Posted by: Dave Neads | January 19, 2008

Sustainability Cuba Style

We’ve just returned to the Precipice after spending a very short holiday in Cuba. There is a huge diversity of images and ideas that emerge from such an experience, but fundamentally, there are two very different faces of Cuba.

On the 22km long sand beach of Varadero, all you see is resorts, aquamarine water and a host of barely clad sun worshippers frying in the midday sun, beach chairs arranged for maximum exposure, making sure that every square inch of hide is as evenly tanned as possible.

Aptly dubbed “Canada South”, this part of Cuba is what Lonely Planet calls a hoax, not the ‘real Cuba’. Yet, as much as any other part of the country it is the real thing. International tourism brings big dollars to the economy, provides much needed employment for many people and is an integral piece of the fabric of present day Cuba. To say that this is not part of the Cuban experience is like saying a trip through the Canadian Rockies by European tourists in not the “real Canada”. Every country has special places that it markets into the world economy and Cuba is no different. We found the trip to be well organized, the buses ran on time, the food was good and the hotel staff was efficient and friendly.

And, yes, there is the other side. When you leave the enclave you do enter a different world–the world of the horse and wagon. Literally. Rural Cuba is a horse culture. Horses are the main transportation, they are the vehicle used to herd cows and goats, they are the power behind much of the agriculture. The land has been heavily worked over by 500 years of exploitation which means that there is very little surplus. They may be very poor by our standards, but the rural folk are survivors. Using machetes to cut hay along the roadside, walking and riding horses, doing more with less, they cope with the US blockade with the same ingenuity that they survived the last centuries from the Spanish rule to the withdrawal of the Russian support in the early nineties.

While they may not agree, I think it is a mistake to assume that these people are behind the times. In a very real way, they are ahead of our oil dependent, technology-laden world. When the inevitable changes come which will render our high energy, oil fed lifestyle obsolete, the rural Cuban population will hardly notice.

Horses will still rule the day, machetes and small scale agriculture will still feed the families and things will remain much the same.

So, in an odd way, the US blockade which has denied Cuba so much of our modern trappings will prove to be a blessing in disguise. The centuries-old ways that are still practiced every day will stand the test of time when our house of cards falls into the empty oil well.

Beach Vendor, Varadero





  1. Nice pictures and good commentary, too. I´m just coming back to the U.S. after 88 days in Cuba where I often go because I can as a journalist and researcher. Been going since 1999.

    My father and his parents lived in Cuba from 1939 to 1942. They were German Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, and not political activists. That family history is where my own interest in Cuba comes from. My dad met my mom in the United States and that’s how I came into this world.

    Cuban society today represents an effort to build an alternative to the way life was under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, who ran Cuba before Fidel Castro led a revolution there. No one complained about a lack of human rights and democracy in those days, but U.S. businesses were protected.

    Some things work, some don’t. Like any society, Cuba its flaws and contradictions, as well as having solid achievements. No society is perfect. But we can certainly learn a few things from Cuba’s experience. I think we can learn more than a few. If we want to bring freedom to Cuba, the best thing we can do is practice what we preach.

    We should all be free to visit Cuba. We can visit China and Vietnam, even North Korea, Syria and Iran, why can’t we visit Cuba and see it for ourselves? Cuba is our neighbor and we should simply normalized relations with the island.

    Since August 2000, the CubaNews list, a free Yahoo news group has compiled a wide range of materials, pro and con, about Cuba, its people, politics and culture, and life within the island and affecting it in the Cuban diaspora abroad.

    Details on the Yahoo newsgroup:

  2. The US needs to End the Blockade Against Cuba NOW.

  3. I agree on the freedom issue. This was my first time to Cuba and I came away thinking, “What is this? The US is bullying this little country? Come on!”

    As I read more about sugar, the history, I begin to understand (I think) what went on here. All people wanted was a fair share. Thus it ever was.

    As a newbie, I found the surface of the culture as revealed in the billboards etc, contained an an interesting dialectic. ‘Revolution es Libertad’ vs ‘Imagin Del Peubla’. From my Anglo perspective it seems like a Yin/Yang idea. Protest, revolt, but co-operate as in a village.

    Driving down the road with Ramone ( the next post) at the wheel I was struck by the physical stance of the hitchhikers. They moved just enough to avoid being hit, and there was no doubt that they still had possession of part of the road and they were not going to be pushed aside. It was all in the stance and the amount of ground given, not just the men, in fact the women were probably more territorial overall.

    In the end I have a tremendous respect for this little country and how its leadership has navigated the last 50 years.

    Thanks for the newsgroup link, I will check it out.

    Your website is great, TTYL


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