CUBA: THE ACCIDENTAL REVOLUTION
AIRS SUNDAY, JULY 30 & AUGUST 6 ON CBC TELEVISION’S
THE NATURE OF THINGS WITH DAVID SUZUKI
Cuba: The Accidental Revolution are two one-hour documentaries celebrating the country’s success in providing for itself in the face of a massive economic crisis, and how it’s latest revolutions, an agricultural revolution and a revolution in science and medicine are having repercussions around the world.
Cuba: The Accidental Revolution (Part 1), airing Sunday, July 30 at 7 P.M. on CBC Television, examines Cuba’s response to the food crisis created by the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in 1989. At one time Cuba’s agrarian culture was as conventional as the rest of the world. It experienced its first “Green Revolution” when Russia was supplying Cuba with chemical and mechanical “inputs.” However, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 ended all of that, and almost overnight threw Cuba’s whole economic system into crisis. Factories closed, food supplies plummeted. Within a year the country had lost over 80% of its foreign trade. With the loss of their export markets and the foreign exchange to pay for imports, Cuba was unable to feed its population and the country was thrown into a crisis. The average daily caloric intake of Cubans dropped by a third.
Without fertilizer and pesticides, Cubans turned to organic methods. Without fuel and machinery parts, Cubans turned to oxen. Without fuel to transport food, Cubans started to grow food in the cities where it is consumed. Urban gardens were established in vacant lots, school playgrounds, patios and back yards. As a result Cuba created the largest program in sustainable agriculture ever undertaken. By 1999 Cuba’s agricultural production had recovered and in some cases reached historic levels.
In Cuba: The Accidental Revolution (Part 2), airing Sunday, August 6 at 7 P.M. on CBC Television, we learn that the country has been blockaded since 1961, but today Cuba has the highest quality of life in the region, the highest life expectancy, and one of the highest literacy rates in all of Latin America.
With the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, Cuba lost the foreign exchange needed to pay for expensive drugs and medicines. As a result, much of Cuba’s medicine today is based on medicinal plants. These are grown on farms, processed in small labs and made available to patients through an extensive network of medical clinics. Today Cuba’s advances in alternative medicine could have important consequences for other countries around the world.
Cuba boasts other firsts as well: The Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Havana is regarded as the flagship biosciences lab in the developing world. Cuban scientists are working on an HIV vaccine, a meningitis vaccine, a Hepatitis C vaccine, and other pharmaceuticals.
Cuba has also embarked on a program of medical internationalism. There are 25,000 Cuba doctors serving in 68 poor countries around the world. The Latin American School of Medical Science has 10,000 students from developing countries primarily in Latin America and the Caribbean. They are educated for free with the understanding they will return to their home countries to practice.
Fidel Castro has survived many perils and at 78, he is rumoured to suffer from a number of afflictions. As his health declines the world wonders: what will become of Cuba’s Green Revolution after he is gone? Even now Castro presides over a political system, which although socialist, has an economy where bartering and quasi-entrepreneurial practice seemingly influence many trades and professions, including the “green” sector. There is also ever-increasing pressure from Canada and European nations for the U.S. to come to terms with Cuba’s political dissent.
Will Cuba’s “Green Revolution” become a blueprint for sustainable agriculture, medicine, and biotechnology, or will it be swept aside by the economic weight of foreign investors? Or will the public clamour for consumer goods from a weary people, fed up with lack of choice, overwhelm contemporary Cuba? Will Cuba’s enormous experiment in sustainable development be maintained if the U.S. embargo is lifted and Cuba is exposed to the brutal arena of world trade? Whatever the future of Cuba’s accidental revolution, Castro and his country has shown that alternatives do exist.
Cuba: The Accidental Revolution is produced, written and directed by Ray Burley. Michael Allder is executive producer of THE NATURE OF THINGS WITH DAVID SUZUKI.