Cuba Faces A Big Environmental Question After Castro’s Death

An agricultural project in Cuba
An agricultural project in Cuba
Juan Pablo Ruiz Soto


In his half-century as leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro oversaw grand changes on the island. In the wake of his death, new changes may — or may not — be on their way under the helm of the late leader's brother, President Raul Castro.

Nowhere is the future more uncertain on the island nation than on environmental questions. Most land in Cuba belongs to the state, which means the government decides how it is used. Potential investors from China, U.S., and Europe see an economic opportunity in Cuba to turn that land into profit. But it's an endeavor that's highly risky, not least for Cuban citizens themselves.

What will become of Cuba's rich agricultural land? Who will reap the profits from harvesting the land or renting it out — or selling it for new construction projects? How will natural resources be used? And how will this use affect sustainability?

Castro's Cuba was a place of sometimes extreme experiments. These ranged from shockingly large-scale sugar cane farming, which involved pumping the land with pesticides, to present-day ecological initiatives that have contributed to local food autonomy.

Castro's speech to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 clearly reflected this contradiction. He offered an excellent analysis of the state of economic inequality among countries, while denouncing rampant energy usage, consumerism and waste in rich economies that was destroying the environment. Castro urged a fairer distribution of wealth and payment of the ecological "debt" through transfers of clean technologies and resources to boost sustainable development in poorer countries. His vision broadly anticipated some of the provisions of the Paris climate change agreement last year.

But Castro's speech also revealed the holes in his vision. He did not elaborate a clear alternative to the communist perspective. And he failed to criticize communism's own contributions to environmental destruction, locally and globally. He forgot to mention the poor health of workers working and living in highly-polluted factories and cities in communist countries.

Castro's death gives rise to big social, political and environmental questions for Cuba. Which way will the country go? Will the country offer its fertile and largely abandoned land to multinational companies that would use industrial methods to harvest the area? Or will Cuba promote an agrarian economy and organic farming, even in cities, to boost conservation and food sovereignty?

Cuba has experience in both those approaches. So far, no one can predict which way it will go. Either way, there's a lot at stake for ordinary Cubans and the world at large.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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