Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

Colourful Cuba (cos your gray ain’t my grey)

Posted by jembendell on October 26, 2006

I sometimes chat with my flatmate about what it was like growing up in the Communist East. We joke about how grey it was. In my books and films it was grey… the buildings, people, all shades of dull depressed and repressed grey. She tells me that books about the West that she read in East Germany showed the West as… also grey! “OK, so it was so grey in the East, that even our pictures of the West were grey!”.

Was an absence of neon lights and bright paints and colourful advertising actually grey? Its amazing how urban our thinking is… nothing is as colourful as nature. Walking through the UN today I saw paintings from an exhibition sponsored by Cuba. The artist from this communist country, Luis Antonio Espinosa Fruto, chose to paint all his pictures in… grey. But hey, they are bright, brilliant, beautiful images. They are all paintings of the natural environment in Cuba (continues below…).

artwork_images_424056915_238119_luis-antonio-espinosa-fruto.jpg

Cuban nature is mentioned in the depths of a report published by WWF earlier this week. The Living Planet Report tells a shocking story of what we are doing to ourselves and our planet… as Frank Dixon said at a talk on Monday, “the science is telling us we are like the meteor that hit the Yucatan and wiped out the dinosaurs, we are the new great exterminator”. We really are behaving on this planet like we have another one to go to.

On page 19, in a section comparing the amount of resources each country is gobbling up in comparison to the social development they have acheived, as indicated by the UN’s Human Development Index, shows that only one country has achieved a level of social development and environmental protection that can be considered “sustainable development”. That country? Grey-painted communist Cuba. The journos seem to have missed that one in their coverage of the report.

This state of affairs should make us ask some serious questions about current forms of economy and capitalism… are they helping us get what we really want? Is the world any more colourful for its shining lights and gaudy adverts, if these help melt the glaciers, dry up the lands, and degrade nature? Is it any more colourful when people run the rat race to souless material excess while others are malnourished and oppressed?

I guess one reason Cuba comes out on top is because the HDI statistics dont place decisive weightings on certain political freedoms. Cuba probably comes out on top environmentally because of the US embargo has encouraged local production of foods for local consumption. Organic market gardening isnt a lifestyle choice for the middle classes wanting some more meaning to their lives, but a basic necessity for many Cubans. Whats the policy conclusion? That everyone needs to be embargoed by the US?

Open borders only work when you’ve got a fair game going on, with ground rules that mean you dont trade away the environment or people as mere ‘externalities’ that can be disregarded. The evidence from the Living Planet Report is more an indictment of the West than it is praise for Cuba. But, well done Cuba for reminding us that our brains are the only grey matter in nature, and its our choice to make them vitally brilliant or deadly dull.

2 Responses to “Colourful Cuba (cos your gray ain’t my grey)”

  1. Mark said

    Pssst……link to Living Planet doesn’t work.
    Fabulous photo by the way.

  2. nice piece. Although I don’t think this report is merely an indictment of the west. Cuba is the ONLY country found by the report to have discovered sustainable development. Which means it includes every other “non-western” country on the planet in the list of unsustainable countries. Cuba is also not the only country ever under embargo. Iraq for instance was under embargo, and rather than forming sustainable developement, disease and malnutrition spread like wildfire killing over a million Iraqis. Cuba is ecologically and economically sustainable for far deeper reasons. What makes cuba stand apart from every other country on earth is that it is the only state where a workers and farmers’ movement kicked out the capitalist class, institutionalized their power to some degree and where a bureaucracy with interests opposed to the workers and farmers has not taken power and crushed the revolution. (the workers’ movements of the USSR, Soviet block, China and North Korea were all crushed by a bureaucratic caste that acted as agents of capitalism inside those countries) Capitalism’s ability to exploit and dominate workers is DEPENDENT upon the creation of unsustainable relationships to the larger ecological system. It’s ability to expand is dependent upon gobbling up more than is there and more than is needed. It constantly requires new markets and so it constantly create new needs. It has the paradoxical effect of sucking up resources at a rate that prevents their renewal while impoverishing, enslaving and starving humans (not to mention other animals) in degrees that were not even imaginable in earlier epochs. When we build a greater power out of political mobilization of the masses and dismantle capitalism, we can, for the first time in human history, use the vast resources of human civilization towards the ends of human need (which inherently requires winning harmony with nature) instead of profit (which requires declaring war on nature) Contrary to the environmentally destructive policies of the Stalinist bureacracies in the USSR et al Marx and Engels (yes! Even in their time!) developed some very advanced analysis of these relationships. For a deeper look at all this check out John Bellamy Foster’s “Marx’s Ecology” (although I recommend skipping the introduction which requires an inordinately extensive knowledge of philosophical history) for a more in depth look at the socio-economic and political forces in Cuba I recommend Arthur Saney’s “Cuba: A Revolution in Motion”, for other analysis of Cuba and more recent analysis of the effects of capitalism I recommend the http://www.socialistaction.org website.

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