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Drink Fruit Passion!

Dear friends and comrades,

a lot of people are finding it difficult to be optimistic in the face of deepening crisis and the almost universal reign of scoundrels and war criminals...

To cheer you all up, here are two articles, one from the Guardian and one from the New York Times, which show you that there is a light amid the gloom.

A revolutionary new year to you and to the world!


The future is orange

Food sovereignty in Cuba is bolstered by Fairtrade support

Walter Schwarz – Guardian Wednesday December 19, 2001

Fairtrade is supposed to help poor farmers in the south make a decent living. So why is it buying orange juice from Cuba, where growers live in state-supported cooperatives with free health services and schools? The story behind Fruit Passion, Fairtrade’s new all-Cuban breakfast drink, lies deep in the politics of the anti-globalisation movement, in quietly subversive action to bolster local economies, promote sustainable farming and protect “food sovereignty.”
The Fairtrade network of European and North American activists operates in more than 30 producer countries by paying an agreed minimum price, even where the world market price is way below, plus a “social premium” to help poor producers. The result appears in our supermarkets in 90 Fairtrade brands of coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa, honey, raw cane sugar - and now fruit juice. Sales in the UK were £23m last year and are growing fast.
But Cuba is different from other producers. Its political system doesn’t allow citizens to receive foreign payments, so the social premiums earned by the two co-operatives selected by Fairtrade will go to ANAP, the national association of small farmers, which will use it for welfare and development projects.

More importantly, Cuba has become the world’s laboratory for sustainable farming and food sovereignty - “almost the anti-model”, as the World Bank’s Eric Swanson has admitted. It was forced into the role when, already excluded from the world trading system by US sanctions, the collapse of Cuba’s Soviet support system in 1989 suddenly robbed the country of 80% of its import capacity. Farmers had no fuel for their tractors, no fertilisers or pesticides for their fields.
Necessity became a virtue as Cubans realised that only sustainable farming could feed the people. They switched much of the land from state farms to incentive-based cooperatives, reintroduced farmers’ markets, offered massive state aid for organic farming and produced an astonishing quantity of food - 60% of the vegetables consumed in Cuba - in and around cities.

This has given Cuba an ecology-based agriculture - including organic fertilisers, animal traction, mixed cropping and biological pest controls - which has taken root. Farmers and officials alike are determined that much of it will remain even if the US blockade is lifted.

Fairtrade’s entry into Cuba was brokered by Oxfam Belgium, which runs 45 small projects in Cuba. Aid organisations are increasingly working together to promote sustainability and local self-reliance - often the opposite of what the WTO and the big financial institutions are doing when they enforce conformity with trade rules that mainly benefit industrialists.

For orange juice concentrate, the Fairtrade minimum price is $1,200 per tonne - marginally above the current world price. Added to that is a $100 social premium. When it buys orange juice from Cuba, Oxfam Belgium multiplies its own premium by 10 as a neat way of financing its projects.
“The aim is food sovereignty, development of civil society, the right to be heard, and gender politics,” says Paulo Attanasio, of Oxfam Belgium.

But the experiment remains vulnerable to world market fluctuations and the government is anxious to buttress it with still greater food sovereignty.

“Cuba’s interest is in breaking the normal market rules,” said Guillermo Denaux, from the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation - the trading company at the centre of the Fairtrade global network. “What we’ve started with orange juice could work for fruit, coffee and other juices, and we’re starting talks with the government.” Mavis Alvares, director of ANAP, confirmed: “We thought the Fairtrade model a good alternative to the capitalist system, where most of the benefit goes to the middleman.”

However, in Ciego de Avila province the farmers in Cuba’s first two Fairtrade cooperatives have not yet received the money they expect from their first Fairtrade premium. Cuba’s ponderous bureaucracy takes a long time to process the $70,000, earmarked for a new tractor repair shop. Members say they want later instalments to pay for communal kitchens, better farm roads and a tree nursery.

Meanwhile, they live well. Manolo Perera is building a new house for his son. His two sons have returned to the farm from city jobs because they like the life. Perera complains it’s hard to get extra labour in during harvest because there’s so little unemployment here.

Gaspar Brito, 75, is old enough to savour his advantages. His comfortable wooden home is festooned with potted plants. He pays a family of six retired state farm workers to cultivate his kitchen garden, which gives him most of the fruit and vegetables he needs, and there are pigs as well. Before the revolution, when his orange grove was owned by an American company, his monthly rent was suddenly increased from 2.5 pesos to 18 pesos. The revolution gave him ownership, plus help from ANAP. It is, he says, “like having your own doctor in the house”.

Cuba leads Latin America in primary education, study finds

December 18, 2001
Extracted from The New York Times
WASHINGTON.- Cuba, a Marxist nation with profound economic difficulties, leads Latin America in primary education, a regional task force has found.
In test scores, completion rates and literacy levels, Cuban primary students are at or near the top of a list of peers from across Latin America, the task force reported.
Indeed, the performance of Cuban third and fourth graders in math and language so dramatically outstripped that of other nations that the United Nations agency administering the test returned to Cuba and tested students again, according to a coordinator of the study.
“They went back to Cuba and retested because there was some anomaly,” said Jeff Puryear, the co-director of the Partnership for Educational Revitalization in the Americas, which helped organize the task force. “This is a good, solid, reliable comparison.”

The task force highlighted the results of the first region-wide test of primary students, which was administered in 1998 by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO.
“Cuba far and away led the region in third- and fourth-grade mathematics and language achievement,” the panel said. “Even the lowest fourth of Cubans students performed above the regional average.”
Cuba’s educational system, along with health care, has been a priority of the government of President Fidel Castro since the early days of the revolution four decades ago.
The findings are especially remarkable since the island has lived under an American economic embargo for decades and lost its Soviet patron – and billions of dollars in subsidies – a decade ago, plunging Cubans into a period of austerity, blackouts and food shortages. Government planners say they have diverted funds from other areas to bolster schools and hospitals, which nonetheless have deteriorated.
The findings for the rest of Latin America were grim. The study, which is to be presented Friday by the president of the Inter-American Development Bank, reported that quality remains low, inequality remains high and few schools are accountable to parents and local communities.

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