Sunday, November 26, 2006

Cuban utopia reality check.

If one were to believe all of the propaganda issued by the Cuban government and parroted by the American media you'd have to believe that Cuba is one big happy island where everyone gets top notch healthcare (for free), where everyone gets top notch education (for free), where the populace is almost unanimously behind fidel castro and his regime, where there is almost no crime, etc. etc.

You'd just have to forget about the hundreds of thousands that have fled the country in the last 14 years (not to mention the more than 1.5 million since 1959). You'd have to forget that unless they have relatives in the US that can send them medicines Cubans often don't get the medications prescribed by their "free" doctors. You'd have to forget about the forced labor that Children in Cuba must do in exchange for their "free" educations. You'd have to forget about Oscar Elias Biscet and all the other political prisoners that had the temerity to disagree with their government and the gall to do it publicly.

Well the latest ridiculous attempt to re-write history so that communists are the winners comes in the form of various news alerts I've gotten in the last week or so. One such alert comes with the headline "How Cuba Survived Peak Oil".

For those of you who aren't familiar with concept, "Peak Oil" is an idea put forth by some economists. The gist of it is that there is finite amount of oil in the world and its discovery will follow a bell curve. When we reach the peak, world oil supplies will quickly diminish because our population and consumption of oil is greater every day. While that's almost certainly true, some of these people claim we are reaching peak oil now or may have already reached it. They believe that civilization will end as we know it and that we'll be thrown into a new dark age. Of course we don't know when peak oil will actually be achieved (in the past new oil discoveries have been found subsequent to the predictions of peak oil) and the models don't take into account the adoption of new technology. But that's a whole 'nother argument. I want to talk about Cuba and the idea that Cuba somehow beat peak oil.

The news alert I linked above is for the showing of a documentary:

When Cuba’s oil supply collapsed in the 1990s, the country had to face the challenge of feeding the people and sustaining its economy without a ready supply of fossil fuel. Cuba’s response was to abandon much of its large-scale agricultural production in favor of smaller-scale organic farming. Cuba also imported bicycles and improved its public transportation system.

The documentary film, “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil,” will be shown at the Blue Hill Public Library on Tuesday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m. The film is the fourth in Peninsula Peace & Justice’s fall/winter film series. All are welcome and refreshments will be served.
Let's look at this description, shall we? Has Cuba really set the example for the world to follow in dealing with peak oil?

Cuba's oil supply collapsed because the Soviet Union disintegrated and along with it so did Soviet subsidies of Cuba. There was never a shortage of oil for Cuba to buy, just a shortage of cash to buy it. That's very different than the idea of peak oil.

According to the excerpt above Cuba's response was to abandon much of its large-scale agricultural production, blah blah blah. In truth the castro regime's response was to ask its people to endure even more sacrifice. They unleashed a wave of rafters on the Florida straights and legalized the US dollar. They begrudgingly encouraged foreign investment, particularly in the travel/hospitality sector, tolerated a minimal amount of private enterprise, and closed their eyes to an ever-growing sex tourism business.

The ironic thing is that Cuba supposedly beat peak oil in the 90's but today is a net exporter of oil. How can this be, you might be asking. Well because when Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela in the late 90's Cuba found, in him, a new benefactor. Venezuela is an oil rich country that provides Cuba about 100,000 barrels a day in a supposed barter deal that is really robbing Venezuelans of their birthright. Cuba can only consume less than half of that, the rest they sell. Not only that, Cuba is actively exploring for oil in the Caribbean.

Of course none of this has anything to do with innovation, micro farming, or bicycles. There is no Cuban economic miracle and there won't be until the Cuban government resolves to unchain its people from the failed economic policies of the past.

Cuban transportation solution.
Photo Credit: Manuel Roig-Franzia, The Washington Post

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