environment, history

Cuba’s Special Period

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cuba lost 80% of its trade and 90% of its fuel. The US embargo isolated Cubans not just from America, but from any country who wished to trade with America. (The United States passed a law that denied ships access to the US if they had docked in Cuba in the past 6 months.)

The time after the Soviet Union collapse was called Cuba’s Special Period, and it was marked with disaster. There were rations of food, and a month’s ration sometimes could only supply 2 weeks worth of food. A black market for food sprung up. Zoo animals were stolen, as were domestic cats. Cows became so scarce that it became (and still is) illegal to kill or eat a cow. Killing a cow earns more jail time than murder.

Bus routes were canceled. Cuba had scheduled power outages to conserve fuel, making cooking and preserving food difficult. A shortage of fertilizers made growing crops difficult. A shortage of imported animal feed led to egg shortage. Some factories cut hours while others closed. There were 9 abortions for every 10 births.

So what does this have to do with us? Many call this time period an artificial peak oil; that is, this is exactly what will happen to us when our supply of oil starts to diminish. And it’s already starting. Our dependence on oil will lead us to face the same problems Cubans did over twenty years ago.

But Cubans made it through their special period. They increased organic agriculture. Gardens were started on roof-tops and empty parking lots. They diversified their agricultural production and practiced sustainable agriculture. Farmers’ markets increased access to locally-grown food and cut the use of oil for transportation. Oxen and horses replaced tractors. Bicycles replaced cars. Manual labor replaced machines.Oljepumpe_cuba

We could do the same. Perhaps we could even start now, and then not have to face job closings, food rationing, and possible starvation. Or we can ignore the valuable lessons that Cuba has learned.

Obama has announced that we will be reopening communications with Cuba. While we should support amicable relationships between countries, what will this mean for Cuba? Will Cuba continue on its sustainable path? Or will it spoil itself with oil and other luxuries it has not had for over two decades? It is important to remember the lessons Cuba has taught us, especially with these shifting politics.


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