Cuba, disaster preparedness, and Mutual Aid

Cuba Prepares for Disaster by Don Fitz caught my attention for several reasons. Reading the article and watching the video below, I’m astonished by what Cuba has been doing for decades related to our changing climate. The work there implements many of the things I’ve been learning from Mutual Aid and Indigenous ways. Cuba is a model for the way I believe we must change to deal with oncoming environmental chaos. And although Cubans might not call it Mutual Aid, what they have done, are doing, is consistent with the concepts of Mutual Aid.

For Cuba to implement global environmental protection and degrowth policies it would need to receive financing both to research new techniques and to train the world’s poor in how to develop their own ways to live better.  Such financial support would include …

  • Reparations for centuries of colonial plunder.
  • Reparations for the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, multiple attacks which killed Cuban citizens, hundreds of attempts on Fidel’s life, and decades of slanderous propaganda: and,
  • At least $1 trillion in reparations for losses due to the embargo since 1962.

In the video Cuba’s Life Task, Orlando Rey also observes that “There must be a change in the way of life, in our aspirations.  This is a part of Che Guevara’s ideas on the ‘new man.’  Without forming that new human, it is very difficult to confront the climate issue.”

Cuba Prepares for Disaster BY DON FITZ, COUNTERPUNCH, MARCH 28, 2022

Since Rio de Janeiro [Earth Summit in 1992] the words of our commander-in-chief Fidel Castro provide evidence of the actions and concern for human beings.

An important biological species is at risk of disappearing due to the rapid and progressive elimination of its natural habitat: mankind… It must be said that consumer societies are chiefly responsible for this appalling environmental destruction…
They have poisoned the seas and the rivers. They have polluted the air…
The forests are disappearing. The deserts are expanding…
Third World countries cannot be blamed for all this; yesterday’s colonies and today nations exploited and plundered by an unjust international economic order. The solution cannot be to prevent the development of those who need it the most.
In reality, everything that contributes to underdevelopment and poverty today is a flagrant violation of the environment…
If we want to save humanity from this self-destruction, wealth and available technologies must be distributed better throughout the planet…
Stop transferring to the Third World lifestyles
and consumer habits that ruin the environment…
Pay the ecological debt, not the foreign debt.
Eradicate hunger and not humanity
Tomorrow will be too late to do what we should have done a long time ago.
Thank you.

Fidel Castro, Earth Summit, 1992

The main value of the speech was to put environmental problems in their socioeconomic context. The environmental issue has been detached from its origins in capitalist development, from the foundations of a system that, based on excessive consumption, on unequal production and consumption patterns, created the present situation.

From the video Cuba’s Life Task: Combatting Climate Change

Cuba has a system of civil protection established since the early 1960s following Hurricane Flora [1963] which caused major losses of human and animal lives, and economic damage.
It is organized so that the moment there is a threat that phenomenon comes under permanent vigilance and various stages are established with mechanisms for protection and evacuation.
Cuban Civil Defense adopts a systemic approach. The function is to protect the population, their resources, the economy, and the environment against natural, technological, and sanitary threats. Not just disasters, but also war, or the consequences of climate change.

The political organizations and organizations of the masses, made up of the population, are part of the Civil Defense system. When there is a situation or event, they join the health brigades activated in the Popular Councils in the defense zones, they support the lineworker – specialists who establish the vital systems related to energy – the neighborhood clean-up, after damage incurred during the event, including to building structures.

They contribute to local efforts. This guarantees several things; first, that there is protection at the neighborhood level, and second, that there is complete knowledge, because those neighbors know where the most vulnerable people and the most unprotected buildings are. That secures the process.

Every year in May before the hurricane season begins, we have an annual exercise, ‘Meteoro’, in which the population practice for disaster situations. Initially it was focused on tropical cyclones and hurricanes, but it has been broadened to prepare the population for droughts and earthquakes.

Recently we had a meeting about climate change in Cuba and Puerto Rico, and we saw that the number of people who died from Hurricane Irma was 10 in Cuba and 3,000 in Puerto Rico.

People die here from meteorological events too, but loss of life is minimal.

This whole process of relocating people who reside in high risk, vulnerable settlements.
is financed by the state. This is one of the complexities to speeding up this process.
It is not dependent on the ability of each citizen, the state assumes that responsibility
and it requires substantial resources that the state has to allocate among its many expenses.
But it is a state priority to carry out these relocations. New settlements and communities have been built, new buildings in existing communities. We have also learned that it is not only a physical issue of rebuilding houses.
You have to relocate a whole way of life, rebuild a setting where people have social services,
medical services, educational services, job opportunities. This is more complex when the community’s work is linked to the coast, as with fishing communities. We have concluded that relocating communities is an extreme measure against natural, technological, and sanitary threats. Not just disasters, but also war, or the consequences of climate change.

We can do it. What is our big problem? The worst problem is the [US] blockade. That is why we cannot advance any faster. Martí, Fidel, Raúl, Díaz-Canel…Long live free Cuba!

It is more than 60 years of the [US] blockade, which was greatly tightened by the Trump administration causing a lot of damage, and Biden, despite what he said in his electoral campaign, has still done nothing to loosen those measures. The country is in a very difficult situation as, although many do not think so, persecution is real. Remove the genocidal blockade against the Cuban people!

It is very difficult in conditions of poverty or deep economic and social inequality to advance a climate agenda.

One problem today is that you cannot convert the world’s energy matrix, with current consumption levels, from fossil fuels to renewable energies. There are not enough resources for the panels and wind turbines, nor the space for them. There are insufficient resources for all this.

If you automatically made all transportation electric tomorrow, you will continue to have the same problems of congestion, parking, highways, heavy consumption of steel and cement.

There must be a change in the way of life, in our aspirations.

This is part of the debate about socialism, part of Che Guevara’s ideas on the ‘new man’.

Without forming that new human, it is very difficult to confront the climate issue. I believe that a plan like Tarea Vida needs to be supported by a socialist system. It requires a vision that not directed towards profit, or self-interest. It must be premised on social equity and rejecting inequality. A plan of this nature requires a different social system, and that is socialism.

Perhaps the three most important lessons learned are: political will, communication to translate results, and training young people. From my point of view, these are the most important achievements in Cuba. My message to this climate change conference is a message of social inclusion

I also place Cuba’s disaster response system in conversation with these emergent practices of mutual aid

With the global and local effects of COVID-19 bearing down on us and without any clear expectation of when it might end, it’s as important as ever to take care of our communities. In this episode, we talk about the importance of mutual aid, the history of these networks, and why – if you haven’t before – now is the time to seriously consider getting involved with them.

…We talked about this in an earlier episode about social work in Cuba and the way that model was really rooted more in community organizing and almost somewhat of a mutual aid, at least from what I understood from what we read at that time of basically the community was supporting each other, but then the social worker’s job was actually to almost be the liaison with the state to get stuff that the community needed in order to facilitate that support.

Decolonize Social Work, Episode 10, What is Mutual Aid?

This research comprises a literature review of both humanitarian organization-oriented and social science-oriented sources. In drawing from both NGO and local analyses, I hope to locate practices that could foster a less colonial approach to disaster response. I also place Cuba’s disaster response system in conversation with these emergent practices of mutual aid: in many ways, what theorists learned in the aftermath of the Haiti disaster was already implemented, in a top-down manner, by the Cuban government, which is highly successful at limiting damage and human casualties from disasters (Castellanos Abella, 2008).


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