[permaculture] Cuba

kelda at riseup.net kelda at riseup.net
Sat Jul 6 14:57:49 EDT 2013


I think more details will clarify things. I've spent 8 weeks there total,
and unattached to any official group that would guide my journey, have a
passable understanding of Cuban spanish (they don't like using consonants
of all things!) and so pretty much meeting a wide variety of people. It's
illegal from the US's standpoint for me to go, but the Cuban government
welcomes tourists with open arms. They won't stamp your passport if you're
from the US, but they will do a retinal scan on entry and exit to the

Freedom of speech: Every neighborhood has a CDR (Committee for Defense of
the Revolution) which at its best is a robust neighborhood group, but is
also used as a spy arm of the Cuban government to figure out who's
breaking any laws. Many cubans, in my opinion, kind of bond together over
breaking the law, whether it's talking negatively about the government or
driving an unlicensed taxi. But there are neighbors that do tell the
government, and the results are not pretty. (as per that quote from
Amnesty International).

I'm not sure what kinds of churches there are, but there's plenty. For me,
the striking lack of speech is when walking into a bookstore. There are
about the same 20 propaganda books in every bookstore, and about the same
20 poetry books. And that's basically it. Very empty by our standards.
There's the Granma newspaper, and Radio Reloj, and that's about it.

Ability to congregate with foreigners: Cubans and the cuban government
LOVE foreigners, because they bring much-desired money into their economy.
Why I can't freely associate with awesome permaculturists I find is
because the Cuban government heavily taxes anyone who officially
associates with foreigners. (Like it's common to find lodging in someone's
house 'a Casa Particular' but anyone who rents a room to foreigners is
taxed heavily by the government whether there room is used by foreigners
or not.) If I meet some permies and want to stay at their place but
they're not licensed, not only is it not legal, because they're not
registered to associate with foreigners but their neighbors can tell on
them and they can be heavily fined, or maybe worse. The government's
assumption is that if a Cuban is associating with a foreigner than they
are getting some monetary perks that the government wants a piece of. This
is a big deal. Like I've had to run and hide at a moment's notice because
some neighbors were about to catch on. And the last thing you want to do
when visiting permaculturists is get them fined.

There's different kind of permits that permaculture folks there can get to
be able to host visitors. Specifically a Student-hosting license or a
Job-hosting license (I forget what they're officially called), but there's
not really an Ecotourist license. Which surprises me, it'd be a great way
for the government to make money. Organized groups like Food First
probably get some kind of event license.

Most average Cubans are 1)genuinely surprised that someone would travel
abroad to learn about their agriculture and 2) very very surprised to meet
someone from the US who wants to learn about agriculture. I can't
understate this.

How then is IPC11 happening there? The government has sanctioned and I
believe even pays for some very robust permaculture stuff in the country.
The Antonio Jiminez Foundation for People & Environment is basically an
office that runs permaculture projects, newsletter, even book publishing
(I've seen those books on private bookshelves though, and not in any
The IPC is through them, so government-sanctioned. And the prices for
attendance reflect the prices that are charged for tourists who are paying
government fees.

It isn't my intention to talk bad about Cuba. I just had shining eyes on
my first visit and was shocked that it wasn't "The Power of Community"
movie. Yes, there are gardens in every neighborhood and well-organized
markets. But many Cubans I met could care less about vegetables, they tend
to be very hungry for protein. Yes, there are awesome permaculture sites,
our people, scattered throughout the country. But the average Cuban may
care more about hussling a tour out of foreigners for some extra cash than
taking the time to raise their own food.

It's just something to think about, what we idealize. I'm sure the IPC
will be awesome, and I hope to be there. Theres a lot of awesome stuff
that happens in that country, but it's not heaven.

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