Elio Delgado Legon
HAVANA TIMES — The development of a country has many sides, many fields in which work must be done — almost at the same time — if one wants to make significant progress.
When the dictator Fulgencio Batista was toppled on January 1, 1959 and the popular revolution triumphed, Cuba was still languishing from not only the most cruel and bloody repression (which left more than 20,000 dead or missing in just seven years), the nation was also suffering from backwardness, underdevelopment and neglect.
Some people argue that Cuba was the “most advanced country in Latin America,” but that — far from serving as any consolation — makes one even sadder since it’s a measure of the dire straits in which the other peoples of the subcontinent found themselves.
The enemies of the Cuban Revolution reluctantly accept the advances made in health care and education here, but they ignore the rest of the accomplishments of the revolutionary government over these 53 years in social services, the economy, science, culture and sports.
Advances have been made in the economic field in all senses. This isn’t nearly as much as we would all like, because the country has been subjected to a war of attrition since the beginning.
The aim of this has been to subject the Cuban people to hunger, disease and despair so that they overthrow the government. Those aren’t my words, they were written in a memo from a senior official of the US government. It is difficult to imagine anything more cruel and merciless.
Economic development in Cuba could refer to many things, but today I’ll comment only on water resource development: a vital task that in many ways was — like the rest of the economy — mired in backwardness and neglect.
In 1959, the water storage capacity in the country was only 48 million cubic meters, which was devoted to the direct supply of households and to the irrigation of sugarcane fields in a few places.
Of the 300 urban centers that existed then, less than half had reservoirs, and of these, only 50 percent were treated.
Generally speaking, agriculture depended on rainfall for production.
It was in October 1963, after the devastation caused by Hurricane Flora — with massive floods, more than a thousand deaths and huge economic losses — that it was decided to accelerate water development plans.
Projects included the building of as many dams necessary to prevent further flooding and to ensure the supply of water in the dry season, both for farming and for population centers.
Presently, the water storage capacity in the country exceeds nine billion cubic meters, thanks to 240 dams, which ensure that this entire amount of water — formerly lost to the sea — can be productively used.
The construction of reservoirs has also expanded significantly. Beginning with the 13 urban centers that had that service in 1959, today there are 2,416, and with more than 22,000 miles of supply lines and more than 2,000 water treatment facilities.
Furthermore, as a byproduct of water improvement activities, we’ve developed aquaculture, or the raising of freshwater fish. This now contributes to the country’s food supply almost as much fishing in the sea, which is becoming increasingly exhausted.
Another byproduct of water development is the production of electricity. Though we don’t possess the physical conditions for building large hydroelectric generating plants, we’ve made use of every other possibility, however small. There are now 179 facilities that produce about 30,000 megawatt/hours annually, of which 90 percent feeds into the national electric grid. The rest benefits more than 25,000 people and 500 economic and social projects.
This branch of the hydraulic activity will continue to develop, because according to studies there is a potential of 1.2 million megawatt/hours of energy from this source, which could save the country 350,000 tons of fuel oil every year.
The country has invested heavily in water resource development, which has resulted in a significant increase in agricultural production and in the ability to ensure food security in times of drought. It also improves the quality of life of citizens in urban and semi-urban centers.
How many countries in the developing world are still in the same condition today as Cuba was back in 1959? The reader may wish to look up this information …and draw their own conclusions.