- by Anna Pha
- The Guardian
- Issue #2025
Photo: Alexander Schimmeck flickr.com (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Cuba is one of the world’s most sustainable economies despite the six decades’ long illegal and economically crippling US blockade. Since the 1960s, the Cuban people and their revolutionary government led by the Communist Party have pursued a path of sustainable development and the promotion of biodiversity.
The four decades leading up to the Revolution in 1959, under US neo-colonialism, were characterised by the rampant exploitation and depletion of the country’s natural resources. The most egregious of this environmental destruction was the US’s depletion of large forest areas and the inappropriate use of land for agriculture and cattle, which resulted in pollution, degradation and erosion of soil, waters, and vegetation.
The Revolution from the very outset aimed to improve the quality of life of its people, to deliver justice and equity. Its successes in eradication of poverty, and provision of health, education, and other services such as electricity, piped water and sanitation facilities are well known.
At the same time, and in an integrated manner Cuba, as a socialist country, has pursued planned, sustainable development. Cuba simultaneously addressed its food and environmental issues by encouraging its people in the broadest participation to achieve its objectives as it developed community programs. Communist youth and committees for defence of the revolution were active in mobilising communities in city, town, and country.
Today Cuba’s rivers run clean, with low levels of fertiliser pollution resulting from decades of sustainable farming. This is despite Cuba’s history of large-scale sugar cane and cattle farming prior to the Revolution.
Cuba has achieved much greater efficiency in production using alternative sources of energy and sustainable agricultural practices. Faced with environmental problems such as land degradation, water contamination, deforestation, loss of biological diversity, lack of sewerage systems, and poor environmental conditions in human settlements, it has found innovative and sustainable solutions.
It has a network of natural lands, open spaces, waterways, and thriving ecosystems where native species and biodiversity are protected. The people increasingly live in harmony with nature.
UNESCO has recognised six biosphere reserves in Cuba. One of these is a reforestation project in the Sierra del Rosario region which began in 1968. Prior to the Revolution, the local forest of cedar, ebony, mahogany had been cleared. Nothing was left except isolated palm trees. Local villagers with the support of the revolutionary government put together a reforestation plan.
This included the planting of fruit trees between the other species to feed the people. Within eight years six million trees had been planted. As a result, eighty per cent of the food was locally grown. In addition, all of it was organic.
The project integrated economic, social justice, environmental education, agriculture, and social development policies while protecting the environment. Alongside sustainable development its aims were based on social justice and equity.
The Las Terrazas complex is nestled in the reserve. Today it is rich in flora and fauna, including more than 800 species of animals, birds and plants. Its population of around 1000 worked in harmony with nature while improving their standard of living as well as their environment through planned sustainable development.
This is just one of the many environmental and sustainable development achievements of the Cuban people.
It has been achieved through consultation and the involvement of its people and through planning. The interests of the people, sustainable development, environmental conservation, and biodiversity come first. This is in sharp contrast to the capitalist rampant destruction and exploitation of natural resources in the pursuit of profit.