FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Environmental Internationalism

by SAUL LANDAU and NELSON P. VALDES

Since 1959 Cuba has played a significant world role, quite a feat for a nation of 5 million – 11 million now. Cubans have shown their values, commitment and solidarity in dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters around the world.

Between 1960 and 2011, Cuba sent 45 medical brigades to 30 countries. From 1963 to 2010, 135,000 Cuban health professionals worked in 108 countries. Presently, 80 countries receive the health services of 38,000 Cuban “internationalists.”

Suffering Pakistanis will long remember their Cuban doctors. The October 2005 Kashmir earthquake killed 75,000, injured 100,000 and left 3-plus million homeless. Even though Cuba’s medical aid team spoke no Urdu, doctors, nurses and technicians of the newly formed Henry Reeve International Team of Medical Specialists in Disasters & Epidemics (created after Hurricane Katrina) reached the stricken region within six days of the quake.

Responding to the critical needs in the devastated areas, the Cuban team performed services ranging from treatment of acute patients to “setting up or reestablishing public health facilities destroyed” by the massive tremors.

Similarly, in 1998, Cuban medical teams reacted by sending medical aid teams after a powerful hurricane swept coastal Honduras. Cuban doctors and medical professionals in the Caribbean, the Andes, in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, have saved thousands of lives, have treated 3 million people, performed 20,000 surgeries and delivered more than a thousand babies – with no fee or strings attached.

Its literacy brigades have successfully taught millions of adults around the world. In the 1970s and 1980s, Cubans also gave their lives fighting for Angolan and Namibian independence against South African apartheid forces.

These acts of good will represented more than revolutionary élan. From the onset this outreach became part of Cuba’s survival strategy. Over decades, it built good will, badly needed after the Soviets collapsed to fend off U.S. attempts to isolate it.

By 1991, when its Soviet partners disappeared, Cuba in economic disarray, necessity forced its leaders to adopt an environmentally friendly, self-reliance strategy. Without cheap oil and heavy Soviet machinery, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides how could Cuba grow food and forge a viable economy?

Food production became not only the national focus, but a place from which developed a “national laboratory in organic agriculture.” (“Cuba Going Against the Grain,” Oxfam America, June 1, 2001)

Urban gardens sprang up; oxen reappeared instead of tractors. Small-scale farming replaced large units, and farmers learned to use green fertilizers and pest controls, massive composting and worm humus.

The radical drop in oil supplies induced massive bicycle traffic. The society was mobilized to recycle; new light bulbs attained greater efficiency. Wind power development also began.

As the Soviet bloc disappeared, neo-liberal, casino capitalism increased production, but also world levels of pollution and social inequality. As a result, environmental socialism began to appear as capitalism’s new enemy. Cuba claimed, again, its role as spokesman for small third world and especially island nations. Like Cuba, these poor islands and coastal nations confronted rising sea levels. Ironically, these countries contribute less than 1% of greenhouse gas emissions. In the first decade of the 21st Century as the world capitalist crisis gestated – the third world poor got hit hardest – dramatic environmental catastrophes also wreaked havoc. (James O’Connor’s “Natural Causes: Essays in Ecological Marxism,” Guilford, 1997 and Naomi Klein’s “Capitalism vs. the Climate,” The Nation, November 9, 2011, showed the intertwined nature of the ecological crisis and the capitalist economic crisis.)

In 1992, Fidel Castro had warned at a UN Conference on Environment and Development in Brazil: “Consumer societies are fundamentally to blame for the appalling destruction of the environment. Forests vanished, deserts grew larger; billions of fertile acres descends into the ocean, numerous species become extinct.”

But, Fidel implored, “you can’t solve this by blocking the development of those who most need it.”  Instead, he argued, saving humankind from destruction requires better planetary distribution of resources and available technology.”

Calling for “a new and more just international order which uses science to sustain development without pollution,” he may have hinted at Cuba’s future role.

From 1959 on, Cuba’s revolutionaries began to spread their revolution to other post-colonial peoples. Indeed, the new nation’s survival depended on its ability take international initiatives. Since 1991, necessity has driven Cuba into environmental consciousness.

In 2012, can Cuba undertake the planetary salvation mission, to confront the climate (literally) of the times? Its educated and historically aware population – learning from their own environmental carelessness, like allowing for the contamination of Havana Harbor – experienced in internationalism, will not hesitate to experiment.

The U.S. government, media and its “dissident” opposition in Cuba trivialize attempts to achieve transcendent goals. They misdirect focus on those who supposedly died on hunger strikes or white clad women – which successfully distracts the attention of foreign publics.

The real issue, many Cubans understand, has little to with these distractions and requires a new formula for harmonious (sustainable) living – people and Nature—in the harrowing years ahead.

Because Cuba is such an important environmental reserve, and a treasure trove of diverse plant, and animal species, the Smithsonian labeled the island a “biological superpower” of the Caribbean. In addition, The “Tulane Environmental Law Journal” called Cuba a world model in coastal and marine management. (Summer 2003 issue dedicated to Cuba’s environment).

Cuban leaders could use this environmental foundation to articulate a new and vital mission, to organize for the Earth’s well being and humanity’s survival. Cubans might even welcome green “internationalists” from everywhere to work with them toward that worthy goal.

Saul Landau’s WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP plays at Smith College, Feb 16. Counterpunch published his BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD 

Nelson Valdés is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico and director of Cuba-L.

Nelson P. Valdes is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico.

More articles by:
June 30, 2016
Richard Moser
Clinton and Trump, Fear and Fascism
Pepe Escobar
The Three Harpies are Back!
Ramzy Baroud
Searching for a ‘Responsible Adult’: ‘Is Brexit Good for Israel?’
Dave Lindorff
What is Bernie Up To?
Thomas Barker
Saving Labour From Blairism: the Dangers of Confining the Debate to Existing Members
Jan Oberg
Why is NATO So Irrational Today?
John Stauber
The Debate We Need: Gary Johnson vs Jill Stein
Steve Horn
Obama Administration Approved Over 1,500 Offshore Fracking Permits
Rob Hager
Supreme Court Legalizes Influence Peddling: McDonnell v. United States
Norman Pollack
Economic Nationalism vs. Globalization: Janus-Faced Monopoly Capital
Binoy Kampmark
Railroaded by the Supreme Court: the US Problem with Immigration
Howard Lisnoff
Of Kiddie Crusades and Disregarding the First Amendment in a Public Space
Vijay Prashad
Economic Liberalization Ignores India’s Rural Misery
Caroline Hurley
We Are All Syrians
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and a Confederacy of Lampreys: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail