Cuban Ambassador visits Cloughjordan

SUBHEAD: He explains that Cuba is no paradise on earth. It continues to be a struggle for the Cuban people. By Graham on 05 September 2009 in Zone5 -

On Saturday 29th August the Irish village of Cloughjordan was visited by the Cuban Amabassador, Noel Carillo

This was the first visit of an ambassador to the village, and came about through a Cuban connection between a family member of one of the founders of the Cloughjordan Eco-village. The Ambassador had been intrigued by the eco-village and paid a visit there to see if links could be made with similar projects in Cuba.

The visit was especially appropriate as it took place at the end of our Permaculture Design Course. A short reception on the village green with the Mayor and other local dignitaries was followed by a tour of the new eco-village development and a tree planting ceremony; later the film "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil" was shown and a panel discussion followed with Albert Bates- one of the tutors on the permaculture course; Michelline Sheehy Skeffington, a botanist from NUI Galway; and professor Peadar Kirby of the University of Limerick, hosted by Iva Peacock of Coughjordan Eco-village.

In the panel discussion, a common theme was that Cuba was no garden of Eden.

Michelline Sheehy Skeffington Michelline, who has been in Cuba for several visits and worked on a voluntary basis in the National Botanic Gardens in Havana on the fruit tree project in 2001, pointed out that most Cuban will drop the bicycle as soon as they have a little money to use a car, and also told us how, despite the extensive market gardens that are shown so well in the film, she actually found that they were given very little vegetables at meals- the Cubans prefer meat! She also asked the question, could the Cubans have managed so well as they did during the Special Period were it not for the socialist system, particularly with its emphasis on education?

Albert Bates Albert has not actually visited Cuba but has worked with many Cuban Eco-villagers in the United States.

He began his talk by saying that there are parallels between the island nations of Cuba and Ireland - an island nation will have in innate awareness of natural limits. He also called for a campaign in the US and internationally to end the US trade embargo and sanctions against Cuba.

Cuba was the first Latin American country visited by Peadar Kirby, in 1979, and he also paid tribute to the country which had survived so well through hardship and its people who had managed to forge a future despite the US making life as hard as possible for them. He raised a huge laugh by claiming Cuba as being the only country in the world he has visited where the people will spontaneously come up to you and tell you how much the government means to them!

Ambassador Noel Carillo The Ambassador made quite an impression and came over as a very personable character, and echoed the comments of the previous speakers: Cuba is no paradise on earth. It continues to be a struggle for the Cuban people, and although he knows they have to work it out for themselves, he also wants to make links with the eco-village in Cloughjordan.

Cuba, he told us, had made a lot of mistakes. During the Soviet era it was just too easy to take the fossil energy from their allies and trade with Eastern Europe. Twenty years ago they were importing 13 million tonnes of energy every year. They had serious pollution problems because of their industrial model, and had become very lazy. At the same time, they had been just as keen as the west to develop consumer lifestyles, an ideology that had been deeply rooted in their minds after being taught for 60 years by the Americans!

Once the Soviet block collapsed, Cuba found itself with no assets, and only itself to blame for its dependency. The Ambassador pointed out the complete lack of resilience in the system up to that point.

He spoke of how hard it was still to make links internationally- for example it had been practically impossible to make links with Irish companies becasue of their US connections.

He echoed Michelline’s comments about Cuban dietary preference, raising quite a few laughs with his frankness about the downsides of Cuban life and culture, telling us that, like many Cubans, he doesn't like vegetables! “I know they are good for you but we Cubans want to eat beef!” He also stressed that for most ordinary Cubans, the “organoponic” farms are preferred just because they are cheaper. The more sustainable lifestyle portrayed in the film have been adopted only because of necessity.

They are still hugely dependent on imports of a lot of their food, in particular more than 2/3 of their milk is imported despite being strictly rationed within the country. (Apparently they used to buy from Ireland but now find milk cheaper from New Zealand!)

There is still a huge amount of unused land in Cuba, but apparently land will be given freely to anyone who wants to start growing food- a scheme that caught the attention of several of the permaculture students there!

He also told us how they had reduced energy demand by a government scheme that simply gave everyone a free fluorescent light bulb in exchange for an old incandescent one; and how they operate a decentralized grid with over 200 mini power stations throughout the country.

Most tellingly of all, the Ambassador told us that, although he thought he would be killed for saying this in his own country, he hoped that they never find oil in Cuba- it would always place them under US scrutiny and control if they did.

Afterwards I managed to get in a couple of questions about Cuba and the Special Period, and how he thought Ireland might cope under similar circumstances, before he was lead away to watch a display of hurling on the GAA pitch. I hope to post this interview as a podcast at a later date, once I have mastered the technology.

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