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Cuba’s Juan Triana – Economist or State Official?

Cuba’s Juan Triana: Economist or State Official?
November 14, 2014
Erasmo Calzadilla

HAVANA TIMES — Cuban economist and government official Juan Triana has
become highly popular among our country’s leadership by peddling a
rather exciting idea: the world economy is sailing before the wind and
Cuba ought to stick a rocket up its ass if it wishes to catch up and not
be left out of the party (my phrasing). We need to grow quickly, he
suggests in his lectures, replacing the old socialist engine with a
turbo-capitalist one, but leaving the Communist Party at the helm.

Today, when neo-liberalism is taking in water and the world economy
can’t seem to pull itself out of the hole it’s in, and when so many
projects in Cuba have stalled half-way (the underused Mariel Development
Zone, investors who refuse to bite, a decreasing GDP, weed-covered golf
courses), isn’t it time to ask Triana why his marvelous predictions
turned out to be wrong? What consequences will the country face for
having used its last bit of strength to chase after a pipe-dream? Why
did he neglect the currents of socio-economic thought that have been
announcing the current crisis for several decades? (1)

Journalist Fernando Ravsberg had the opportunity of interviewing Cuba’s
most popular economist, but, instead of reminding him of his “accurate”
predictions, he allowed him to yap away.

Below, I will discuss two of the ideas Triana expounded on when Ravsberg
allowed him to be himself:

Cuba needs to change its energy infrastructure to begin using renewable
resources.
The productivity of Cuban agriculture is low, and we must therefore take
a technological leap forward.
1- Cuba and Renewable Sources of Energy

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed that this conclusion is missing a
premise, a cause that Triana “forgot” to mention. Why would we need to
change our energy infrastructure? Is there a problem with the supply of
oil we’re getting from the country with the largest oil reserves in the
world?

The complete formula should have gone something like this: We’ll be
having a hard time getting fossil fuels, thus we need to change our
energy infrastructure.

Many reasons could lead someone to “forget” our “little problem” with
fossil fuels. Coming from Triana, I can think of two:

1- As a State official, he cannot reveal truths that would make
investors uneasy.

2- The uncertainty surrounding the supply of hydrocarbons does not mix
well with his techno-optimistic discourse in support of development at
all costs. It has been demonstrated that, without increasing consumption
of fossil fuels, no economic development is possible. To acknowledge
that oil shortages are coming is tantamount to confessing that he has
been blowing things out of proportion.

Let us get back to the question of renewable sources of energy. No
country in the world has managed to cover even 50 percent of its energy
consumption using renewable sources of energy. We, of all people, are
going to be the first?

Europeans made a conscious effort to achieve this. They devoted several
years of economic wellbeing, cheap energy and abundant resources to
develop these sources of energy. Despite this, they could not get the
infrastructure off the ground. Today, renewable resources contribute
less than 15 percent of all of the energy they consume.

Let us now analyze our situation: fuel and supplies at extremely high
prices (as a result of shortages that didn’t exist before), dependence
on a politically unstable country, an economic blockade, lack of
industrial infrastructure that would allow us to develop the
sophisticated technology required at home (today, such technology is
imported and only assembled here), and a worldwide crisis stepping on
our heels, to mention only a few “inconveniences.” What are our actual
chances of being able to change our energy infrastructure to begin using
renewable sources of energy? If anything, we’ll achieve this when
thermoelectric plants kick the bucket and we are once again dependent on
photosynthesis (2).

2- Low Agricultural Outputs and the Technological Leap

When Triana speaks of a technological leap forward, is he referring to
permaculture or to agro-ecology? Neither. In one of his lectures before
Cuba’s scientific community, he ingratiated himself with his audience
saying that the proper place for a steer was our dinner plate. “We need
a whole army of tractors in the countryside,” he stated.

What is he talking about, then? About a Green Revolution, of course,
peppered with biotechnology and transgenics. Let us have a closer look.

A Green Revolution results in an important increase in agricultural
output as a result of a colossal investment in terms of energy and
resources.

To put it in the technical language that Triana likes to whip us with:
the energy performance (the number of calories obtained versus the
number invested) of agricultural production secured through a Green
Revolution is considerably lower than the performance achieved using
traditional methods. If we add the damage to the ecosystem caused by the
first option, the difference in performance simply becomes brutal.

What’s more, owing to the costly investments it requires, the
technological leap forward in agriculture would make sense in prosperous
times. The same holds for renewable sources of energy: it is impossible
to lift these off the ground in the midst of a crisis that has no end in
sight.

Conclusions

It seems unlikely that a think tank should be unaware of the issues
addressed here. From my point of view, we are not dealing with mere
ignorance.

In view of his catastrophe-proof faith in the Cuban economy and the
intermittent support he offers the system (“Raul Castro encourages
debate, he listens to economists”), I would say Triana is behaving more
like a State official than an economist.

As an economist, he would be duty-bound to reveal the ugly truth,
without offering people false hopes. As an expert at the service of the
establishment, he has to sugar the pill, so that investors won’t be
horrified and people will stay calm, even if they get hurt in the long run.

Our duty is to reveal that this popular turbo-economist has been making
false predictions for years, and always of the same kind. He already
lulled us to sleep with a siren song once, speaking in favor of
development. If he gets his hooks into us now with that story about
renewable sources of energy and the fairy tale about a technological
leap forward in agriculture, if we squander what few ecological and
economic resources we have left for the coming crisis on sophisticated
toys, we are going to face an even uglier future than the one in store
for us.
—–

Notes:

The Wikipedia entry The Limits of Growth contains a summary of the
research work and scientific reports that have been announcing the
current crisis since the 1970s. The crisis is not merely economic and
does not stem exclusively from over-production, as the previous crisis
faced by capitalism. It is caused, rather, by the exhaustion of
resources that are of strategic importance and the overflowing of the
dumpsites with which our social metabolism functions.
It is not a question of renouncing to the use of renewable sources of
energy. They can be of great help, supplying electricity to hospitals
and essential industry. The absurd and dangerous thing is to pretend we
can change our energy infrastructure and even experience economic growth
with their measly contribution to consumption.

Source: Cuba’s Juan Triana: Economist or State Official? – Havana
Times.org – http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=107322

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