How Cuba Survived Peak Oil

by John Leslie / August 2006 issue of Socialist Action

“The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. ” Video, 53 minutes.

This documentary, produced by the group Community Solution, gives an exciting and interesting view into the lives of ordinary Cubans.

The break-up of the USSR and the loss of Soviet oil exports to Cuba meant the near destruction of the Cuban economy; unemployment reached record levels, power generation became unreliable and domestic food production failed to meet the basic needs of the people.

Known as the Special Period in Time of Peace, this crisis was characterized by an almost complete loss of petroleum-based fuels (gas and diesel were about 10 percent of pre-crisis levels). Cuba was forced to experiment with some limited market initiatives, to use bicycles imported from China for transportation, as well as to experiment with innovative mass transit. Schools and universities were decentralized to save fuel. All of these events and more are shown in the video.

Previously, Cuban agriculture had been dependent on machinery and petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides. Agricultural production had been mostly production for export.

The film explores the response of the Cuban people and government to the crisis. Many of the large state farms were broken up into cooperatives, and some land was turned over to private production—though the state maintained ownership of the land. The state helped provide training in organic farming methods, and machinery was replaced as much as possible with the use of oxen. The response of the Cuban government was critical to the success of organic farming and urban gardens.

One major theme of this film is that we need to learn from the example of the Cuban people when responding to the looming energy crisis. The crisis faced by the Cubans is an example of what we can expect when oil production peaks in just a few years.

Hubbert’s peak, named after Dr. M. King Hubbert, a geophysicist, is the theory that oil production will “peak” as existing oil reserves become more difficult to extract from the ground. Hubbert projected that world oil production would peak in about the year 2010.

Oil, like all natural resources, is finite. When the halfway point is reached in the use of any resource, production is said to have peaked. The discovery of new supplies can only shift the peak a few years. Geological factors mean that the remaining oil supplies become more difficult to extract.

One weakness of the film is the fact that it avoids discussion of how Cuba is different from both the U.S. and the rest of Latin America. The transition to organic agriculture and the preservation of the gains of the revolution would not have been possible in a capitalist economy. The ideas of cooperation, solidarity, and collective action—which are stressed over and again in the video—are alien to capitalist society.

When peak oil hits the United States, the Empire will strike out like a drug addict looking for a fix. Right now, we see the results of energy wars being fought by the U.S. Ultimately, the real reason for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the war threats against Iran, are the Empire’s desire to control access to oil supplies. The transition to a democratic and sustainable socialist economy offers the best hope for humanity’s survival.

“The Power of Community—How Cuba Survived Peak Oil” can be purchased directly from the Community Solution at

I highly recommend watching this film with coworkers, your community organization, or environmental groups. It’s through education and the mass activity of millions that our future can be secured.

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