February 22, 2008, 3:09 pm
Cuba: From Socialist Paradise to Ethanol Republic?
Posted by Keith Johnson
In the wake of El Comandante's decision to turn Cuba over to his brother
Raul, speculation over the island's future has been rife, including
here. But the idea that post-Castro Cuba, free of the U.S. embargo and
Cold War posturing, could revive its battered sugar industry and someday
become a major ethanol exporter has a few Environmental Capital readers
Perhaps Cuba will decide that it prefers its self-sufficient
economy and sustainable agriculture model and not turn its farmland into
a gas station for the U.S. And maybe the real best case scenario
actually involves the U.S. learning to get by with using a heck of a lot
less energy [Anne Morgan]
Cuba has an enormous opportunity to resist that [ethanol] model and
focus on fostering its own economy, creating jobs and small businesses
through sustainable development of its home-grown talent and resources.
Not become like its neighboring islands, which remain poor and
underdeveloped because their leaders chose subservience to multinational
globalization over sustainable development [Vivian D.]
Just a couple of problems with that, suggests Antonio Gayoso, another of
the academics at the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy.
Cuba is presently neither self-sufficient nor sustainable. According to
Cuban government figures, it imports about 85% of its food. The collapse
of the country's sugar industry has left huge swaths of cropland overrun
by a type of Caribbean kudzu.
The good news, such as it is, is that Cuba should be spared the
food-versus-fuel debate that wracks other developing countries, and
which is putting a crimp (for better or for worse) in biofuel
development from Latin America to Southeast Asia. In Cuba, Mr. Gayoso
says, ethanol means food:
[C]lose to 2 million hectares of land could be used in the future
for an integrated sugar industry: one that could produce sugar, ethanol,
paper, cattle feed, and other products without competing for foodstuff
cropland, provided that a return to earlier productivity levels are
achieved… thus permitting a higher capacity to import foodstuff that
Cuba cannot produce for ecological reasons.