spacer
The Vacuum - Issue 18 - Waste spacer The Vacuum - Issue 18 - Waste
A Dromore - Havana Connection
by Daniel Jewesbury
spacer
I would like to propose that Dromore, County Down, be twinned with Havana, Cuba. I haven't yet suggested this to Nora Beare, my local DUP councillor (you may remember her as Nora Beare, UUP councillor; she was one of those who jumped ship at an opportune moment, on a signal from local lad Jeffrey 'Laughing Boy' Donaldson, MP). Now to my knowledge there is no history of any rapport between the DUP and the Communist Party of Cuba. I suspect that there might be a great deal of mutual suspicion, in fact. But they have one important thing in common.
spacer
That is a passion for recycling. They've each arrived at it for different reasons: one of them has been blockaded by the USA for the past 40 years, and found itself economically isolated after the collapse of the USSR (despite the best efforts of Ry Cooder, bless him); they had to become more self-sufficient just to survive, and that meant a more sustainable use, and re-use, of available materials. The other well, it's hard to work out why Banbridge District Council should be leading the way in Northern Ireland in this respect (it's generally best not to ask 'why' when the DUP are involved). Let it suffice here to say that the Wee Statelet is not renowned for being the most, er, green region in these islands, in terms of environmental awareness: non-intensive agriculture is viewed suspiciously (farmers are hooked on the Brussels way douse it with pesticides, get a headage payment or a subsidy for it, and dump the run-off in the stream); our recently-deceased heavy industries routinely spewed toxins of many kinds into the skies and rivers; across the North, a slew of rubbish blows through our streets and down our lanes.
spacer
Perhaps there's a clue there? Northern Ireland is now caught between its wealthy industrial past (the demise of which roughly coincides with the end of the Troubles), and its peaceful, post-industrial future. The key to this future, according to the government, lies in new technologies. Manufacturing industries (actually making things) will be replaced by service industries. In the meantime, while we wait for the new dawn (like that fantastic one on the cover of the Agreement or was that a sunset? I forget), we have neither the heavy industries of yesterday or the light, clean ones of the future. Perhaps we're all feeling a little insecure, a little uneasy about all this spectacular consumption, this culture of disposability. Could that be why I was able to take my knackered old fax machine down to the recycling depot yesterday, along with a load of cardboard boxes? Until recently I'd have just binned it; now the council actively encourages me to recycle it. Do they know something I don't? Maybe Nora Beare will need that fax machine when Al Qaeda turn up at the local sewage works with a thermos of anthrax
spacer
Anyway, that's maybe the (extremely tenuous) link with Cuba. There, ordinary people have learned to be inventive with the most unpromising of materials (see illustrations). Almost nothing is thrown out that can be salvaged and turned to some new use; but recycling isn't just something that householders do with their everyday consumables, in order to eke out meagre supplies. The government has incorporated a broad-ranging sustainable environmental strategy into the remit of its Ministry of Science and Technology, and large-scale manufacturing is now dependent upon the recycling of raw materials. It's tempting to put all this down to the economic situation post-1989, but as Richard Levins argues, 'It would be wrong to attribute Cuba's changes only to the 'special period' of pervasive shortages and economic crisis that arose with the disbanding of the COMECON trading block (the Soviet Union, eastern Europe, Cuba, and Vietnam). Despite the popular adage, necessity is not a sufficient mother of invention. Necessity can and often does lead to disaster. There must also be the capacity to respond to necessity, the intellectual and material resources and the flexibility to use those resources. Rather, the emergency of 1989-93 allowed ecological thinking to come to the fore against developmentalist and narrowly economic thinking. The fascination with high tech "modernization" that dominates much of the approach to development in the third world and in international institutions, was to some extent, influential within Cuba itself. The crisis made it possible for the ecologists-by-conviction to recruit ecologists-by-necessity. But the process began long before that.'
spacer
In other words, had Cuban socialism not already been embracing environmentalism and sustainability throughout the 1980s, the country would have been utterly unprepared for the economic crisis that was to come. The USA very quickly took the opportunity of Cuba's economic isolation to tighten the (illegal) blockade, imposing (illegal) trade boycotts on foreign companies that traded with Cuba, including British ones; the Clinton administration expressed the hope that this would be the decisive moment at which the island would succumb to its 40-year siege.
spacer
What I'm saying is that it may be time for Ry Cooder to come to Dromore, and bring the Ballykeen Accordion Band back with him to Carnegie Hall (how would the plaintive wail of the slide guitar sound behind that lot, I wonder). And perhaps Nora might be more interested in a council junket to Havana, than another dreary visit to Drumore, Pennsylvania (our current twin). She may not be welcomed back to the USA afterwards, of course (when Venezuelan socialist leader Hugo Chavez advocates a sustainable environmental policy based on that in Cuba, the US describes it as 'communist infiltration'). But I think the signs are clear for all to see. Can it really be a coincidence that the new DUP advice centre in our town square is painted a deep Cuban red? I think not. Comrade Nora, your secret is out.
spacer
spacer
home | information | issues | artists & writers | columns | reviews
spacer