The Power of Community : How Cuba Survived Peak Oil

Directed by Faith Morgan

[Community Service Inc., 53 minutes]


In the early 1990s, Cuba faced the dual dilemma of the Soviet Union’s collapse and the United States’ tightening of the trade embargo. What resulted was a deep recession dubbed the Special Period. With oil imports dropping by nearly two-thirds, Cuba, formerly the most industrialized country in Latin America, suffered deeply from the lack of pesticides, gas and other petroleum-based products, resulting in severe health, transportation and social problems. This story is of the Cuban people’s intelligent, forward-thinking response to the crisis. The crisis mimics what would happen in the event of a sudden oil shortage, serving as a valuable lesson on how to adapt to the impending threat of peak oil and still live well. Given the global uncertainty over oil reserves, it’s a much needed lesson that comes at an opportune time.

This 53 minute documentary begins with sad stories of malnourished pregnant women and four-hour long waits for buses, but quickly launches into the country’s quick response to the challenge of oil scarcity, outlining how the Cubans adapted their agriculture, transportation and economic systems. Through a series of interviews of local farmers, permaculturists and urban planners, the viewer gets a feel for the struggle the Cuban population went through to transform their country. Further into the documentary, the viewer is then treated to the smiling faces of a proud population, content at the transformation of a chemical-dependent culture to one that is relatively pure, with 80 percent of the country’s food production now produced organically and much of it being distributed locally through its extensive network of urban gardens and markets.

In addition to showing how the country adapted to the oil shortages, the story that is told equally well is that of community. Rather than dryly telling the viewer about the importance of community in overcoming the oil crisis, the documentarians instead chose to tell the story more through visual content—scenes of community involvement, people singing and working together. More than any government policy, it is the spirit of community that carried Cubans through the challenges of the Special Period. The Power of Community is a poignant story of collective achievement that proves that an organic, locally-based agricultural system is completely possible.

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