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Conquering Nature

Conquering Nature: The Enviromental Legacy of Socialism in Cuba

Sergio Díaz-Briquets
Jorge Pérez-López
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    Conquering Nature
    Book Description:

    Conquering Natureprovides the only book-length analysis of the environmental situation in Cuba after four decades of socialist rule, based on extensive examination of secondary sources, informed by the study of development and environmental trends in former socialist countries as well as in the developing world. It approaches the issue comprehensively and from interdisciplinary, comparative, and historical perspectives. Based on the Cuban example, Díaz-Briquets and Pérez-López challenge the concept that environmental disruption was not supposed to occur under socialism since it was alleged that guided by scientific policies, socialism could only beget environmentally benign economic development. In reality, the socialist environmental record proved to be far different from the utopian view.

    Between the early 1960s and the late 1980s the environmental situation worsened despite Cuba's achieving one of the lowest population growth rates in the world and having eliminated extreme living standard differentials in rural areas, two of the primary reasons often blamed for environmental deterioration in developing countries. The government's approach was to "conquer nature" and under its central planning approach, it did not take local circumstances into consideration. This disregard for the environmental consequences of development projects continues to this day despite official allegations to the contrary-as the country pursues an economic survival strategy based on the crash development of the tourist sector and exploitation of natural resources. An underlying conclusion of the book is that the environmental legacy of socialism will present serious challenges to future Cuban generations.

    Conquering Natureprovides, for the first time, a relevant analysis of socialist environmental policies of a developing country. It will be of interest to students and scholars of Cuba and those interested in environmental issues in developing countries.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7209-9
    Subjects: History, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    Sergio Díaz-Briquets and Jorge Pérez-López
  2. 1 Socialism in Cuba and the Environment
    (pp. 1-23)

    EVEN BEFORE the collapse of socialism, there was considerable concern in the West about the environmental consequences of decades of centrally managed economic policies in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Concern deepened as environmental issues acquired an increasingly prominent role in the global economic and political agenda and as a growing number of observers began to voice alarm about the general disregard toward the environment of socialist development policies. Environmental deterioration was not supposed to occur under socialism. According to conventional Marxist-Leninist dogma, environmental deterioration was precipitated by the logic of capitalism and its relentless pursuit of profits....

  3. 2 The Natural, Demographic, and Economic Setting
    (pp. 24-45)

    IN THIS chapter we provide a brief overview of Cuba’s principal natural, demographic, and economic features to place in context the environmental issues addressed in subsequent chapters. We begin with a description of the dominant natural features of the country, including climate and precipitation, and follow with a review of demographic trends in this century, particularly during the last fifty years. We then address the main characteristics of the Cuban economy, both before and after the 1959 revolution. Included is a discussion of the economic crisis that has gripped Cuba since the collapse of the socialist community in the early...

  4. 3 Law and Practice of Environmental Protection
    (pp. 46-78)

    BEFORE THE 1959 revolution, Cuba, like most other Latin American countries, had a largely ineffectual legal framework of environmental protection. Although many laws had been enacted since colonial times, principally to preserve shrinking forest resources and watersheds, most were largely ignored and rarely enforced.

    By Latin American standards, socialist Cuba has a well-developed legal framework of environmental protection. The 1976 Constitution, as amended in 1992, takes an expansive approach toward the environment, recognizing the duty of the state and of all citizens to protect the environment, and incorporating the modern concept of sustainable development. In 1981 Cuba enacted a comprehensive...

  5. 4 Agriculture and the Environment
    (pp. 79-110)

    THE HISTORICAL development of land use patterns in Cuba is closely related to the variance in soil quality and evolving institutional factors that have determined tenure arrangements, including ownership and size of holdings. These land use patterns, in turn, are important determinants of the country’s changing environmental situation, including a long-term trend of soil degradation. A World Bank publication, in a recent examination of soil conservation issues in Central America and the Caribbean, offers a summary of some of the factors behind soil degradation that provides a useful framework for assessing Cuba’s situation (Lutz et al. 1994).¹ After observing that...

  6. 5 Water and the Environment
    (pp. 111-137)

    IN THIS chapter we discuss selected relationships between water availability and use, development strategies, and environmental issues in socialist Cuba. We examine Cuba’s endowment of water resources and selected policies regarding their use, giving explicit attention to the degree to which the Cuban socialist government has recognized the extent and significance of water-related development-environment interactions. The narrative includes a discussion of some water-related problems that predate the revolution and were a source of concern by the 1950s but that may have been aggravated since then, as well as new issues that have emerged largely as a consequence of policies associated...

  7. 6 Forestry and Agroforestry
    (pp. 138-163)

    THE ECOLOGICAL, environmental, and social values of forests are increasingly recognized, as is the disregard with which they have been treated throughout much of human history. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) classifies the actual or potential benefits of forests in terms of their direct, indirect, and option and existence economic values (FAO 1995). Although some of these values can readily be measured in monetary terms, others cannot. According to the FAO classification, forests are valued directly for their consumptive uses (e.g., lumber, pulpwood) and nonconsumptive uses (e.g., recreation). Their value can also be indirect and related to the...

  8. 7 Industrial Pollution
    (pp. 164-202)

    CONVENTIONAL WISDOM holds that environmental deterioration is an inevitable by-product of economic development. However, the experience of the industrial world in recent years suggests that “economic growth can be reconciled with environmental management” (Pearce and Wardford 1993, 15).

    Industrialization and urbanization tend to put additional pressure on natural resources and generate environmental disruptions that every economic system must be able to address. Environmental problems in the former Soviet Union were somewhat different in character from those of market economies. In many respects the rapid industrialization embodied in the Stalinist development model was responsible for the severe environmental situation in that...

  9. 8 Nuclear Energy and the Environment
    (pp. 203-232)

    REPORTING FROM the city of Cienfuegos, on Cuba’s southern coast, independent Cuban journalist Olance Nogueras Rofes wrote in 1995 about the nuclear power plant under construction at nearby Juraguá. Nogueras Rofes’ column, published in a U.S. newspaper, began as follows:

    Juraguá dances on a string of incredulity. Majestic, sacred, untamed, the Cuban nuclear power plant awaits the start-up of its first reactor, product of collaboration between Russian strategies and the interests of multinational corporations, responding to the much-used slogan, “The Project of the Century.” … Within the mountains of cement of the plant grows the worst nuclear catastrophe of the...

  10. 9 Regional Development and the Neglect of La Habana
    (pp. 233-248)

    ONE OF the most important development objectives pursued by Cuba’s socialist government since the onset of the revolution was to fundamentally transform the country’s pattern of urban growth and regional development. Policies implemented over several decades to accomplish this objective had various goals, but all were essentially intended to alter the traditional primacy of La Habana over the rest of the country by neglecting the capital city so as to bring about a more equitable and balanced pattern of regional socioeconomic development. Over time, however, this decision gave rise to serious environmental stresses because the basic sanitary infrastructure of the...

  11. 10 The Special Period and the Environment
    (pp. 249-280)

    THE ECONOMIC crisis that has swept Cuba in the 1990s—during the “special period in peacetime”—has affected every facet of Cuban life. Analysts have focused a great deal of attention on the effects of the crisis on overall levels of economic activity, on population standards of living, and on the performance of specific sectors of the economy (such as sugarcane agriculture, electricity, or transportation). Relatively unstudied, however, are its consequences for other aspects of Cuban life, such as the environment.

    In this chapter we review the effects of special period policies and outcomes on the Cuban environmental situation. The...