy while preserving revolutionary gains like free healthcare and education. His market-oriented reforms include cutting back on subsidies, slashing bloated state payrolls and encouraging more private enterprise—especially for farmers.

The historic opening with the US has ignited hopes that the US will stop sabotaging Cuba, and that greater tourism and trade will help the economy grow. Even before the opening, Cuba was buying $500 million worth of agricultural goods from the United States. Food sales were an exception to the embargo but sales had to be made in cash. The new rules that allow Cuba to use US banks and obtain loans will lead to more imports—a win for both countries.

Many worry that the US opening, accompanied by a flood of tourists and US corporate investments, will be a recipe for an even greater gap between the haves and have-nots. Certainly the days are gone when Cubans eat the same meals at the same time, and perhaps the universal libreta will be replaced by a food stamp system based on need. But in Cuba, food is still considered a basic human right. As the economy expands, the hope is that Cubans across the island will have access to a more varied diet. In a world where so many people still go hungry, Cuba could become a model of how to grow the pie—and make sure that everyone gets a piece.

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Ecotourism in Cuba: A model for sustainable economic development by Douglas Rader/Dan Whittle, Environmental Defense Fund, March 3, 2015


With relations between the United States and Cuba defrosting and investment interest building for the island in the U.S. and beyond, Cuba is at a crossroads.

Will its tropical coastlines soon be home to towering cruise ships and sprawling resorts, or is there a more sustainable way forward for a nation that cares deeply about its unique natural heritage? Many Cubans think there is, and we agree.

Cuba's approach to conservation and environmental protection is already a model for other Caribbean nations. The country is now positioned to be a regional model also for sustainable economic development.

By scaling up its small and exclusive ecotourism industry, Cuba can stimulate investment and create jobs, while preserving the coral reefs and big fish that make it one of the world’s most special places.

Emerging ecotourism industry points the way

Today, Cuba’s pristine Jardines de la Reina National Marine Park – Gardens of the Queen – is home to a sustainable, but small, tourism enterprise that provides badly needed economic impetus for small coastal communities.

Nearly one-quarter of the families in Jucaro – the small fishing village from which trips to the Gardens depart – already have a source of income directly related to the largest marine protected area in the Caribbean.

The current ecotourism operation in the Gardens is tiny still; only 1,500 visitors per year are granted access to this world-class treasure.

But the industry also has a tiny spatial and ecological footprint, which means it could be replicated at broader scales across Cuba’s two southern archipelagos, and become an economic and ecological centerpiece for broader development plans for the region.

There are, of course, challenges associated with building out the ecotourism industry in the Gardens of the Queen, like elsewhere.

Fragile ecosystems and remote natural areas can only sustain a certain amount of infrastructure to accommodate new visitors. A careful assessment of potential environmental impacts, in accordance with existing Cuban law, should precede and guide any new tourism development.

If such precautions are not taken, these special places will disappear along with the tourists who loved them. But we feel hopeful Cuba will choose the right path, because the Cuban people know they sit atop a coral treasure box.

Cuba took bold action to protect reefs

Cuba’s coast is often portrayed as a place frozen in time – a selling point to tourists willing to pay a premium for a unique experience. Of course, there’s more to the story.

The people of Cuba have chosen to protect wide swaths of their most valuable habitats – ocean and land alike – in a national network of parks and other protected areas.

For marine waters and ecosystems, the goal is to eventually protect an astonishing 25 percent of Cuba's shallow-water area, with a focus on four island arcs each the size of the Florida Keys.

Today, the Gardens of the Queen is among just a few places in the Western Hemisphere where you can still see dense stands of elkhorn corals. They are reminiscent of the reefs that existed in Florida in the 1960s and elsewhere before disease wiped most of them from the map.

The Gardens also boasts many species of sharks – Caribbean reef, silky, lemon, nurse, whale sharks and more – along with large numbers of big groupers, snappers and other reef fishes.

These waters are special in their own right, but they’re also tightly linked to the health of coral reefs in the United States, Mexico, the Bahamas and the rest of the broader West Central Atlantic.

If and when Cuba matches up the ecological values of different areas in the region with their highest and best economic uses, it can create a portfolio of approaches that can serve Cubans – and those of us down-current from Cuba – now and in the future.

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US-Cuba Vow to Protect Environment Near Florida Coast Sun Sentinel, February 1, 2015

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This Cuban Province Is on Its Way to 100 Percent Renewable Power

While Cuba is an island full of sun, rivers and windy coasts, only four percent of the island’s electricity is generated from renewable energy. The island hopes to soon change that, with a goal of generating 24 percent of its energy from renewables by 2030, and Granma is leading the way.

Granma province (pop. 836,000), located in the eastern part of the island, is home to the Sierra Maestra, and is named after the boat from which Fidel Castro and his rebel soldiers disembarked to begin the Cuban Revolution. The Cuban government wants to make Granma province 100-percent renewably powered, a project the Cubans call “The Solarization of Granma Province,” as a model the rest of the island can follow. They are well on their way. In 2013, renewables supplied 37 percent of all the energy consumed in Granma province, and the province currently has 3,664 renewable energy systems in operation. These include everything from solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to biogas digesters to solar food dryers.

Energy From the Sun

Granma province, being in the most mountainous part of Cuba, has many isolated rural towns. At last count the province had 1,628 small off-grid PV systems powering medical clinics, hospitals, schools, social centers, museums and homes located in remote areas without access to grid power. The Cuban government funded most of these systems, supplied with PV panels fabricated in Cuba out of imported cells. Cubans take education so seriously that across the island all 2,364 schools in rural areas without grid power are powered with solar panels and wind turbines — including the 51 schools with only one student. Many of these fall in the mountainous regions of Granma province.

Taking advantage of the huge amount of sun that falls on the province, there are also 426 solar hot water heaters, three solar distillers to produce water for PV system batteries and a solar dryer that dries medicinal plants for the Natural Medicine Center.

Energy From Water and Wind

Granma province is also blessed with many small rivers. Thirty-six mini- and micro-hydropower plants produce over seven megawatts (MW) of electricity for homes, hospitals and schools not connected to the grid. Five of these, with a capacity of 1,740 kilowatts (kW), feed electricity into the grid. However, many even more remote homes in the area were left without electricity until a young campesino named Miguel Gonzalez figured out he could develop a cheap way to electrify the homes with running water. Using car alternators and bicycle dynamos he created a small nano-hydro generator with a capacity of less than one kW that is now used in 172 homes throughout Granma province, allowing people access to electric light, radio and television.

Although most of the wind potential on the island is found along the coast, there are 938 windmills that pump water in Granma. And wind-measuring stations have shown that there is a potential of more than 800 MW wind capacity in the province (and far more across the entire island), so they hope to put up more wind turbines, adding to the five wind farms across the island that currently account for 11 MW of installed capacity.

Energy From Waste

Sugar is one of Cuba’s largest export crops. Granma province is home to 11 of the 56 sugar mills in the country, all of which employ generators that turn the bagasse — the waste material that remains after sugarcane is crushed to extract the juice — into electricity. The Granma sugar mills produce 29 MW of electricity that power the processing plants and that occasionally gets fed back into the grid. The province also has abundant biomass in the forms of sawdust, coffee husks, rice hulls and marabú, an invasive plant that seems to be everywhere and that you will hear Cubans across the island grumbling about over their coffee. Granma has 14 commercial dryers to dry coffee, rice and wood; 135 brick kilns; and 632 domestic kitchens that use these sources of biomass.

There are also 127 biodigestors throughout the province that use animal waste from cows and pigs to produce methane. The methane is used to run lights or for cooking. Animals are not only being utilized for their waste, but also for transport. The 4,000 animal drawn carts transporting passengers, solid waste and cargo throughout Granma save an estimated 5,900 metric tons of diesel per year.

Cuban environmental engineers are also experimenting with making biodiesel out of Jatropha curcas, a non-edible plant that grows in difficult terrain. There is currently a 20-acre Jatropha farm in Granma making biodiesel for the province’s tractors.

Educating the Next Generation

Granma province is home to the Camilo Cienfuegos School Complex (CECC), the first educational project built by the Cuban Revolution in 1962. The school complex, covering more than 1,000 acres in the largest city of Granma province, was built for illiterate children of the Sierra Maestra, and currently has 5,000 students from preschool to high school, and even a pedagogical institution for those learning to be teachers. The campus showcases bioclimatic architecture, and one of the main focuses of the school is environmental education.

Schoolchildren throughout the island belong to school clubs, and many of the clubs at CECC are related to environmental issues and renewable energy. So many that in 2003 the Center for Solar Studies was added to the school complex, which showcases solar photovoltaic panels, solar hot water systems, wind turbines, hydraulic ram pumps, biogas systems, and solar distillers, dryers and cookers.

“We aspire to convert Granma into a province that is a model in everything related to solar energy, as an example that the rest of the country can follow,” according to the president of the provincial assembly of people’s power in Granma province (equivalent to a city council). “We are required to create active environmentalists,” he wrote in Cuba’s renewable energy magazine, “citizens who are not only concerned but who also address environmental problems closely related to energy use and who contribute to their solution — from children in small, rural schools, to residents of a neighborhood affected by pollution, to workers demanding the elimination of violations of environmental regulations.”

Granma province is well on its way to achieving its goal and becoming a 100-percent renewable province. For the entire island to reach its goal of 24 percent renewable by 2030, it plans to add 640 MW of wind, 700 MW of PV, and 750 MW of biomass to its mix. While some of these projects will be 100-percent Cuban owned, the island will be looking for more than $9 billion in foreign investment for more than 200 new renewable energy projects. Time will tell if President Obama’s historic phone call with Raul Castro opened new doors to help make that renewable energy transition happen.

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UN Environment Agency Praises Cuban Sustainable Development Efforts HAVANA, Cuba, Sep 18 (acn)

The executive director of the UN Environment Program, Ibrahim Thiaw, described as "impressive" the Cuban sustainable development and disaster mitigation plans. In statements to Granma newspaper, Thiaw said that it would be of great interest for the rest of the world to learn about the Cuban experience in disaster mitigation actions. The UN official said that his agency is willing to contribute in order to spread the Cuban experience. The UN expert visited Cuba this week to take a first-hand look at Cuban environmental efforts and consider future cooperation with Cuban authorities, bearing in mind the significance of the island in the Caribbean area. “Unfortunately, this is a country that undergoes the effects of natural phenomena [hurricanes and tropical storms], but the system set up here from the local to the national level is really impressive,” said the UN official. As to sustainable development efforts, Thiaw referred to what he called concrete examples about sustainable food production and consumption, and [mentioned] that they met with  local farmers who have developed chemical-free crops. The UN official also visited a biosphere reserve in which they praised the results of environmental preservation efforts over the past 40 years.

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Cuba to Help jamaica Start Solar Panel Factory  by ,
July 12th, 2013

 Cuba, which has an operational solar panel factory within its borders, intends to help Jamaica (the country in which I live) construct its own solar panel factory through the knowledge and technology transfer. The aim is to help Jamaica initiate a solar power industry that includes manufacture and assembly of solar PV panels.ry Roof. zstock/Shutterstock

This effort will be guided by the Rural Electrification Programme Ltd (to be renamed Jamaica Ener­gy Solutions Limited (JESL)). The Rural Electrification program was intended to provide rural homes with electricity.

Currently, 4% of rural homes are waiting to be electrified, and the construction of this photovoltaic solar panel factory may help the country reach this goal.

The extension of electricity grids to rural areas is costly ($8,000 to $10,000per km, or $800,000 to $1 million JMD per km), more expensive than solar panels, which can power people’s houses without the electricity grid. This means that households three kilometres or more away from the national grid would need $24,000 to $30,000 to extend the grid.

According to the JIS: “This is in keeping with the agency’s new mandate, which is focused on developing renewable energy solutions for those households further than three kilometres from the national grid, and promoting energy efficiency and conservation.”

*  *  * Cuba Develops Renewable Energy Sources HAVANA, Cuba, Jul 15 (acn) The vice-president of the World Wind Energy Association Conrado Moreno said that Cuba expects to generate 633 megawatts out of wind energy and 700 out of solar energy, while developing hydro-energy which will contribute 56 megawatts. “Cuba not only counts on an important solar potential, but also on significant wind, hydraulic and biomass energy to produce several times all the electricity it currently consumes,” said the executive according to an article posed on the webpage of that world organization. However, the executive said that in order to achieve sustainable development based on renewable energy sources, Cuba must consider the availability of each resource, the technology to be used and the consensus of decision-makers in the sector. According to the Cuban Energy and Mining Ministry, Cuba has 34 thousand renewable energy facilities, including heaters, solar panels, biogas and brick ovens burning biomass; these are joined by hydroelectric plants, turbo generators, boilers and wind farms. The Cuban government has prioritized the use of renewable energy sources to change the current energy pattern in the country, particularly to generate power replacing fossil fuels. By late 2012, renewable energy sources translated into more than 26 percent of the whole world energy production capacity and 21.7 percent of the global electricity output. *  *  * Cuba Keeps Building Solar Panel Facilities HAVANA, Cuba, Jul 15 (acn)Work is well underway in the Cuban Special Municipality of Isle of Youth to set up one of seven solar energy farms currently being built on the island. At present, land preparation is being carried out along 1.6 hectares where a four-thousand-solar-panel module will be placed. According to engineer Antonio Figueredo, the facility would contribute clean enery to the power generation system during daylight equivalent to the burning of one ton of conventional fuel a day. Since last December a solar-panel farm has operated in the city of La Fe in the isle of Youth, which joined operations of others already working in the cities of Santa Clara, Guaimaro, Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo and Cienfuegos. *  *  * ECLAC Official Says Cuba Example of Equity for Latin America HAVANA, Cuba, Jul 11 (acn) Cuba is an example and guide to promote equality in Latin America as a right and not as an opportunity, an expert of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) said. In an exclusive interview with ACN, Jorge Mattar, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Institute of Economic and Social Planning of the organization, said that despite the economic, financial and commercial blockade imposed by the United States, Cuba has a revolutionary process allowing equivalence and sovereignty of its people. He explained that Cuban economic model has conceived a society with high level of education and low inequality, and for ECLAC those are two key features of development. In this regard he considered that Cuba has gone a long way when building a wide and influential educational system, and that's part of its essential ingredient in the progress of nations, he said. Máttar noted that next year ECLAC will hold a regional workshop-course in Cuba, in order to promote equality and combat the differences between Latin American and Caribbean nations. The manager stated that the island was chosen for being a country where everyone has equal access and rights to the benefits of the Revolution. He added that ECLAC´s main objective is considerably mitigate extreme poverty, achieve full and productive employment, health access to everyone and reduce hunger in the region for aspiring to welfare and progress. With this training workshop it is also intended to achieve representativeness of local realities, to know how territorial dynamics will be within each country, Mattar noted. Today Latin America is facing an international scenario of slow economic-trade growth and in a globalized world this strongly impacts on the development of countries, he said. *  *  * Russia and Cuba join forces to battle cancer Progreso Weekly  

Russia and Cuba signed an agreement Monday in Moscow that brings two major state-owned pharmaceutical companies together in the fight against cancer.

Mikrogen is the largest producer in Russia of immunobiological products.

Mikrogen is the largest producer in Russia of immunobiological products.

A cooperation agreement on “the joint development and implementation of anticancer drugs” was signed by the director general of Mikrogen, Pyotr S. Kanygin, and the chief executive officer of Labiofam, Dr. José A. Fraga Castro, according to a press release from the Russian pharmaceutical company.

Mikrogen (full name: Mikrogen Federal Scientific-Industrial Company for Immunobiological Medicines of the Russian Ministry of Health) was established in 2003 through the merger of state enterprises that produced immunobiological preparations.

Mikrogen is the largest producer in Russia of immunobiological products — at least 400 of them — including vaccines, blood products, therapeutic and diagnostic serums, specific immunoglobulins, growth media, allergens and probiotics. It holds patents on more than 40 medicines. Its annual sales are in the range of 500 million dollars.

Some of the diseases treated with Mikrogen products are influenza, mumps and measles, tetanus, pertussis, tuberculosis, encephalitis, rubella, hepatitis-B, diphtheria, meningococcus and rabies.

The Cuban pharmaceutical company Labiofam is a developer of medical drugs and food additives. Its most significant developments are the drugs, Vidatox, Ferrical, Vimang and Acitón, derived from natural sources and used in Cuba as part of a comprehensive treatment of cancer.

Of particular interest to cancer researchers is Vidatox, a drug produced from protein peptides extracted from the venom of the blue scorpion (Rophalorus junceus), which is native to eastern Cuba. Vidatox has analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic effect in more than 15 different types of cancer.

The result of 15 years of research, by 2010 Vidatox had been tested on more than 10,000 cancer patients with positive results both in improving quality of life and stopping tumor growth.

According to the company, Vidatox has no contraindications and is compatible with other oncological treatments.

The combination of Cuban research and native products and Russian technology and marketing could be a boost not only for the Cuban economy but also for medicine worldwide.

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Cuba Challenges Latin America to Make Strides on Health, Education

A large screen shows Cuba's President Raul Castro speaking at the opening ceremony of the CELAC Summit in Havana, Jan. 28, 2014.

A large screen shows Cuba's President Raul Castro speaking at the opening ceremony of the CELAC Summit in Havana, Jan. 28, 2014.


The speech also listed a series of Latin American grievances that directly or indirectly involve the United States, attempting to unify the 33 countries at the summit against their neighbor to the north, which was not invited. “We have every possibility to abolish illiteracy,” Castro told leaders of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). “We should have the political will to do it.” CELAC excludes the United States and Canada, both members of traditional forums such as the Organization of American States and the Summit of the Americas, groups that tend to be dominated by Washington. The speech by the leader of the only communist state in the hemisphere reminded neighbors of what Cuba considers two of its greatest achievements since its 1959 revolution, free health care and education. Cuba often cites health care and education as human rights, while critics of the country's government point to the island's one-party rule and restrictions on free speech. Cuban dissidents were expected to raise issues of human rights at an ad hoc democracy forum outside the confines of the summit. They have complained that Cuban authorities have detained at least 40 activists in recent days as a part of a campaign of harassment before the summit. Castro, who succeeded his ailing older brother, Fidel Castro, as president in 2008, held a moment of silence for former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose oil subsidies for Cuba have helped sustain the economy. This is the first regional summit since Chavez died of cancer last March at age 58. Chavez's successor, Nicolas Maduro, joined Raul Castro and other leaders in a Monday night march honoring the 161st anniversary of the birth of Cuban national hero Jose Marti.

Swipe at U.S. Raul Castro took a swipe at the United States by listing complaints such as U.S. spying, the expansion of NATO's mission following the end of the Soviet Union, the status of Puerto Rico, and Ecuador's ongoing legal battle for compensation from U.S. oil major Chevron Corp for environmental damage. Since 2002, poverty in Latin America has fallen 15.7 percentage points and extreme poverty 8.0 points, but recent figures show the rate of improvement is slowing, according to a December report by the U.N.'s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. “We cannot deny the benefits of foreign direct investment for economies in the region and the capital injections that transnational companies bring, but we forget that the excessive growth in profits they receive, an increase of 5.5 times over the past nine years, affects this positive impact through the balance of payments in our countries,” Castro said. The countries at the summit represent 15 percent of the world's land surface and 8.5 percent of its population, but also an outsized proportion of the world's minerals, one-third of its fresh water and 21 percent of its forests, Castro said. “We should exercise sovereignty over our natural resources and establish adequate policies relating to foreign investment and with transnational companies that operate in our countries,” he said.

*  *  * Preserving Life in Cuba for When the Climate Changes by Ivet González, HAVANA, Dec 5 2013 (IPS) A foggy view of the vast Mayabe Valley nature reserve in the eastern Cuban province of Holguín. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS Nature reserves act as a safe deposit box for biodiversity and contribute to adaptation to climate change. But in a country like Cuba, plagued by a chronic economic crisis, efforts to increase the number of protected areas go largely unnoticed. “They are a reservoir of genetic biodiversity of many species,” biologist Ángel Quirós told IPS. “Many of the species of economic importance for the future will come out of these areas, adapted to the new environmental conditions.” But “the varied and complex role played by protected areas in curbing global warming is not very well-known,” said Quirós, a researcher with the Centre for Environmental Studies and Services, a government institution. According to Quirós, each protected area helps curb climate changes that are already being seen, such as higher temperatures, a rise in sea level, and unprecedented meteorological events like Hurricane Sandy, which wrought havoc in the east of Cuba, other Caribbean nations and the U.S. northeast in October 2012. Nature reserves “containing large forests contribute to stabilising average rainfall and temperatures,” the scientist said. “Climate factors are going to be extreme,” he added. Cuba’s investment in protecting the environment rose from 278 million dollars in 2007 to 488 million dollars in 2012. But lack of funding is a constant headache for the teams in charge of the protected areas. The clean-up efforts and monitoring and surveillance to prevent poaching in the Sur Batabanó Wildlife Refuge are new for Dielegne Quiñones, the representative of the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment in the municipality of Batabanó in southwest Cuba. The 33-sq-km land and marine reserve is the first protected area in Batabanó. “There have already been sightings of manatees [Trichechus manatus] and hutias [Capromyidae],” Quiñones told IPS with satisfaction. “But we need more funding to strengthen surveillance and supervision.” Daymí Castro, a teenage girl who lives in Surgidero in the coastal wetlands of Batabanó, said that having a nature reserve “is important for the community.” “Through school we do clean-up work and we have participated in educational talks in the nearby neighbourhoods, to get people to take care of nature,” she told IPS. Carlos Alberto Martínez, a young biologist who oversees the Los Mogotes de Jumagua park in the western province of Villa Clara, said the protected areas must urgently be adapted to climate change. “There is a lot to do, such as strengthening the forests, especially the mangroves, which protect the coasts,” he told IPS. Martínez explained that the park, where eight upper cretaceous formations are preserved, generates some funds of its own from visits by members of neighbouring communities to the ecotourism hiking trails and from sales of yagua, a fibrous tissue from the wood of the royal palm that is used to pack tobacco leaves. In other protected areas, selective logging is carried out and the wood is sold, as one way to raise funds, he added. Cuba created 23 new nature reserves in 2012, which means 18.3 percent of the country’s 109,884-sq-km territory is now protected. The National Centre for Protected Areas (CNAP) hopes to increase that proportion to 24.4 percent with a total of 253 areas, including the insular shelf up to 200 metres deep, under some kind of protection. This Caribbean archipelago is made up of the main island, Cuba, the much smaller Juventud island and dozens of islets and keys. The proportion of protected territory in this island nation with a large number of endemic species has grown fast in the last few years. The number of nature reserves rose from 35 in 2007 to 80 in 2011 and 103 in 2012, according to the national statistics office. In addition, the CNAP has identified another 150 land and marine nature areas of great local significance, which are awaiting approval by the Council of Ministers Executive Committee to be included in one of the various categories of protection. A recent study found 2,178 “irreplaceable” protected ecosystems around the world, and 192 proposed new sites, essential to the survival of threatened species. The study carried out by scientists from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and other international conservation organizations, published in the U.S. journal Science in November, identified 78 sites in 34 countries as “exceptionally irreplaceable,” out of 173,000 terrestrial protected areas looked at by the researchers. These 78 sites – 38 of which are in Latin America and the Caribbean – are home to more than 600 birds, amphibians and mammals, half of which are globally threatened, and many of which cannot be found anywhere else, the study said. The national parks of Sierra Nevada (Colombia), Manu (Peru), Canaima (Venezuela), Galápagos Islands (Ecuador) and Ciénaga de Zapata swamp (Cuba) are some of the irreplaceable habitats listed by the study, which drew on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and World Database on Protected Areas. The report urged governments and environmental bodies to ensure that all of the sites be granted international protection under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Convention In the last two decades, the environment has received little attention in the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the 2012 edition of the Social Panorama of Latin America. On average, countries in the region dedicated only 0.2 percent of public expenditure to environmental activities, sanitation, housing and drinking water, according to the report, published by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). In Cuba, the administration of the Los Caimanes National Park, a mainly marine park located on the coast between the provinces of Villa Clara and Ciego de Ávila, has turned to community work to help raise badly needed funds. “We have provided them with sustainable economic alternatives, and we emphasise environmental education,” Quirós said. “By reducing people’s needs, poaching and other furtive activities have gone down, and we have to spend less on surveillance.” But raising environmental awareness among the local populations of protected areas is a long-term task, María Elena Chirino, 69, commented to IPS. She has lived her whole life in Ciénaga de Zapata, a biosphere reserve and the largest wetlands in the Caribbean islands, located in southwest Cuba. “When I was little, we would kill birds, for example. But we weren’t really taught not to do so. Now people have a better idea of the importance of what surrounds us, but there’s still a long way to go,” Chirino said. *  *  *  New Cooperatives Form Part of Cuba's Reforms Written by Patricia Grogg Thursday, 11 July 2013  (IPS) – More than 100 non-farming cooperatives this month joined the independent sector of the Cuban economy, which includes self-employed workers and farmers granted public land to work, as part of the policy outlined by the government for modernising the management of state property. The authorities have defended “social ownership of the basic means of production” as an essential aspect of the new economic model being built on the basis of reforms outlined by the “economic and social policy guidelines” of the governing Communist Party of Cuba, considered a roadmap for “updating” the socialist system promoted by President Raúl Castro. In recent legislative debates that touched on this issue, the vice president of the Council of Ministers, Marino Murillo, said the changes underway were aimed at building “prosperous and sustainable socialism, in which the main protagonist is the public enterprise, strengthened with greater autonomy in its management and the distribution of its results.” “Socialism presupposes social ownership over the basic means of production; prosperous signifies a state of well-being; and sustainable is synonymous with development, because without it, nothing is sustained,” said Murillo, who is also chair of the government commission charged with implementing the economic and social policy guidelines, the highest responsibility in the economic modernisation process officially launched in 2011. Analysts consulted by IPS said that the creation of 124 non-agricultural cooperatives was one of the “boldest” steps taken by the Castro administration, given that 112 of these new entities are former state companies, and they are being called upon to be more efficient than their predecessors. Until now, cooperatives were only allowed in the field of agriculture. By sector, 99 of the new cooperatives are involved in the agricultural market; 12 will operate as construction brigades; five are for passenger transport, including school transport; six are for transport repair, bodywork and other services; and the remaining two will collect and recycle raw materials. An additional 71 coops are expected to join their ranks shortly. In a speech that was broadcast after the legislative debates, Castro said his government would resolutely support the creation of non-agricultural cooperatives, which together with the expansion of self-employment “will make it easier to free up the state from non-essential production and service activities so that it can concentrate on long-term development.” However, this process is being carried out with precaution, which is why these first non-agricultural coops will initially operate only in the provinces of Havana and neighbouring Artemisa and Mayabeque. According to how things go, the experience could be extended to the rest of the country. Cooperatives in Cuba have their own legal status, and they use, enjoy and dispose of their own assets, although they can also employ any other resource leased to them by the state. The coop’s highest governing body is the general assembly, in which each member has a vote. Murillo said the number of registered self-employed workers had climbed from 157,037 in September 2010 to 429,458 today. In 2008, the government began distributing idle public land to farmers. The construction of housing on the land was later authorised. Nevertheless, the new farms continue to report low levels of production. According to recent estimates, a total of 176,000 people were granted land to farm, and Decree-Law 300, passed in December 2012, increased the maximum amount of land they are allowed to possess from 40 to 67 hectares. The Land Control Centre (Centro de Control de la Tierra) reports that 1.5 million hectares of idle state farmland have been distributed so far, and another 975,000 are available for distribution. The aim is to boost agricultural yields and food production. Despite these and other measures, the agriculture sector has not obtained sufficient yields to meet the country’s needs. By the end of this year, Cuba will have spent an estimated two billion dollars on food imports. “Production must be freed up even more,” one expert on agriculture, who did not want to be identified, told IPS. According to that source, agriculture in Cuba absorbs 20 percent of the workforce but accounts for less than five percent of GDP, because it is the sector with the lowest productivity. “There is still a long road ahead, because the efforts made so far have not produced the expected results,” the expert said. Food is the biggest expense for the average Cuban family, for whom the 2.3 percent GDP growth in the first half of the year went unnoticed, President Castro admitted during closing remarks at the parliamentary session. Growth is expected to range from 2.5 to 3 percent by the end of the year. The president said that an atmosphere of order and discipline in Cuban society is an “essential premise for consolidating the progress of the updating of the economic model and for not accepting counterproductive setbacks.” In that respect, he urged citizens to join the struggle against “the atmosphere of indiscipline that has become entrenched” in Cuban society and that is “causing considerable moral and material harm.” In his opinion, this battle should not be just another campaign, but a “permanent movement.” “We have painfully perceived, throughout more than 20 years of the ‘special period’ (a euphemism for the crisis), the increased deterioration of moral and civic values, such as honesty, decency, shame, decorum and sensitivity to the problems of others,” he said, in extensive remarks on the subject. *  *  * Weathering the Storm: Lessons in Risk Reduction from Cuba An Oxfam America Report 2004 By Martha Thompson with Izaskun Gaviria EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Cuba's achievements in risk reduction come from an impressive multi-dimensional process. Its foundation is a socio-economic model that reduces vulnerability and invests in social capital through universal access to government services and promotion of social equity. The resulting high levels of literacy, developed infrastructure in rural areas and access to reliable health care and other created capital function as “multiplier effects” for national efforts in disaster mitigation, preparation and response. At the national level, Cuba’s disaster legislation, public education on disasters, meteorological research, early warning system, effective communication system for emergencies, comprehensive emergency plan, and Civil Defense structure are important resources in avoiding disaster. The Civil Defense structure depends on community mobilization at the grassroots level under the leadership of local authorities, widespread participation of the population in disaster preparedness and response mechanisms, and accumulated social capital. Both the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have repeatedly pointed out Cuba as an example for other countries to emulate in risk reduction. As the number of deaths from weather-related disasters continues to rise worldwide, it is increasingly imperative to protect those populations most vulnerable to hazards. Fundamentally, long term national and international strategies of sustainable development are the necessary basis for achieving comprehensive risk reduction for vulnerable populations. With the current absence of that commitment within national and international structures, it is important to explore successful shorter term strategies and mechanisms for risk reduction that can be implemented with limited financial resources by local governments. The increasingly popular Community Based Disaster Management (CBDM) approach focuses on strengthening capacity and building skills for risk reduction at the community level. Cuba shows us a rare example of successfully building CBDM into a national risk reduction program. Examining Cuba’s experience, Oxfam America argues that strengthen- ing community capacity, strong coordination of local actors and investing in social capital are determinate factors for successful risk reduction. This report hopes to present a comprehensive overview of the Cuban model of risk reduction in disaster mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery and explore what may be adapted from this model in other countries. This report focuses on specific recommendations for Central America. The final section of this report draws out several mechanisms from the Cuban model that might be adapted to Central America based on that region’s rich history of grassroots experience in social organization. Although the report aims for a complete explanation of the Cuban model, it does not pre- tend to provide an exhaustive review of risk reduction in Central America. The goal of “Weathering the Storm: Lessons in Risk Reduction from Cuba” is to provide information, offer ideas and provoke discussion to improve strategies of risk reduction at the community level in Central America, contributing to a culture of prevention. 68 pages *  *  * 06/30/13 Cuba: 100 produce markets to become private coops HAVANA – One hundred state-run produce markets and 26 other establishments were scheduled to become private cooperatives on Monday as Communist-run Cuba continues to shed secondary economic activity in favor of individual initiative and markets. The cooperatives will be the first outside of agriculture since all businesses were nationalized in 1968. The government says many more establishments will follow, beginning in 2014, as an alternative to small and medium-sized state businesses in retail and food services, transportation, light manufacturing and construction, among other sectors. The produce markets were supplied exclusively by the state, which also set prices and wages. As cooperatives they will now purchase produce from any source and set their own prices, with the exception of a few state supplied staples, for example rice, chick peas and potatoes in Havana. At one of the dozens of Havana markets set to become cooperatives this week, the mood was festive on Saturday as workers painted the dark and dingy premises, fixed broken bins and in general spruced up the place on their last day as state employees. "We were given the choice of working as a cooperative member or being laid off," Antonio Rivera, a worker turned member, said. "I think we will be better off so I joined," he said. On Sunday the 100 markets took inventory and made other preparations, before their adventure into the country's growing "non-state" sector began. President Raul Castro, who took over from his brother Fidel in 2008, has already taken steps to deregulate small private businesses in the retail sector, lease small state shops and taxis to individual employees and fallow state lands to would-be small farmers in search of improved production and efficiency. According to the government, more than 430,000 people now work in the non-state sector which consists of private entrepreneurs, their employees and individuals who own or lease taxis and the like. The figure does not include some 2,000 agricultural cooperatives and 400,000 small farmers. Market economics hailed The new cooperative markets average 15 or fewer members and will lease their premises from the state. They will function independently of state entities and businesses, set prices in cases where they are not fixed by the state, operate on a democratic basis, divide profit as they see fit and receive better tax treatment than individually owned businesses, according to a decree law published in December. The law allows for an unlimited number of members and use of contracted employees on a three-month basis. The newly elected administrator of one market said that for weeks they had been making contact with farm cooperatives in preparation for Monday, and could also buy from individual farmers and state farms and wholesale markets. "I'm sure the public will benefit. The produce will be of better quality, there will be better service and people will go where the prices are the lowest," he said, asking his name not be used because he feared he would get into trouble for talking to a foreign journalist. "There will be more competition and the winners will be those who do the best job," he said, adding, "everything will depend on us and we will have to look for merchandise wherever because if we don't we will not make anything." Consumers appeared to support the measure, though some fretted over a possible increase in prices. "They should have done this long ago," Soledad Martinez said as she shopped at the market on Saturday. "Now there will be a greater variety and we will be treated better. I just hope prices decrease a bit and do not go up," she said. Cuban authorities began discussing three years ago how to transform bankrupt small and medium-sized state businesses – plagued by pilfering, embezzlement and general inefficiency – into cooperatives. The Communist Party adopted a sweeping five-year plan to "update" the economy in 2011, which included moving more than 20 percent of the state labor force of 5 million people into a new "non-state" sector of private and cooperative businesses. Original Source / Fuente Original: *  *  * Cuba girds for climate change by reclaiming coasts By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ Associated Press Jun 12, 2:49 PM EDT CAYO COCO, Cuba (AP) — After Cuban scientists studied the effects of climate change on this island's 3,500 miles (5,630 kilometers) of coastline, their discoveries were so alarming that officials didn't share the results with the public to avoid causing panic. The scientists projected that rising sea levels would seriously damage 122 Cuban towns or even wipe them off the map. Beaches would be submerged, they found, while freshwater sources would be tainted and croplands rendered infertile. In all, seawater would penetrate up to 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) inland in low-lying areas, as oceans rose nearly three feet (85 centimeters) by 2100. Climate change may be a matter of political debate on Capitol Hill, but for low-lying Cuba, those frightening calculations have spurred systemic action. Cuba's government has changed course on decades of haphazard coastal development, which threatens sand dunes and mangrove swamps that provide the best natural protection against rising seas. In recent months, inspectors and demolition crews have begun fanning out across the island with plans to raze thousands of houses, restaurants, hotels and improvised docks in a race to restore much of the coast to something approaching its natural state. "The government … realized that for an island like Cuba, long and thin, protecting the coasts is a matter of national security," said Jorge Alvarez, director of Cuba's government-run Center for Environmental Control and Inspection. At the same time, Cuba has had to take into account the needs of families living in endangered homes and a $2.5 billion-a-year tourism industry that is its No. 1 source of foreign income. It's a predicament challenging the entire Caribbean, where resorts and private homes often have popped up in many places without any forethought. Enforcement of planning and environmental laws is also often spotty. With its coastal towns and cities, the Caribbean is one of the regions most at risk from a changing climate. Hundreds of villages are threatened by rising seas, and more frequent and stronger hurricanes have devastated agriculture in Haiti and elsewhere. In Cuba, the report predicted sea levels would rise nearly three feet by century's end. "Different countries are vulnerable depending on a number of factors, the coastline and what coastal development looks like," said Dan Whittle, Cuba program director for the New York-based nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund. He said the Cuban study's numbers seem consistent with other scientists' forecasts for the region. The Associated Press was given exclusive access to the report, but not permitted to keep a copy. Cuba's preparations were on clear display on a recent morning tour of Guanabo, a popular getaway for Havana residents known for its soft sand and gentle waves 15 miles (25 kilometers) east of the capital. Where a military barracks had been demolished, a reintroduced sand-stabilizing creeper vine known as beach morning glory is reasserting itself on the dunes, one lavender blossom at a time. The demolition nearby of a former swimming school was halted due to the lack of planning, with the building's rubble left as it lay. Now inspectors have to figure out how to fix the mess without doing further environmental damage. Alvarez said the government has learned from such early mistakes and is proceeding more cautiously. Officials also are also considering engineering solutions, and even determining whether it would be better to simply leave some buildings alone. For three decades Guanabo resident Felix Rodriguez has lived the dream of any traveler to the Caribbean: waking up with waves softly lapping at the sand just steps away, a salty breeze blowing through the window and seagulls cawing as they glide through the crisp blue sky. Now that paradise may be no more. "The sea has been creeping ever closer," said Rodriguez, a 63-year-old retiree, pointing to the water line steps from his apartment building. "Thirty years ago it was 30 meters (33 yards) farther out." "We'd all like to live next to the sea, but it's dangerous … very dangerous," Rodriguez said. "When a hurricane comes, everyone here will just disappear." Cuban officials agree, and have notified him and 11 other families in the building that they will be relocated, though no date has been set. Rodriguez and several other residents said they didn't mind, given the danger. Since 2000, Cuba has had a coastal protection law on the books that prohibits construction on top of sand and mandates a 130-foot-wide (40-meter) buffer zone from dunes. Structures that predate the measure have been granted a stay of execution, but are not to be maintained and ultimately will be torn down once they're uninhabitable. Serious enforcement only began in earnest in recent months, as officials came armed with the risk assessment. Some 10,000 sanctions and fines have been handed down for illegal development, according to Alvarez. Demolitions have so far been limited to vacation rentals, hotel annexes, social clubs, military installations and other public buildings rather than private homes. "Less strict measures have been taken with the people," Alvarez said, acknowledging that relocating communities is tough in a country with a critical lack of adequate housing. One flashpoint is the powdery-white-sand resort of Varadero, a two-hour's drive east of the capital, where lucrative hotels attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year from Canada, Europe and Latin America. Some 900 coastal structures have been contributing to an average of about 4 feet (1.2 meters) of annual coastline erosion, according to geologist Adan Zuniga of Cuba's Center for Coastal Ecosystems Research, a government body. Building solid structures on top of dunes makes them more vulnerable to the waves. "These are violent processes of erosion," Zuniga said about regional development. "In many places the beaches are receding 16 feet (5 meters) a year." Varadero symbolizes Cuba's dilemma: Tearing down seaside restaurants, picturesque pools and air-conditioned hotels threatens millions of dollars in yearly tourism revenue, but allowing them to stay puts at risk the very beaches that were the draws in the first place. Cuban officials have tried to get around that choice by replenishing lost sand in Varadero, with plans to do the same next year at the Cayo Coco resort. But beach replenishment is an expensive remedy that Cuba can little afford to carry out nationwide. Zuniga said it costs $3 to $8 per cubic meter, and a single beach might contain up to 1 million cubic meters of sand. The measure will still be necessary at Cayo Coco although the resort was developed with environmental mitigations such as keeping hotels behind the tree line and running a hydraulic system that keeps water circulating properly in an inland lagoon. There are no publicly available figures on how many structures have been or will be razed across Cuba. Alvarez and Zuniga said officials are evaluating problem buildings on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the needs of local economic development. They say nothing is off-limits; even the emblematic Hotel Internacional, a four-story resort built in 1950 as a sibling to the Fontainebleau in Miami, has been doomed to demolition in Varadero at an unspecified date. Other installations are gradually being moved inland, and government officials are applying stricter oversight on new construction, they said. In May, authorities unveiled the near-completed Hotel Melia Marina Varadero and yacht club, which lies at a safe remove from the sea. Cuba's Communist government wields a unique advantage, one no other country in the region claims: The government and its subsidiaries control the island's entire hotel stock, sometimes teaming with minority foreign partners on management. Cuba's military-run Gaviota Group alone controls more than three-dozen major hotels. So when the government makes up its mind to tear down a hotel, it can do so without having to worry about fighting a lengthy court battle against a displaced owner. On top of that, oversight of the coastal initiative happens at the highest level possible: Cuba's ruling Council of State, headed by President Raul Castro. "He is leading this battle," Alvarez said of Castro. Whittle said the island can learn some things from Costa Rica, where significant swaths of coastal and inland terrain have been protected even as tourism flourishes. For Cuba, there's a lot riding on striking the right balance. "Will Cuba become a sustainable destination like Costa Rica?" Whittle asked. "Or will it go the way of Cancun and much of the rest of the Caribbean that has essentially sacrificed natural areas, marine and coastal ecosystems for economic development in the short run?" *  *  * Organic Cooperative Proves that Agriculture Can Prosper in Cuba By Ivet González Continuous upgrading and a “vocation” for farming are two keys to the success of a cooperative that could serve as a model for boosting agriculture in Cuba.  Of the 195 workers at Vivero Alamar, 46 are women. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS HAVANA, May 21 2013 (IPS) – “The people are the only thing that matters,” says agronomist Miguel Ángel Salcines, who then goes on to list a series of other “secondary” factors that have turned Vivero Alamar, an urban farm on the outskirts of the Cuban capital, into a rare success story in the country’s depressed agricultural sector. “We offer flexible hours, relatively high wages, and professional upgrading, among other benefits that make the cooperative an attractive option. This is how we attract high quality human resources, who are crucial today in order to produce more organic food,” said Salcines, the president of Vivero Alamar, where production has been chemical-free since 2000. The cooperative’s recipe for success also includes transparent accounting, equitable profit sharing, interest-free loans for the workers, free lunches, and support for women workers with young children or others in their care: they are allowed to arrive up to an hour later than the official beginning of the work day, at seven in the morning, Salcines told Tierramérica*. Human capital played a decisive role in raising production at this urban agriculture venture, founded in 1997 on an initial 800 square metres of land in the community of Alamar, around 15 kilometres east of downtown Havana. This is why Salcines believes that the key to achieving food security in Cuba lies in agricultural workers with a “vocation” for farming, as well as training. In 2012, world food prices skyrocketed as a result of poor crop yields in various centres of agricultural production, such as the United States. The Caribbean countries, which are net food importers, suffered the greatest impact in the region, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Less than five percent of the population of Cuba suffers from malnutrition, but the country was forced to spend over 1.633 billion dollars on food imports last year, an unsustainable expenditure for an economy in crisis for more than 20 years, specialists say. Reducing this massive expenditure by raising domestic food production remains a challenge for the government of President Raúl Castro. In fact, in the first quarter of this year, the National Office of Statistics and Information reported a 7.8 percent decrease in agricultural production other than sugar cane. “There is a big demand that needs to be met, which is why we are able to sell everything we grow,” said Salcines, one of the founders of the cooperative, which now covers a total of 10.14 hectares and produces more than 230 different crop varieties (primarily garden vegetables, as well as some fruits, grains and tubers) in greenhouses and open fields. In the midst of a generally inefficient agricultural sector, Vivero Alamar has achieved consistent growth for more than 15 years, thanks to the constant upgrading of its organic farming methods, which have even earned the praise of the director-general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, who visited the cooperative earlier this month. In 2012, they produced 400 tons of vegetables, 5.5 tons of medicinal and “spiritual” plants (used in religious rituals), 2.6 tons of dried herbs and spices, and 350 tons of worm manure. They also produced 30,000 ornamental plant and fruit tree seedlings and three million vegetable seedlings, some for their own planting needs, others for sale to other farmers, reported Salcines. Fresh vegetables, especially lettuce, are the products most sought after by the local residents in Alamar, who have begun to learn in recent years – like people in the rest of the country – about the benefits of including more greens in the traditional Cuban diet of rice, beans, “viandas” (starchy tubers and plantain) and pork. “The first time we planted cauliflower, in 2000, it all got left in the fields, because nobody knew what it was,” plant health engineer Norma Romero told Tierramérica. In her view, one of the most important contributions made by the more than 33,000 urban and suburban farms in Cuba has been the expansion of access to and consumption of vegetables. Thanks to a new initiative at Vivero Alamar, recipes for the preparation of different vegetables and mushrooms accompany the lists of products available at the cooperative’s sales outlet, as part of its business and educational strategy. The shelves also stock pickled vegetables, fruit preserves and garlic paste, produced through its own small industry sideline. Although organic produce can be prohibitively costly in other countries, the organic fruits and vegetables sold by Vivero Alamar are actually priced lower than those produced with agrochemicals and sold in private farmers markets, where the prices are set in accordance with supply and demand. “The affordable prices are the biggest attraction. A head of lettuce costs four Cuban pesos (five cents of a dollar) here, and everywhere else they charge 10 pesos,” regular customer Sonia Ricardo told Tierramérica. “The vegetables here are fresh, they have no pesticides, and the service is really fast,” she added. Despite these low prices, the cooperative is able to earn good profits, production chief Gonzálo González assured Tierramérica. Eighty-five percent of its products are sold directly to the population, and the rest go to restaurants like La Bodeguita del Medio, a major tourist attraction in Havana. Since it first started out with just five people, Vivero Alamar has progressively moved towards a closed-loop farming system that reduces waste and environmental damage. “We try to buy as few inputs from outside as possible,” explained González, which is what led to “the idea of producing our own manure and various bio-pesticides and fertilisers.” Vivero Alamar raises bulls to obtain manure, has set up “worm bins” to produce earthworm castings, another organic fertiliser, and breeds mycorrhizal fungi (which attach themselves to the roots of plants and promote their growth) as well as insects and microorganisms that can boost crop yields naturally. The cooperative has also established links with 17 scientific centres for the incorporation of new organic farming techniques and products. Today, the 195 people who work here are striving to raise production by 40 percent to reach the farm’s full potential output, and have also expanded into raising rabbits and sheep, in order to include meat in its sales to the public and improve protein consumption among the neighbouring population, some 30,000 people. The staff is made up of 175 cooperative members and 20 employees, and boasts a high overall level of education, with 92 university graduates and 42 technical college graduates. Women currently account for only 46 of the 195 workers. “A farm can do much more than produce food,” commented Salcines, as he watched a group of foreign tourists who had booked a guided tour and organic lunch at Vivero Alamar. * This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. *  *  * Cuba for a Better Use of Water in Agriculture Havana, Apr 14 (Prensa Latina) Cuba is seeking a better use of water in crops by improving water storage and supply systems, according to Head of Research and Innovation of the Agricultural Engineering Research Center (AGRIC), Teresa Lopez. Repair of 485 micro-dams, mostly in poor or very poor state, is among measures being implemented, she said. The situation of hundreds of kilometers of canals is also being assessed, as most of them demand overhaul. Lopez attended a scientific event of AGRIC, during which she referred to the use of water and the organization of the hydraulic program in the productive system of the Ministry of Agricuture (MINAG). She recalled that agriculture (mainly rice plantations) is the country's largest water consumer. *  *  * Companies abandon search for oil in Cuba's deep waters; Threat to Florida's environment reduced as drillers look elsewhere William E. Gibson, Washington Bureau, South Florida, April 14, 2013,0,5594782.story WASHINGTON — After spending nearly $700 million during a decade, energy companies from around the world have all but abandoned their search for oil in deep waters off the north coast of Cuba near Florida, a blow to the Castro regime but a relief to environmentalists worried about a major oil spill. Decisions by Spain-based Repsol and other companies to drill elsewhere greatly reduce the chances that a giant slick along the Cuban coast would ride ocean currents to South Florida, threatening its beaches, inlets, mangroves, reefs and multibillion-dollar tourism industry. The Coast Guard remains prepared to contain, skim, burn or disperse a potential slick. And Cuban officials still yearn for a lucrative strike that would prop up its economy. A Russian company, Zarubezhneft, is drilling an exploratory well in shallower waters hugging the Cuban shoreline south of the Bahamas. But though some oil has been found offshore, exploratory drilling in deep waters near currents that rush toward Florida has failed to reveal big deposits that would be commercially viable to extract, discouraging companies from pouring more money into the search. "Those companies are saying, 'We cannot spend any more capital on this high-risk exploration. We'd rather go to Brazil; we'd rather go to Angola; we'd rather go to other places in the world where the technological and geological challenges are less,'" said Jorge Piñon, an oil-industry analyst at the University of Texas who consults with U.S. and Cuban officials as well as energy companies. "I don't foresee any time in the future exploration in Cuba's deep-water north coast. It is, for all practical purposes, over." Despite these frustrations, Cuba's need for oil wealth and energy independence has only intensified. Venezuela — which holds a presidential election Sunday — may quit sending $3.5 billion worth of oil to Cuba each year under a barter arrangement initiated by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, an ally of Fidel and Raúl Castro. Venezuela has been sending oil to Cuba at favorable prices, with part of the cost paid through low-interest loans and the rest offset by services from Cuban doctors, teachers and advisers — a sweet deal for the Castro regime that meets the island's energy needs and fuels its struggling economy. But Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles, a presidential candidate, has told voters that if he is elected "not another drop of oil will go toward financing the government of the Castros." And even if Capriles loses to acting President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela may be unable to sustain its generosity. "How much longer can Venezuela provide billions of dollars in aid and petroleum?" said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who met with energy officials in Havana earlier this month. "They [Cuban officials] know that is staring them in the face. "They were upfront that they have not been successful to date," she said. "But they do have other foreign investors — the Russians, the Brazilians, Angola — and they intend to proceed." Castor and other Floridians fear the consequences of a potential offshore oil spill, especially if a giant slick gets caught in ocean currents that feed into the powerful Gulf Stream, which could drag it north along the Florida coast and to the Carolinas. Florida leaders for years have fended off oil drilling within 125 miles of Florida's Gulf Coast for fear a spill would damage the environment and the state's $65 billion tourism industry. Those fears were heightened when the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 spewed 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, ruining that summer's tourist and fishing season along the Florida Panhandle and polluting coastal waters in ways that are still being measured. In the aftermath, drilling north of Cuba just 70 miles from Florida set off new alarms and prompted the Coast Guard to devise contingency plans to fend off a potential slick. The Coast Guard today is breathing a little easier but remains on guard. "The ocean currents [near the Russian drilling site] are much more favorable in terms of a U.S. landing of a potential oil spill, but clearly there's still risk," said Coast Guard Capt. John Slaughter, who oversees oil-spill response plans in South Florida. "Even if the currents don't bring it here, you still may have strong winds from the east pushing the oil closer to our shores. "Economically for the state of Florida, if [a spill] were to happen, even if nothing reaches the shore, people are going to get agitated. 'Should I still come to Florida on vacation if there's an oil spill in the Florida Straits?' We would be very aggressive to ensure that nothing happens." Repsol, a Spanish company, had been looking for oil off the shores of Cuba for more than a decade, hoping for a big strike that could generate billions of dollars of profit. The company brought a gigantic self-propelled floating rig — the Scarabeo 9 — all the way from Singapore to drill an exploratory well in ultradeep waters of more than 5,000 feet north of Havana in January 2012. The well produced signs of oil. But by May 2012, the company concluded it wasn't enough to justify the cost and difficulty of extraction through a complex and porous underwater rock structure. Now Repsol is closing its Cuban offices and moving elsewhere. "We have taken a decision not to carry out any further exploration in Cuba after the last well we did in 2012," said Repsol spokesman Kristian Rix. He would not elaborate. Petronas, a Malaysian company, and PDVSA of Venezuela have dug exploratory wells at other deep-water sites off the Cuban coast during the past year and came to the same conclusion. The Russian drilling still underway is in shallower waters — about 1,200 feet — along the Cuban coast near Cayo Coco, farther from Florida than the deep-water sites and farther from the Gulf Stream. "Arguably it's in a more environmentally sensitive area along the Cuban coastline," said Daniel Whittle, Cuba program director for the Environmental Defense Fund. "But from the U.S. point of view, it poses less danger." Piñon, who estimates that energy companies have spent a total of nearly $700 million during a decade exploring deep-water sites, predicted that other companies with less capital will be discouraged from making further attempts. "This is a high-risk business. Folks in the street rarely hear about all the dry holes. It's nothing out of the ordinary," he said. "Everyone had high expectations because there was supposed to be oil off the north coast of Cuba, and look what happened: nothing." or 202-824-8256 *  *  * GMOs Debated on Cuban TV HAVANA TIMES — April 11, 2013 For the first time ever on Cuban television, the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the island’s agriculture was debated on Wednesday night. On one side was Dr Carlos Borroto, the deputy director of the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, while on the other was philosopher Carlos Delgado. Borroto, the main promoter of GMOs on the island, said on the primetime TV program “Pasaje a lo desconocido” (Journey to the Unknown), that 100 percent of the corn imported for human consumption on the island, as well as more than 80 percent of the soybean yield, is now transgenic. For his part, Delgado advocated the right of citizens to know about and to be able to decide on the type of food they prefer for their diet. At the same time, he questioned several aspects of the “technological package” associated with these types of modified crops and he questioned their supposed safety with respect to ecosystems. The approval process for biotech crops on the island has been plagued by irregularities and violations in the protocols of their use, according to reports dating from 2010. Nonetheless, the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology currently has more than 20 research and development projects aimed at agro-biotechnology. Among those that stand out are ones applied to corn, rice, soy, fish, pigs and cattle. Products such as soybeans and maize are currently produced here by militarily-run companies, while their products are sold without any labeling information on their biotech origins *  *  * PHYS.ORG Cuba faces vast land losses as sea levels rise April 11, 2013 Cuba risks losing a vast stretch of beach front homes and pristine coastal habitat by 2050, because of rapidly rising sea levels, a top environmental official warned Thursday. At a panel discussion on Cuban environmental policy, Tomas Escobar, director of the island's National Environment Agency, said rising oceans could submerge huge areas of the Caribbean island, with potentially devastating consequences. The changes "could affect ecosystems, increase the vulnerability of coastal settlements, reduce agricultural soil productivity, crops and forestry and reduce the quality and availability of water," the Prensa Latina news agency quoted Escobar as saying. "At the current rate of increase in sea level, by 2050 we will have lost nearly 2,700 square kilometers of land area and 9,000 homes," he said. Cuba has an area of 109,884 square kilometers (42 square miles), and more than 5,700 kilometers (3,500 miles) of coastline that includes everything from steep cliffs to sandy beaches to swamps. Escobar said President Raul Castro's government had established a policy to try and mitigate the effects of rising sea levels, centered on "the goal of reducing vulnerabilities identified in disaster prevention studies." Policy priorities include the conservation and rehabilitation of coastal ecosystems, including the island's coral reefs, mangroves and beaches. (c) 2013 AFP Read more at: *  *  * The Cuban diet: eat less, exercise more – and preventable deaths are halved by Jeremy Laurence, The Independent, April 10, 2013–and-preventable-deaths-are-halved-8566603.html#" (Read online for graphics and charts.)

A country whose citizens collectively succeeded in losing weight and increasing their level of physical activity saw their health improve and death rates plunge.

(See webpage above for graphics and charts.) In a unique natural experiment, researchers have observed how a nation that lost an average of 5kg per head over five years contributed to a halving of the death rate from diabetes and a one third reduction in deaths from heart disease. The natural experiment occurred in Cuba which was plunged into crisis in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its experience demonstrates what could be achieved elsewhere if the same changes could be brought about, without an economic crisis. Food and fuel were in short supply in Cuba from 1990 resulting in millions going hungry and having to abandon their vehicles and walk. Cars and buses virtually disappeared from the roads as fuel supplies dried up, and farmers had to abandon motorised machines and work the fields manually. The Government issued one million bicycles to keep the population on the move. Between 1990 and 1995, the average Cuban consumed fewer calories than they expended each day, leading to an average weight loss of 5kg. Deaths from diabetes began to fall in 1996, five years after the start of the weight loss period, and remained low for six years. Deaths from heart disease and stroke which had been declining slowly since 1980 suddenly went into free fall from 1996. By the late 1990s, however, Cuba was beginning to recover and as the economy grew so did waistlines. Levels of physical activity fell. The consequences were seen in a surging prevalence of diabetes and rising rates of heart disease and stroke which, by the mid-2000s were back to their pre-crisis levels. The international team of researchers from Spain, the US and Cuba, say that the "Cuban experience" from 1980 to 2010 demonstrates that within a relatively short period, modest weight loss in the whole population can have a profound effect. Writing in the British Medical Journal, they say that although their findings are an extrapolation from one country's experience, they nonetheless provide "a notable illustration of the potential health benefits of reversing the global obesity epidemic." The Cuban crisis was unusual in that it did not occur suddenly, as in a time of war, but developed slowly over a number of years, and was not accompanied by social breakdown. People continued to go to work and school and the Government maintained its strong tradition of public health and continued surveillance of medical trends. In an accompanying editorial, Walter Willett, professor of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, says it is well known that changes in the food supply, such as the spread of fast food outlets, combined with reductions in physical activity, such as increased car use, leads to weight gain and the growth in diabetes and heart disease. But it is rare to see a reversal of the process. Professor Willetts writes: "The current findings add powerful evidence that a reduction in overweight and obesity would have major population-wide benefits." *  *  *

The Paradox of Two Cuban Women (Excerpt)

Friday, November 27, 2009 <>

Alberto N. Jones Sometime during the year 2006, CNN executives conceived a project that would be different than everything they had done until then, in which, rather than the typical 24/7 news filled with death, destruction and human calamity to which we have become addicted, this project would be devoted entirely to pay hommage to ordinary people doing extraordinary things around the world. On December 6, 2007 in the incredibly beautiful setting of the New York Museum of Natural History, 2.5 billions viewers around the world were treated to a detailed audio-visual desciption of the activities of all ten finalists, from which Irania Martinez from Guantanamo, Cuba, was declared by a high powered Blue Ribbon commission the winner of Defending the Planet. The incredible honor that was bestowed upon this modest, Afro-Cuban, un-wed mother, who single handedly transformed a solid waste toxic dump in Guantanamo into a Garden of Eden – as described by CNN – was able at the same time, to put her city, her community and its people on the world map. How could this unprecedented event come about? An accidental confluence of unrelated events, brought into fruition the most important development in the history of Guantanamo. Some facts: The sudden collapse of the Soviet Union and all of eastern European socialist countries meant for Cuba, loosing overnight 40% of its import/export markets, financial exchange, raw material, supplies, technical assistance and a traumatic mental impact of being without socio/political/financial allies and the threat of mass hunger, lack of medicine, medical supplies, endless blackouts and an imminent collapse as predicted by the "Domino" theory. In what history will record as an equally daring act by Fidel Castro, similar to when he attacked the Moncada Garrison in 1953, led the sea invasion to ignite the revolution in 1956, directed the counterattack at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and led the military strategy that defeated Apartheid and the most powerful war machine on the African continent. In impassioned speaches, he called upon the Cuban people to stand tall in defense of the fatherland in the image of our forefathers, who forged Cuba's independence with their blood, their lives, midwifing the Special Period in times of Peace. The level of need, deprivations, suffering and related deaths that took place in Cuba during this period, was a stark reminder of a devastated Europe at the end of WW II. Doing what Cuba have done best whenever it is down and written off by academics and politicians, a flurry of ideas, projects, visions and new found energies came into play, dismantling all fatalistic predictions. Among the many novel ideas that were put in motion, were the immediate transformation of every city vacant lot into a community vegetable garden. As an agricultural technician, Irania Martinez was assigned to the marginal neighborhood of south Isleta. Because of an acute lack of spare parts, fuel, tires etc., all solid waste trucks in Guantanamo were grounded and exchanged for horse driven wagons. Additionally, the city was sub-diveded into blocks to make it manageable by this new collection technique, by creating tens of mini-solid waste dumps in lieu of the centralized old dump. When Irania arrived in Isleta, she was received by swarms of flies, ants, rodents, choking smoke from burning household solid waste contaminated with cancerigenous plastic containers and an offensive odor from decomposing matter. After bringing this challenging health hazard to the attention of her managers, she was told that, that was not of her competence and that she should limit herself to do what she was sent there to do. She not only rejected such orders, she began organizing neighbors and asking for volunteer workers, to start addressing that critical problem. A few joined and without any personal protection gears, salary or material support, they started sorting, recycling glass, metal, composting and creating a seedling of thousands of hardwood, ornamental and fruits trees, that were given away to everyone willing to nurture a plant. As a result of the dire humanitarian drama that Cuba in general and Guantanamo in particular was enduring in 1992 and after, we begged, packaged and sent with everyone willing to take an extra suitcase and later through every Cuba solidarity group, tons of medical, educational, physically challenged and sport supplies that were generously donated to us by peace loving, caring people in the state of Florida and beyond. This working relationship reached its peak after hurricane Gordon hit Guantanamo in 1994 and we were able in collaboration with others, to send the first four engine cargo plane loaded with humanitarian assistance to land in Cuba since 1959. This act created a permanent working relation with the healthcare, education and the physically challenged association of that province. Because this activity needed to be structured and institutionalized, I became a founding member of US-Cuba Sister City, founded the Caribbean American Children Foundation and an officer in the St Augustine-Baracoa Friendship Association. These legal proceedings allowed us to apply for and receive multiple licenses from the US Treasury and Commerce Department, which enabled us to send millions of dollars in medicine, medical supplies, sports, physically challenged, cultural and environmental health supplies. This factor, led members of different institutions to invite us to visit CEPRU or the Ecological Center For Processing Urban Refuse. I promised I would, but was not convinced that a solid waste dump was the most interesting place to spend my limited time during my family visits to Guantanamo. On a second visit to Guantanamo, I was reminded of their desire for me to visit CEPRU. Cornered and with no other possibility, I accepted the invitation and I was doomed. The image I came across that day will live with me forever, as men and women, young and old, physically fit and challenged, worked tireless with their bare hands, ragged clothing, without personal protection, sorting through piles of household refuse. There and then, I promised that we would support the heroic and dangerous work they were doing, by providing them with work clothing, gloves, mask, bicycles, work tools, help build a kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, a computer/classroom, camera and forbade everyone from taking their contaminated work clothes home. These modest signs of respect and solidarity became a real boost to each of them, who multiplied their efforts and transformed their workplace into the enviroment that so impressed the visiting CNN team. Today CEPRU has a midsize nursery with thousands of medicinal herbs, flowers, ornamental, fruits and hardwood. A humid pond for butterflies reproduction is about to be completed, a small goat dairy farm for lactose intolerant hospitalized babies is in production, monthly environmental seminars with specialists in the field are held on premises and primary school children are encouraged to visit and learn to love and respect nature. It was our hopes, that after CEPRU had been awarded meritorious recognitions by the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Science and Environment, the regional FAO office and the stunning CNN HEROES first prize, this project would be widely acclaimed by everyone in Cuba and used as a springboard to raise the awareness of the threats to country's environment. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Support has been questionable and bureaucratic impediments have stalled a project, "Oxygen For All," whose goals were to plant one millon fruit, ornamental, hardwood and other trees per year, intended to revert the desertfication/salinization on the southern coast of Oriente… *  *  * Private sector bites into Cuban state food sales * Private food distribution networks take shape * First wholesale market opens in Havana * State share of food sales declines By Marc Frank HAVANA, March 27 (Reuters) – Cubans are building private food distribution networks from the farm through to retail outlets as communist authorities gradually dismantle the state's monopoly on the purchase and sale of agricultural products. The country's first wholesale produce market is up and running on the outskirts of Havana and across the island farmers report they are selling more of their goods directly to customers, ranging from hotels to individual vendors. Those involved say the change is speeding the flow of food to market, helping end longstanding inefficiencies that often left crops to rot in fields and putting more money in the pockets of producers. "We purchased two old trucks this year, in part to deliver produce to our state clients in Camaguey," said the president of a cooperative near the city in central Cuba. "A few years ago we had to sell everything to the state, which then sold it to our clients a few days later. Now it arrives fresh and we keep the 21 percent profit that went to the state wholesaler," he said, asking to remain anonymous. Private trucks, some dating back to the 1950s and beyond, clatter into cities and towns delivering goods to kiosks and stalls run by private farm cooperatives or their surrogates. In eastern Santiago de Cuba, the trucks roll into retail markets where private food vendors, who roam the streets with horse-drawn wagons, push and tricycle carts, gather to buy. With the country importing around 60 percent of its food and private farmers outperforming state farms on a fraction of the land, authorities are gradually deregulating the sector and leasing fallow land to would-be farmers. At the same time private truckers and vendors are being licensed as part of an opening to small businesses, with 400,000 people, including employees, now working in what's called the "non-state" sector. SLOW GOING It is slow going, with farm output up just a few percentage points since President Raul Castro, who replaced his ailing brother Fidel in 2008, began agricultural reforms as part of a broader effort to "modernize" the Soviet-style economy. Local farmers and experts say resistant bureaucrats, cautious leadership, the state's continued monopoly on farm inputs and a lack of financing are holding up growth. Yet, deregulation is gradually taking hold and private supply chains, whose participants were once labeled "parasitic middlemen" and even criminals by authorities, are emerging, now with the state's blessing. "The farmers harvest all this in the mornings, put it in sacks and weigh it, then truckers bring it in," said purchaser Ariel Gonzales, leaning on his tricycle cart loaded with onions, garlic, carrots and other items at the Havana wholesale market. "The food arrives the same day, it's all fresh and at 50 percent or less of retail prices," Gonzalez, who delivers to three small Havana retail outlets, said. "Of course, when it rains this all turns to mud. You would think the government would pave it," he said. "After all, we are feeding Havana." Five years ago 85 percent of all food produced in the country was contracted and sold by the state. By last year it had fallen to below 60 percent, according to the government. Within a few years it is expected to bottom out at around 35 percent, mainly root vegetables, grains and export crops. "These are products not included in any contract with the state. You can sell them freely," said Homero Rivero, a small farmer turned part time trucker and wholesale vendor as he supervised the unloading of sacks of cucumbers, crates of tomatoes and other vegetables from a vintage Ford truck. Hundreds of purchasers swarm the area bidding for the goods, often accompanied by strapping young men with tricycle carts hired to move the produce to waiting vehicles. FOOD NO LONGER WASTED Rivero's old Ford was one of many similar vintage vehicles piled with fruit, garden and root vegetables late Tuesday afternoon, even as dozens more waited to enter the makeshift market on an unpaved lot at the edge of the Cuban capital. The market opens in the afternoon and runs into the late evening. The scene is chaotic and crude and the trucks and carts decrepit, reflecting the precarious state of the country's agricultural infrastructure. "The law is that there is no law, you can do what you want with these products," said Rivero, who is from the adjoining province of Mayabeque. Cuba's capital is home to 2.1 million people, 20 percent of the country's population and is far wealthier than other cities. Trucks arrived from all over the island, for example hawking pineapples and oranges at 7 pesos and 2 pesos each from Matanzas, 70 miles (112 km) to the east, compared with the local retail price of 15 pesos and 4 to 5 pesos respectively. Jaimito Alvarez, who comes into Havana every 10 days from Pinar del Rio, 100 miles (160 km) to the west, said before the produce was often wasted. "Before, if you produced more than planned, you were lucky if the state picked it up. Private food sales were forbidden and usually some of your crop rotted in the fields or was fed to the pigs," Alvarez said. *  *  * Cuba to produce "green" cement Havana, Mar 26 (EFE).- Cuba in April will begin producing "ecological cement" using materials that allow it to reduce CO2 emissions by 32 percent during the manufacturing process, Communist Party daily Granma said Tuesday. In addition, the production process for this green cement, which will be produced in a factory in the central province of Sancti Spiritus, has 29 percent lower energy costs than normal cement. "Cuba will transform itself into a pioneer on the planet in (cement production), ahead of India, which also will undertake this production in the near future after assimilating the Cuban-Swiss experience," the daily said. The project is the fruit of joint research between Switzerland's Lausanne Polytechnical University and the CIDEM research center at the Universidad Central Marta Abreu in the Cuban province of Villa Clara. "The green cement has great utility in applications … (such as) the production of concrete blocks, roof tiles and in general in all finishing work," CIDEM director Jose Fernando Martirena told Granma. He added that the product will be "very useful to the petroleum industry for its heat-resistant properties." *  *  * SOMETHING TO PONDER. An excerpt from Fidel Castro's message which he read to Cuba's National Assembly: "Humanity has entered a unique stage in its history. The last decades have no relation to the thousands of centuries which preceded them. In 2011, the world’s population reached seven billion inhabitants, an alarming figure. In only two centuries, the world’s population has grown seven times over, requiring a basic level of food supplies which science, technology and the planet’s natural resources are far from being able to provide. You can do dozens of estimates, talk about Malthus or Noah’s Ark, but it is enough to know what a gram is, and what amount of any food can be produced on one hectare of land, to draw your own conclusions. Perhaps the British Prime Minister or President Obama know the answer that could prolong human life a few days more, the multiplication of a few fish and loaves, the magic words to persuade Africans, the inhabitants of India, Latin America and all countries of the Third World, not to have children." *  *  * Cuba Announces Short Video Contest on Environment and the City Havana, Mar 23 (Prensa Latina) The Cuban Audiovisual Association and the British Embassy in Havana officially announced the contest "Green," focused on environment and city-related solutions. The event, opened to the public of all ages, is part of activities for the British Culture Week (May 31- June 8) and World Environment Day (June 5), said Tim Cole, British Ambassador to Cuba. The objective of the project is to generate greater awareness about the environment and the citizens'responsibility in its protection, said Cole. "We can all have a more positive impact on our environment by saving water, recycling or simply not wasting resources, he said. The announcement proposes the production of short videos about the topic, highlighting solutions to environmental problems. The works will be evaluated by a jury, including renowned figures, which will be made public soon, said Cuban documentary maker Lizette Vila. President of the Cuban Audiovisual Association, Ricardo Miranda, highlighted the importance of this idea, a good initiative to promote the values of a more inclusive green culture, emphasizing love towards nature and a more sustainable development. The deadline for delivering videos is May 15, and the prizes will be presented at the Green Festival, scheduled to open the British Week on June 1st at the Historical-Military Park Morro-Cabana. *  *  * Population Growth is Threat to Other Species, Poll Respondents Say March 01, 2013|By Kenneth R. Weiss, Los Angeles Times  ( About two-thirds of registered voters in the United States believe society has a responsibility to address the problem if it pushes other animal species to extinction, a survey finds. Nearly two-thirds of American voters believe that human population growth is driving other animal species to extinction and that if the situation gets worse, society has a "moral responsibility to address the problem," according to new national public opinion poll. A slightly lower percentage of those polled — 59% — believes that population growth is an important environmental issue and 54% believe that stabilizing the population will help protect the environment. The survey was conducted on behalf of the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, which unlike other environmental groups has targeted population growth as part of its campaign to save wildlife species from extinction. Special report: Beyond 7 billion — bending the population curve The center has handed out more than half a million condoms at music concerts, farmers markets, churches and college campuses with labels featuring drawings of endangered species and playful, even humorous, messages such as, "Wrap with care, save the polar bear." The organization hired a polling firm to show other environmental groups that their fears about alienating the public by bringing up population matters are overblown, said Kieran Suckling, the center's executive director. When the center broke the near-silence on population growth with its condom campaign, other environmental leaders "reacted with a mix of worry and horror that we were going to experience a huge backlash and drag them into it," he said. Instead, Suckling said the campaign has swelled its membership — now about 500,000 — and donations and energized 5,000 volunteers who pass out prophylactics. He said a common response is, "Thank God, someone is talking about this critical issue." The poll results, he said, show such views are mainstream. In the survey, the pollsters explained that the world population hit 7 billion last year and is projected to reach 10 billion by the end of the century. Given those facts, 50% of people reached by telephone said they think the world population is growing too fast, while 38% said population growth was on the right pace and 4% thought it was growing too slowly. About 8% were not sure. Special report: Beyond 7 billion — bending the population curve Sixty-one percent of respondents expressed concerned about disappearing wildlife. Depending how the question was phrased, 57% to 64% of respondents said population growth was having an adverse effect. If widespread wildlife extinctions were unavoidable without slowing human population growth, 60% agreed that society has a moral responsibility to address the problem. Respondents didn't make as clear a connection between population and climate change, reflecting the decades-old debate over population growth versus consumption. Although 57% of respondents agreed that population growth is making climate change worse, only 46% said they think having more people will make it harder to solve, and 34% said the number of people will make no difference. Asked about natural resources, 48% said they think the average American consumes too much. The view split sharply along party lines, with 62% of Democrats saying the average American consumes too much, compared with 29% of Republicans. Independents fell in the middle at 49%. The survey of 657 registered voters was conducted Feb. 22-24 by Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh, N.C., firm that takes the pulse of voters for Democratic candidates and Democratic-leaning clients. It has a margin of error of 3.9%. *  *  * Cubans Experts Draw up Wind Map for the Isle of Youth HAVANA, Cuba, March 1 (acn) Experts in the Isle of Youth, south of the main island of Cuba, drew up a wind map of that territory that allows 50-meter high measurement at real time, as part of project aimed at making the isle a zone for the promotion of renewable energy. Meteorology Expert Edgardo Soler told Juventud Rebelde newspaper that the effort was backed with high-technology instruments and skilled personnel as part of the project known as Production and Commercialization of Renewable Energy Services with the UN Industrial Development Organization, ONUDI. “We calculated the wind power and speed every ten minutes during one and a half year, in three dimensions in order to avoid mistakes,” said the expert, who added that the project included design, installation, monitoring, statistic analysis and simulation of field measurements. The drawing up of the wind map also considered the local landscape, vegetation, thoroughfares, hydrological conditions and other elements, along with satellite images, the expert said. The study allows measuring the wind in any part of the isle based on simulations, and evaluating the impact on the environment and the improvement of energy services. The software program also allows revising maps in a digital manner, measuring the wind at three different levels, the temperature and density of the wind on real time and contributing information to the system. The Isle of Youth is not hooked to the Cuban energy distribution system, so it appears as an ideal zone for the development of renewable energy sources, like wind farms. *  *  * Cuba Promotes Application of Biogas 2013-02-27 HAVANA, Feb. 26 (Xinhua) — Cuba is geared up to expand the application of biogas as part of a campaign to promote sustainable development, especially in the agricultural sector. Experts with the Cuban Society for Promotion of Renewable Energy Sources and Environmental Protection (Cubasolar) convened on Tuesday to analyze the viability of some biogas projects presented at a national forum on biogas last week. At the meeting, Cubasolar member Jose Antonio Guardado Chacon stressed the importance of awakening an interest in biogas by publicizing its practical uses and advantages. Biogas is primarily composed of methane, a greenhouse gas created when organic matter breaks down. Experts believe that 6.4 billion tons of methane gas is released into the atmosphere worldwide each year, representing 15 percent of all greenhouse gases. In Cuba, biogas is seen not just as a renewable energy source, but also a source of environmentally-friendly fertilizer for use in organic agriculture. Cuba began to use biogas in 1940 and has dramatically increased its usage since 1980 after more sophisticated plants that could more efficiently generate biofuel were built. So far, Cuba has built some 700 biofuel plants at state farms and other agricultural centers throughout the country. The government now hopes to further boost the trend by building small biogas plants at family farms to turn pig waste into biofuel. In addition, experts say biogas also has the potential to help generate electricity and thermal energy. Cuba's Biogas Group has said Cuba has the potential to generate more than 400 million cubic meters of biogas a year. *  *  * Manuel E. Yepe. ELECTORAL VICTORY OF WOMEN IN CUBA‏ By Manuel E. Yepe, February 2013 Women achieved excellent results in the recent Cuban general elections, confirming a remarkable progress in the just assessment of the role of women in society. This has been an essential goal of the Cuban Revolution since its triumph more than half a century ago. The general election began in October 2012 with the voting of the delegates to the Assemblies in 168 municipalities of the Island and will conclude on the coming 24th of February with the new 5-year legislature in the Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular [Parliament] in which in 67% of its membership was renewed. Of the 1269 legislators, recently elected on February 3rd for a 5-year term to the 15 provincial assemblies in the country, half are women. Ten of the assemblies chose women as presidents and seven chose women as deputy presidents. This female citizen empowerment is the result of 54 uninterrupted years of programs aimed at achieving womens equality in Cuba; a process that has covered areas in the economy, politics, legislation, social policies and cultural patterns in a still-patriarchal society. Among the reasons that promoted this advance in the Poder Popular are the growing participation of women in paid employment, the fact that since 1978 more than half the technical and professional Cuban labor force is female, and since 1993 they represent two-thirds of this force. For three decades now employed women in Cuba have had higher education levels than employed men. For a long time, women have deserved a larger representation than the 1/3 they had achieved in the total leadership in the higher state and government institutions, but the prejudice derived from the prevailing male chauvinist and patriarchal mentality, together with well-known material and resource obstacles for the full equality of women, made it necessary to strengthen the revolutionary political will to correct such stubbornness. There are still other obstacles and injustices that limit women's empowerment in the political, economic and social context. The most visible is the double work load burdening women –whether they are doctors, scientists, judges…or members of parliament –who as a rule undertake most of the everyday household shores. This is a tradition that goes back to the days when women were practically excluded from employment. With an increasingly aging Cuban population (18% are 60, or older) whose care generally falls upon women, the household work load is bound to increase and it will burden women even more. This is an immediate challenge for the Cuban socialist project. Material limitations must not be a pretext for the postponement of such a just endeavor. The struggle for women's equality, a prioritized objective since 1959 by Cuba's revolutionary leadership, is linked to another effort that –although not a banner in the initial stages- is now paramount for the future development of the socialist society in Cuba In the battle for gender equality, Cuba shows considerable progress in terms of the eradication of discrimination and gender violence that goes far beyond the upgrading of Cuban legislation to make it more inclusive and fair in these matters. The struggle against homophobia, the care for its victims and the follow-up that these problems demand are increasingly reaching society as a whole. On February 24th, the Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular will be constituted when the 612 representatives elected on February 3rd take their seats for the new 5-year legislative term. At the meeting, the members of the Council of State and Council of Ministers will be nominated and designated. The Council of State will have 31 members and will be made up of a President who will be the Head of State and Government, a First Vice-President, five other Vice-presidents, a Secretary and 23 members. More than 50% of the legislators in the renewed Cuban Parliament are women, and obviously in its appointment of the leadership for the higher state and government Institutions it is quite likely to anticipate that the trend of an increased female participation – evident in the constituted municipalities and provinces- will continue. *  *  * No-till Farming Holds the Key to Food Security By Patricia Grogg (interview with THEODOR FRIEDRICH, representative of the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Cuba. No-till farming could save the Caribbean from the impacts of climate change. Credit: Wadner Pierre/IPS) HAVANA, Feb 20 2013 (IPS) – No-till farming is a response to climate change that fits well with the needs of the Caribbean: it increases the ability to capture water, while withstanding both drought and excessive rains, says expert Theodor Friedrich, representative of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Cuba. The Caribbean islands are in dire need of new techniques that can ensure food security amid the threats of climate change. “I do not see why these islands cannot produce enough for their own consumption,” Friedrich said in an interview with IPS. ”We have to produce more with less, and conservation agriculture is the basis of the strategy recommended by the FAO,” he added. Excerpts from the interview follow: Q: What are the challenges posed by climate change to food security in the Caribbean region, especially the islands? Theodor Friedrich, representative of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Cuba, says the Caribbean region needs to overhaul its agricultural system in favour of no-till farming. Credit: Ana María Navarro/IPS A: Weather events here have become more extreme. The rainy or dry seasons are more pronounced, and hurricanes that run frequently and regularly in the area are stronger and less calculable in intensity and impact. These conditions obviously impact on agriculture, a slow productive sector that requires some environmental stability. Many of the Caribbean islands are mountainous, and poor land management, erosion and hurricanes cause natural disasters, which affect not only rural areas but the entire population. Q: Would you say that the lack of sustainable agriculture increases the vulnerability? A: There are structural (economic) problems in many of these countries that go beyond climate change. While in Cuba, the (U.S. economic) embargo presents an additional situation. In general, the problems of the other islands are nearly the same: there is no domestic production of supplies or materials (needed) for agriculture. It is cheaper for countries to import agricultural products all at once, instead of producing based on inputs such as fertilisers and machinery – which also have to be imported. It may also be that politics plays a more important role in these matters. Q: How is it possible to keep up food production amid adverse climate conditions? A: In theory it is possible in all terrain, if we implement proper (agricultural practices) that respect the environment and consider the threats of climate change. Today, this type of agriculture exists. I do not see why these islands cannot produce enough for their own consumption. The capabilities are there and require political support that encourages and creates suitable conditions for the production sector, which is also affected by fiscal and tax policies. We need to produce more with less and conservation agriculture is the basis of the strategy (for the Caribbean region) recommended by the FAO. We often see higher import taxes on fertiliser and machinery than taxes on imported vegetables and food products, which does not make sense if you want to improve local production. Q: Should climate change and weather fluctuations be taken into account in development plans? A: Yes, definitely. We need a political vision and policy instruments, but also technologies. That is one of FAO’s (key priorities): to develop and promote techniques that respond to the need to produce, despite the threats of climate change and the specific conditions of the Caribbean islands, where many agricultural areas are degraded by rain and erosion. Q: What methods are most recommended in these cases? A: A topic on which I have worked hard is farming without removing the soil, no-till farming, which responds to the need to improve the economic conditions of farmers, saving on fuel costs or the number of oxen. It also (mitigates the impacts of) climate change, because (keeping the soil in place) increases the ability to capture water and withstand drought, with less problems for crops. (No-till farming also allows) soil to absorb excess water in the case of hurricanes, for example. This is called conservation agriculture. It is based on three fundamentals: one is to not work the land, the second is to manage a permanent cover with mulch or plant debris, and the third is to diversify crops, in rotation, in frequency and in crop associations. Related IPS ArticlesHaiti-Dominican Republic Trade: Exports or Exploits? In Caribbean, Climate-Smart Agriculture Bolsters Farm Production Cuban Sugar Sector Aims for Recovery in 2013 The key is not to work on the land mechanically, because what is needed is a tool to open a hole or a groove to put the seed in the ground and cover it – nothing more. Land worked like this can easily absorb well over 100 millimeters of rain per hour. There is no reason for flooding in times of hurricanes, because the water passes to underground areas and stays much longer in the earth. Q: Does the FAO recommend this form of farming for small areas, or is it also useful on a larger scale? A: It’s a change of the overall agricultural system. It can be applied in small or large extensions and in countries with different climates. It started in southern Brazil and in countries such as Canada and Australia. There the farmers, (in response to) wind, water erosion or drought, were forced to adopt this type of agriculture. About 10 percent of the world’s agriculture is under this system. But in the Caribbean it is virtually unknown. We need to produce more with less and conservation agriculture is the basis of the strategy recommended by the FAO. This form of farming helps mitigate climate change because it captures carbon in the soil and reduces methane emissions, when we apply it, for example, to rice. Q: Does the FAO have special plans for Haiti? What is recommended? A: With this type of agriculture we can respond to the situation in Haiti, which is the (most salient) example of the problems of degradation and mismanagement of irrigation systems. We will try to push, together with conservation agriculture, what here in Cuba is known as Systems of Rice Intensification. In this technique the crop is not flooded: puddling is prevented, rice is planted (as) individual seeds in a very wide range and is transplanted from the seedlings after eight to 15 days in very small plants, before it has four leaves. (This results in) significant savings of seeds and water. Yields can easily exceed 10 tons per hectare. These are very adaptive responses to situations like Haiti. Let’s see if we can start some changes, some kind of agricultural development in the country and move to a different management (system). *  *  * Cuba  Endemic Orchid Blooms Only in Western Cuba Endemic Orchid Blooms Only in Western Cuba Radio Angulo, Holguin, Cuba Cuban endemic Broughtonia cubensis orchid blooms only in Guanahacabibes Peninsula Cuba's westernmost province of Pinar del Rio boasts of having the Broughtonia cubensis orchid, which flowers from January to April, and  that is a significant luxury of the Guanahacabibes Peninsula, but it was declared as a critically endangered species because it can only be found in that Cuban biosphere reserve. This orchid, endemic of Cuba, was formerly habitual in areas of the provinces of Havana and Matanzas, while currently is only visible in the western zone of the Cabo de San Antonio, according to the reports of the Pinar Del Rio Center for Research and Environmental Services (ECOVIDA). The inflorescence of this epiphytic plant reaches up to 25 centimeters, length comprising 8 to 10 flowers relatively large, predominantly white, with shades of light mauve and yellow in its labellum or modified central petal. According to experts, it usually grows in fertile lands, suitable for cattle rising and agriculture, which has limited its habitat to poor land ecosystems, mainly to the coasts, where thickets and bushes have largely maintained its original status. Such limitations, joined to the extraction by collectors, are the main causes this plant is only present on that portion of the western tip of Cuba, where other 40 species of orchids stand out for their beauty, the sources added. Specialists of the Ecological Station of the peninsula have undertaken some actions for trying to preserve this unique flower species, such as systematic monitoring and environmental education campaigns. Cuba has more than 300 species of orchids, that is a large family on the planet, but they are threatened by collectors. / Source: ACN. *  *  * PRAVDA Cuba on the way to turning cancer into a chronic disease 05.02.2013 Despite the demonic and inhumane blockade against Cuba for decades, this Caribbean nation has been heroically developing and forging new methodologies in public healthcare using the resources available, and also, exporting its wisdom to developing countries, providing excellent healthcare and educational services. Cuba's "strong primary healthcare system" is referred to by the World Health Organization's recent communication on the introduction of biotechnology in cancer treatment in Cuba, following the WHO's guidelines and implementing a national cancer plan which provides universal access to all approaches, from prevention, diagnosis, treatment and palliative care. According to the WHO in its article "Cuba- Battling cancer with biotechnology" on the WHO website, "The plan is underpinned by a strong primary health care system that enables doctors to see their patients regularly and catch health problems at an early stage. The article refers to the Cuban government's Centre for Molecular Immunology, a "major investment in biotechnology" and states that "Cuban researchers and scientists have recently made significant progress in their search for new cancer treatments and tools to improve diagnosis and prevention". Among these was the register in 2008 of the first vaccine for therapeutic treatment of advanced lung cancer developed by the Centre for Molecular Immunology, Havana. In 2013, a second vaccine for treatment of advanced lung cancer was patented. The General Director of the Centre for Molecular Immunology, Dr. Agustin Lage Davila, states that "Biotechnology is key to transforming cancer from a deadly disease into a chronic one" and adds that the new technologies support chemo and radio therapy making them less toxic. The same centre has developed the drug nimotuzumab, an anti-cancer therapy which attacks advanced tumours in the head, neck and brain. It is a monoclonal antibody which targets specific molecules of cancer cells, imitating the human immune cells. The molecules it targets are the protein which causes uncontrolled growth of cells. According to the WHO, "today the Cuban biotech industry holds around 1,200 international patents and markets pharmaceutical products and vaccines in more than 50 countries". For Dr. José Luís Di Fábio, Director of the WHO country office in Cuba, "The tremendous benefit from this focus on health biotechnology is that it is producing more affordable drugs to tackle diseases that run rampant in low- and middle-income countries". Let us now imagine what Cuba could do without the inhuman stranglehold the USA has around its neck. Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey Pravda.Ru *  *  * Cuba plans to add 8 wind power farms Xinhua | January 14, 2013 Energy-poor Cuba announced a plan Sunday to build eight new wind farms by 2020, capable of generating 280 megawatts (MW) of power, and saving 200,000 tons of conventional fuel each year. Six of the wind farms will be built in eastern Cuba designed with 30 MW capacity each and the other two in the central region with capacity of up to 50 MW each, the state-run Juventud Rebelde daily quoted the director of emergency power generation and renewable energy sources, Aleisly Valdes, as saying. Valdes said the facilities will cost "a considerable sum" without giving a specific number, but he believed that the investment will be recouped in a period of less than 10 years. The wind farms will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 184,000 tons a year as well as other greenhouse gases, added Valdes. According to Cuban researchers, the Caribbean island has the potential to generate 1,200 MW of wind energy per year. Currently, 16 different research groups are working to develop the nation's renewable energy sources, a task that has become crucial given recent failed attempts to uncover deep-water oil reserves. *  *  * New Tax Law Takes Effect in Cuba to Aid in Economic Reforms By Anett Rios January 1, 2013 HAVANA – Cuba enacted this Jan. 1 a new Tax Law to continue the government’s “modernization” of socialism with economic reforms that revamp the tax culture of a country where taxes have been virtually non-existent since the 1959 Cuban Revolution. The new tax code approved in July by the National Assembly updates the tax system that has been in force since 1994 to bring it more in line with current international trends, which authorities describe as more “comprehensive” and “flexible.” In general, the law is a guide for a tax system that is to be applied gradually to finance the transformations that President Raul Castro is promoting in the Cuban economy, and which have created new opportunities in the private sector over the past two years. The law contains 19 taxes, three contributions and an equal number of fees, but not all these charges will be effective this year and are subject to changes according to the nation’s “economic conditions,” as in the case of income and real estate taxes. The list includes taxes in support of social security and local development derived from personal income, profits, use of work forces, land transport, advertising and customs. Postponed during 2013, among other categories, are taxes on goods and services in the retail network, for the use of beaches and inland waters, and on agricultural properties. A “special regime” has been established for the agricultural sector with tax benefits that reduce its tax rate by as much as 50 percent compared with other economic sectors, in order to stimulate food production, a matter of “national security” for the state, considering the millions of dollars it spends on food imports. Those who are granted the use of idle lands for farming, which at the end of the year were more than 170,000 people, are exonerated for two years from paying at least three taxes that are obligatory for other self-employed workers. For the purpose of promoting all kinds of private-sector work, whoever takes up self-employment will not pay a series of taxes related to their chosen activity for some three months, after which a progressive scale will be applied according to income. Unlike what happened in 1994 when ex-President Fidel Castro introduced taxes as a kind of sanction on enrichment in the emerging private sector, Raul Castro has said that this is “a fundamental instrument of the nation’s economic policy.” The vice president and coordinator of the current economic reforms, Marino Murillo, has insisted that “everyone has to pay taxes,” even though Cubans are not used to doing so. For decades taxes were practically done away with and Cubans lived in a socialist country without a tax culture, so that now confusion and controversy have arisen over taxes and about what might be coming next. The government says the new tax code will help pay for social programs and will ensure that fiscal policy is enforced. EFE *  *  * Cuba Closes Oldest Nickel Processing Plant Fri, Dec 28 2012 By Marc Frank * Nicaro-based processor oldest of three in operation * Little impact seen on overall Cuban output * New plant to take workers HAVANA, Dec 28 (Reuters) – Cuba has closed the oldest of three nickel plants in the country, a local Communist Party leader said, a looming event that had become the talk of the mountain town of Nicaro, in eastern Holguin, where it is located. Nickel is Cuba's most important export and one of its top foreign exchange earners after technical services and tourism. "This plant's productive role is completed and now it will dedicate its efforts to services," Jorge Cuevas Ramos, First Secretary of the Holguin Communist Party, said in an interview with the provincial television station on Thursday evening. A local radio report earlier in the week had also indicated the plant was closed. "After the closing of the René Ramos Latourt plant, its director said only the mineral transportation system would be maintained so it is ready to be transferred to Moa or for a foreign company that might be interested in investing in the area," the report said. The Cuban nickel industry is cloaked in secrecy. National media and officials have yet to mention the plant's closure after operating for around 70 years. Cuba produced 69,700 tonnes of unrefined nickel plus cobalt in 2010, the last official figures available. "This is something that has been on people's minds for a while, because the plant has very old technology and very low efficiency," said an office worker at the plant, who asked to remain anonymous. "We didn't know exactly when it would close, but eventually it would have to because it is not economically sustainable," she said. The Ramos Latour plant had been producing only a few thousand tonnes of unrefined nickel plus cobalt in recent years as the government struggled to keep it open and figure out what to do with Nicaro's 15,000 residents. Cuba will now have two nickel processing plants operating in Holguin, one a joint venture with Canadian resource company Sherritt International and another owned by state-run Cubaniquel, both located in Moa, Holguin. Cuevas, during the interview, said Cuba's Ernesto Che Guevara plant did not meet its 2012 plan, while the Pedro Sotto Alba plant with Sherritt had, without providing further details. Reuters estimates this year's output at around 65,000 tonnes of unrefined nickel plus cobalt. A joint venture ferronickel plant under construction in Moa with Venezuela is scheduled to open in 2013, and according to local Communist Party sources will absorb some of the Ramos Latourt plant's employees. A commission is studying what to do with the old plant and an adjoining port, they said. Cuba has valued the ferronickel project at $700 million and said annual processing would amount to 68,000 tonnes of ferronickel (21,000 tonnes nickel). The Caribbean island is one of the world's largest nickel producers and supplies 10 percent of the world's cobalt, according to the Basic Industry Ministry. Nickel is essential in the production of stainless steel and other corrosion-resistant alloys. Cobalt is critical in production of super alloys used for such products as aircraft engines. Ferronickel is an iron-nickel combination mostly used in steel making. Cuban nickel is considered to be Class II with an average 90 percent nickel content. Cuba's National Minerals Resource Center reported that eastern Holguin province had around a third of the world's known reserves. *  *  * Cuba to Review Water Policy, Rates Latin American Herald Tribune December 23, 2012 HAVANA – The Cuban government will study the development of a national water policy with an “economic” focus that will allow its use to be controlled and change the current water rates that are subsidized by the state, state media reported. The president of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources, or INRH, Ines Maria Chapman, proposed at a meeting of the Council of Ministers headed on Friday by President Raul Castro to develop a “coherent and economically sustainable” national water policy that would encompass all users in the country. “Currently, the state subsidizes the supply of water, but with this policy and insofar as economic conditions permit, … each (person or entity) will pay the corresponding tariff and thus develop greater awareness of the savings,” Chapman told the official daily Granma. The severe drought that has affected the country in recent years has raised the alarm about the supply of water on the island, where there are no large rivers and the biggest source of fresh water is rainfall. INRH studies show that a large percentage of the water that is pumped each year in Cuba is lost without possibility of recovery, partly due to infrastructure problems. *  *  * Why Is Cuba's Health Care System the Best Model for Poor Countries? by Don Fitz Furious though it may be, the current debate over health care in the US is largely irrelevant to charting a path for poor countries of Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. That is because the US squanders perhaps 10 to 20 times what is needed for a good, affordable medical system. The waste is far more than 30% overhead by private insurance companies. It includes an enormous amount of over-treatment, creation of illnesses, exposure to contagion through over-hospitalization, disease-focused instead of prevention-focused research, and making the poor sicker by refusing them treatment.1 Poor countries simply cannot afford such a health system. Well over 100 countries are looking to the example of Cuba, which has the same 78-year life expectancy of the US while spending 4% per person annually of what the US does.2 The most revolutionary idea of the Cuban system is doctors living in the neighborhoods they serve. A doctor-nurse team are part of the community and know their patients well because they live at (or near) the consultorio (doctor's office) where they work. Consultorios are backed up by policlínicos which provide services during off-hours and offer a wide variety of specialists. Policlínicos coordinate community health delivery and link nationally-designed health initiatives with their local implementation. Cubans call their system medicina general integral (MGI, comprehensive general medicine). Its programs focus on preventing people from getting diseases and treating them as rapidly as possible. This has made Cuba extremely effective in control of everyday health issues. Having doctors' offices in every neighborhood has brought the Cuban infant mortality rate below that of the US and less than half that of US Blacks.3 Cuba has a record unmatched in dealing with chronic and infectious diseases with amazingly limited resources. These include (with date eradicated): polio (1962), malaria (1967), neonatal tetanus (1972), diphtheria (1979), congenital rubella syndrome (1989), post-mumps meningitis (1989), measles (1993), rubella (1995), and TB meningitis (1997).4 The MGI integration of neighborhood doctors' offices with area clinics and a national hospital system also means the country responds well to emergencies. It has the ability to evacuate entire cities during a hurricane largely because consultorio staff know everyone in their neighborhood and know who to call for help getting disabled residents out of harm's way. At the time when New York City (roughly the same population as Cuba) had 43,000 cases of AIDS, Cuba had 200 AIDS patients.5 More recent emergencies such as outbreaks of dengue fever are quickly followed by national mobilizations.6 Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Cuban medicine is that, despite its being a poor country itself, Cuba has sent over 124,000 health care professionals to provide care to 154 countries.7 In addition to providing preventive medicine Cuba sends response teams following emergencies (such as earthquakes and hurricanes) and has over 20,000 students from other countries studying to be doctors at its Latin American School of Medicine in Havana (ELAM, Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina).8 In a recent Monthly Review article, I gave in-depth descriptions of ELAM students participating in Cuban medical efforts in Haiti, Ghana, and Peru.9 What follows are 10 generalizations from Cuba's extensive experience in developing medical science and sharing its approach with poor countries throughout the world. The concepts form the basis of the New Global Medicine and summarize what many authors have observed in dozens of articles and books. First, it is not necessary to focus on expensive technology as the initial approach to medical care. Cuban doctors use machines that are available, but they have an amazing ability to treat disaster victims with field surgery. They are very aware that most lives are saved through preventive medicine such as nutrition and hygiene and that traditional cultures have their own healing wisdom. This is in direct contrast to Western medicine, especially as is dominant in the US, which uses costly diagnostic and treatment techniques as the first approach and is contemptuous of natural and alternative approaches. Second, doctors must be part of the communities where they are working. This could mean living in the same neighborhood as a Peruvian consultorio. It could mean living in a Venezuelan community that is much more violent than a Cuban one. Or it could mean living in emergency tents adjacent to where victims are housed as Cuban medical brigades did after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Or staying in a village guesthouse in Ghana. Cuban-trained doctors know their patients by knowing their patients' communities. In this they differ sharply from US doctors, who receive zero training on how to assess homes of their patients. Third, the MGI model outlines relationships between people that go beyond a set of facts. Instead of memorizing mountains of information unlikely to be used in community health, which US students must do to pass medical board exams, Cuban students learn what is necessary to relate to people in consultorios, polyclínicos, field hospitals, and remote villages. Far from being nuisance courses, studies in how people are bio-psycho-social beings are critical for the everyday practice of Cuban medicine. Fourth, the MGI model is not static but is evolving and unique for each community. Western medicine searches for the correct pill for a given disease. In its rigid approach, a major reason for research is to discover a new pill after "side effects" of the first pill surface. Since traditional medicine is based on the culture where it has existed for centuries, the MGI model avoids the futility of seeking to impose a Western mindset on other societies. Fifth, it is necessary to adapt medical aid to the political climate of the host country. This means using whatever resources the host government is able and willing to offer and living with restrictions. Those hosting a Cuban medical brigade may be friendly as in Venezuela and Ghana, be hostile as is the Brazilian Medical Association, become increasingly hostile as occurred after the 2009 coup in Honduras, or change from hostile to friendly as occurred in Peru with the 2011 election of Ollanta Humala. This is quite different from US medical aid which, like its food aid, is part of an overall effort to dominate the receiving country and push it into adopting a Western model. Sixth, the MGI model creates the basis for dramatic health effects. Preventive community health training, a desire to understand traditional healers, the ability to respond quickly to emergencies, and an appreciation of political limitations give Cuban medical teams astounding success. During the first 18 months of Cuba's work in Honduras following Hurricane Mitch, infant mortality dropped from 80.3 to 30.9 per 1,000 live births. When Cuban health professionals intervened in Gambia, malaria decreased from 600,000 cases in 2002 to 200,000 two years later. And Cuban-Venezuelan collaboration resulted in 1.5 million vision corrections by 2009. Kirk and Erisman conclude that "almost 2 million people throughout the world . . . owe their very lives to the availability of Cuban medical services."10 Seventh, the New Global Medicine can become reality only if medical staff put healing above personal wealth. In Cuba, being a doctor, nurse, or support staff and going on a mission to another country is one of the most fulfilling activities a person can do. The program continues to find an increasing number of volunteers despite the low salaries that Cuban health professionals earn. There is definitely a minority of US doctors who focus their practice in low-income communities which have the greatest need. But there is no US political leadership which makes a concerted effort to get physicians to do anything other than follow the money. Eighth, dedication to the New Global Medicine is now being transferred to the next generation. When students at Cuban schools learn to be doctors, dentists, or nurses their instructors tell them of their own participation in health brigades in Angola, Peru, Haiti, Honduras, and dozens of other countries. Venezuela has already developed its own approach of MIC (medicina integral comunitaria, comprehensive community medicine) which builds upon, but is distinct from, Cuban MGI.11 Many ELAM students who work in Ghana as the Yaa Asantewaa Brigade are from the US. They learn approaches of traditional healers so they can compliment Ghanaian techniques with Cuban medical knowledge. Ninth, the Cuban model is remaking medicine across the globe. Though best-known for its successes in Latin America, Africa, and the Caribbean, Cuba has also provided assistance in Asia and the Pacific Islands. Cuba provided relief to the Ukraine after the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown, Sri Lanka following the 2004 tsunami, and Pakistan after its 2005 earthquake. Many of the countries hosting Cuban medical brigades are eager for them to help redesign their own health care systems. Rather than attempting to make expensive Western techniques available to everyone, the Cuban MGI model helps re-conceptualize how healing systems can meet the needs of a country's poor. Tenth, the New Global Medicine is a microcosm of how a few thousand revolutionaries can change the world. They do not need vast riches, expensive technology, or a massive increase in personal possessions to improve the quality of people's lives. If dedicated to helping people while learning from those they help, they can prefigure a new world by carefully utilizing the resources in front of them. Such revolutionary activity helps show a world facing acute climate change that it can resolve many basic human needs without pouring more CO2 into the atmosphere. Discussions of global health in the West typically bemoan the indisputable fact that poor countries still suffer from chronic and infectious diseases that rich countries have controlled for decades. International health organizations wring their hands over the high infant mortality rates and lack of resources to cope with natural disasters in much of the world.12 But they ignore the one health system that actually functions in a poor country, providing health care to all of its citizens as well as millions of others around the world. The conspiracy of silence surrounding the resounding success of Cuba's health system proves the unconcern by those who piously claim to be the most concerned. How should progressives respond to this feigned ignorance of a meaningful solution to global health problems? A rational response must begin with spreading the word of Cuba's New Global Medicine through every source of alternative media available. The message needs to be: Good health care is not more expensive — revolutionary medicine is far more cost-effective than corporate-controlled medicine. Notes 1 Don Fitz, "Eight Reasons US Healthcare Costs 96% More Than Cuba's — With the Same Results," AlterNet, December 9, 2010. 2 Lee T. Dresang, Laurie Brebrick, Danielle Murray, Ann Shallue, and Lisa Sullivan-Vedder, "Family Medicine in Cuba: Community-Oriented Primary Care and Complementary and Alternative Medicine," Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine 18.4 (July-August 2005): 297-303. 3 Richard S Cooper, Joan F Kennelly, and Pedro Orduñez-Garcia, "Health in Cuba," International Journal of Epidemiology 35 (2006): 817-824. 4 J. Pérez, "Gender and HIV Prevention," Slide presentation at the Pedro Kouri Institute of Topical Medicine, Havana, Cuba, May 15, 2012. 5 Linda M. Whiteford and Laurence G. Branch, Primary Health Care in Cuba: The Other Revolution, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008. 6 Don Fitz, "Med School Classes Cancelled in Havana," Black Agenda Report, February 14, 2012, 7 John M. Kirk and H. Michael Erisman, Cuban Medical Internationalism: Origins, Evolution and Goals, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. 8 Don Fitz, "The Latin American School of Medicine Today: ELAM," Monthly Review 62.10 (March 2011): 50-62. 9 Don Fitz, "Cuba: The New Global Medicine," Monthly Review 64.4 (September 2012): 37-46. 10 Op. cit. 11 Steve Brouwer, Revolutionary Doctors: How Venezuela and Cuba Are Changing the World's Conceptualization of Health Care. New York, Monthly Review Press, 2011. 12 Cooper, et al., op. cit. Don Fitz ( is editor of Synthesis/Regeneration: A Magazine of Green Social Thought. He is Co-Coordinator of the Green Party of St. Louis and produces Green Time in conjunction with KNLC-TV 24. URL: MR StatCounter – Free Web Tracker and Counter *  *  * Cuba to Produce Biodiesel Without Affecting Food Supply Prensa Latina – Dec 19 Havana, Dec 19 (Prensa Latina) Cuban specialists expect to increase the production of biodiesel from the Jatropha curcas plant, an initiative that is moving forward without competing with food produced for humans and animals. "This concerns the use of non-edible oil plants for humans or animals in the production of energy," researcher Jesus Suarez said on a morning television news program. According to Suarez, "it was decided that they not be monoculture plantations – as is traditional – but associated with food crops, in order to produce integrated energy and food." At present, a factory for processing Jatropha curcas is operating in the eastern Guantanamo province, while another one is in the testing phase at Cabaiguan, in the central territory of Sancti Spiritus. According to national television, the objective is to raise three other biodiesel facilities in many other parts of Cuba. In July, during a Parliament session, legislators of the Committee on Energy and Environment defended the initiative, considering it cleaner. The goal is to produce green fuel in line with the country's policy of not competing with food production, Hector Amigo, president of the Commission, told Prensa Latina. *  *  * Cuba Enforces New Law to Promote Food Production Dec 10, 2012 A new Cuban law on land usufruct came into force on Sunday with the purpose of boosting the island country's food production. Under the Decree-Law 300 and its accompanying regulations, designed to expand the delivery of state-owned idle land, beneficiaries are allowed to build housing and other production-related properties. Also, the legislation increases the limit of land given to each beneficiary from 40 to 67 hectares, while including forestry and fruit production in the allowed activities. In addition, food producers are expected to enjoy tax reductions or exemptions after a new tax law comes into effect in January. Cuba has an agricultural area of some 6.6 million hectares, and the idle land was estimated at 1.8 million hectares four years ago, when the government began its delivery in usufruct. According to the National Land Control Center, the island now still has 975,000 hectares of idle areas to deliver in usufruct, and 65 percent of them are infested with marabou, a thorny shrub very difficult to eradicate. The Cuban government considers food production as a strategic issue. The country spends $2 billion a year to import 80 percent of the food needed to meet domestic needs. *  *  * Entrepreneurs lead Cuba's new revolution – from spas to drag nights by Fiona McAuslan The Guardian, Friday 7 December 2012 17.45 EST When Raúl Castro relaxed the laws on private enterprise in 2010 he sparked an explosion in services tailored to tourists in Cuba "Clown, magician, party quizmaster", reads the list of positions for which self-employed licences are available to enterprising Cubans. The opportunities for private sector jobs are myriad since the change in the law in 2010 allowed private enterprise to flourish. While options like these may well be lucrative career choices it is undoubtedly businesses that give Cubans access to the tourist dinero that are most sought. The Rough Guide to Cuba by Fiona McAuslan, Matthew Norman Buy it from the Guardian bookshop Search the Guardian bookshop Tell us what you think: Star-rate and review this book In a country that is as body beautiful as Cuba it's little surprise that there's been a surge in private spas. Conner Gorry, born in New York but living in Cuba and author of the Havana Good Time app says: "State massage venues and gyms have always been popular but now these very smart and well-run, private spas are now driving competition." With services that range from Swedish massage to yoga classes and indoor cycling she rates O2, (Calle 26B #5, +53 7883 1663) as one of Havana's finest. Activities such as independent scuba diving tours and private dance groups are part of the burgeoning private sector. On a trip this year, travel journalist Claire Boobbyer found that Julio Muñoz's horseback tours (+53 41 993673) through the beautiful countryside near Trinidad were far better than the state options. Havana's famously lively nightlife scene is also changing. Locals –and in-the-know tourists – now head to the independently run Fashion Bar (Kessell #52, Vibora Park, +53 7 644 2894). This supper club bursts its glittery seams with the best of the capital's formidable drag queen talent and is popular enough to warrant a strict reservations policy – still something of a rarity in Cuba. Low taxation is also fuelling the boom: in order to boost private sector revenue the government has either suspended or reduced taxes. This is set to change early next year when full taxation will gradually be rolled out. It's inevitable that some less profitable businesses will fall by the wayside but until then the spirit of free enterprise courses through this socialist stalwart. • Fiona is co-author of The Rough Guide to Cuba  

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