Castro Criticizes US Ethanol Green-Washing

Last week a veiled tension arose between Cuba and Brazil when Brazil’s foreign minister, Celso Amorim, told the AP that Fidel Castro’s criticisms of biofuels were old. Castro wrote in the Granma newspaper that the use of grain crops as a source of fuel would lead to higher prices and increase hunger in developing countries. Amorim and the AP insinuated that Castro was on the wrong track because he was not talking about ethanol.

However, on Wednesday, Castro’s second Reflections of The Commander-in-Chief column this week made specific mention of corn ethanol world wide as "the internationalization of genocide."

Castro’s letters are in response to Bush’s meetings with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at Camp David last week. Castro is specifically critical of US President Bush’s role in promoting the biofuel industry. The leaders of the world’s top biofuel producing countries spent much of their agenda discussing ethanol production. The Bush administration’s plans to cut US gasoline consumption by 20% in the next ten years focus on ethanol as a substitute.

Cuba experimented with using sugar cane for ethanol production in the past. However, now that the US is taking over the industry, Castro and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez have warned against the possibility that "rich countries will buy up the food crops of poor nations to meet their energy needs, threatening millions with starvation."

For the past thirty years, Brazil has been making ethanol from sugar cane and using the fuel for cars. However, last year, after Bush said the country was "addicted to oil," the US suddenly became the top ethanol producer. In turn, world corn prices rose steeply.

The main question, wrote Castro, is "Where and who is going to supply the more than 500 million tons of corn and other cereals that the United States, Europe and the rich countries need to produce the volume of gallons of ethanol that the big U.S. companies and those of other countries are demanding as compensation for their sizeable investments? Where are who is going to produce the soy beans, the sunflower and colza seeds, whose essential oils are going to be converted by those same rich countries into fuel?"

"The five top producers of the corn, barley, sorghum, rye, millet and oats that Bush wants to turn into raw materials for producing ethanol supply 679 million tons to the world market, according to recent data. In their turn, the five top consumers, some of which are also producers of these grains, currently need 604 million tons annually. The available surplus comes down to less than 80 million tons. This colossal waste of cereals for producing fuel, without including oleaginous seeds, would serve only to save the rich countries less than 15 percent of what is annually consumed by their voracious automobiles."

"Scores of countries do not produce hydrocarbons and cannot cultivate corn and other grains, or produce oleaginous seeds, because they do not have enough water even to meet their most elemental needs," Castro warned. "Where are the poor nations of the Third World going to find the minimal resources for survival?"

The issue of developing nations’ place in the ethanol rush will very likely be discussed by Lula da Silva, Chavez, and other South American leaders at the energy summit in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 16-17.