domingo, mayo 31, 2009

Cuban Response to an article by Dennis Avery titled "Cubans Starve on a Diet of Lies"

Dear Mr. Dennis Avery,

I have read your article “Cubans Starve on a Diet of Lies,” written last March 23, regarding Cuban agriculture. At first, I hesitated to respond to such fundamentally flawed claims. However, because the misinformation propagated in your piece is unfair to Cuba and Cubans, I am doing so now.

In your article you ignore the advances made by agro-ecology, organic agriculture and especially urban agriculture in Cuba, at which you seem to direct your article. I don’t understand why a prestigious newspaper such as the International Herald Tribune would publish an article that is not adequately researched. I hope they publish this response.

In the first place, you say that in Cuba we “starve on a diet of lies.” It is hard to believe that one could starve where the population has a life expectancy of 78, the highest in Latin America, similar to the index in your powerful country and surpassed by very few countries worldwide. The infant mortality index in Cuba at the end of 2008 was 4.7 for every 1000 births (compared to 6/1000 in your country). Worldwide there are nearly a billion people going hungry. If you do the proper research you will see that none of these are Cuban. None of us, “hungry Cubans” as you mention, sleep on the streets of our modest third world country, as I have seen them doing in yours. Cuba is proud that amongst third world nations our health system is equal to those of developed nations and that we are glad to share it with any part of the world. An example of this is that medical students (including yours) along with others studying various careers have graduated in our medical schools and are in dozens of countries that need assistance, sometimes offering their services for free. We have cooperated with several countries on eradicating illiteracy and it has become a reality for millions of poor people. It would be good for your country to imitate us in this respect.

You completely confuse urban agriculture with what you refer to many times as organic agriculture and agro-ecology in our entire country. This agriculture that you so despise has been largely responsible for putting our people back on their feet during the Special Period following the collapse of the Soviet Union. This, despite the unjust U.S. blockade—that your politicians label with the innocent word “embargo”—imposed on our small island for over 50 years. (Please don’t be surprised if any day your government suspends this absurd measure, as in the last United Nations resolution in October of 2008, 185 countries voted in favor of removing the embargo and only three voted against, one being the United States.) Urban agriculture did not exist in the early 90’s in Cuba. Now we have over 350,000 people farming successfully (not a mere 10,000 as you wrongly stated). They receive a monthly salary of over $1,500 pesos, ten times the amount you erroneously published. We also have more than 100,000 individual farmers notably applying and advancing agro-ecological methods of production, as well as different types of cooperatives that are starting to apply the agroecological approach on a large scale. In the past year, land has been given to 70,000 new producers that requested plots for farming. Keep in mind that our country only has a population of 11 million people, so calculate the percentage and please compare it to yours. If you do so you will see that even with subsidies your country has more people in jail than they do farming the land.

You make a big mistake when you affirm that Cuba imports 84% of the food that it consumes. These percentages represent only the food that is distributed through regulated government channels. After being hit by three hurricanes last year, Cuba currently imports 55% of the total food that it consumes. This percentage is growing smaller.

That we know of, you have never been in Cuba. However, we have hosted many prestigious international colleagues—including from your country—who have seen with their very eyes what we have modestly achieved, and have confirmed it to others throughout the world. Please respect them, as these are serious and credible people not seeking to spread lies.

I request that you let us build our own future. Even though we are not a perfect country, we do not wish to have conquistadores nor do we need unsolicited advisors, the time for that has passed. Of course we have problems, but we can solve them without your advice. I recommend that you spend more time studying the ways your own country’s subsidized industrial agriculture is harming the soil and the consumers, polluting the environment and destroying the food systems of third world nations. Perhaps you can find a way to keep it within your own borders.

Do you, your children and your grandchildren eat healthy food? If not, you should try it and maybe you will achieve the same health standards as the so-called “hungry” Cubans. I hope that you are not offended by my response. I responded to your words and wrote from the heart.
Come any time to Cuba, we will try to understand each other in our modest English.

Fernando Funes-Monzote, PhD. – Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forestry Technicians (ACTAF)

Editor’s note: Since 1994, Food First has participated with ACTAF and its predecessor, the Cuban Organic Farmers Association in sponsoring exchange visits between farmers and scientists of Cuba, the U.S. and citizens from other countries including New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Haiti, and Laos.

See the original Dennis Avery article here:

See also an article by Fernando Funes-Monzote warning of the perils of introducing GMO crops into Cuba published here:

And another response to Dennis Avery here:

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