[Marxism] Cuba’s Environmental Concerns Grow With Prospect of U.S. Presence

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jul 3 08:20:37 MDT 2015


NY Times, July 3 2015
Cuba’s Environmental Concerns Grow With Prospect of U.S. Presence
By ERICA GOODE

HAVANA — Like many of his countrymen, Jorge Angulo hopes the United 
States will lift the decades-old economic embargo against Cuba.

But Dr. Angulo, a senior marine scientist at the University of Havana, 
is also worried about the effects that a flood of American tourists and 
American dollars might have on this country’s pristine coral reefs, 
mangrove forests, national parks and organic farms — environmental 
assets that are a source of pride here.

“Like anywhere else, money talks,” Dr. Angulo said. “That might be 
dangerous, because if we go too much on that side, we lose what we have 
today.”

As relations between the United States and Cuba have warmed — the 
countries announced on Wednesday that their embassies in Havana and 
Washington would reopen by July 20 for the first time in more than 50 
years — and as the renewal of trade seems more of a possibility, the 
Cuban government faces pivotal choices.

The country is in desperate need of the economic benefits that a lifting 
of the embargo would almost certainly bring. But the ban, combined with 
Cuba’s brand of controlled socialism, has also limited development and 
tourism that in other countries, including many of Cuba’s Caribbean 
neighbors, have eroded beaches, destroyed forests, polluted rivers, 
damaged coral reefs and wreaked other forms of environmental havoc.

Already, American corporations are poised to rush into a country only 90 
miles from Florida’s shores.

In March, a delegation from the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, an 
agribusiness group that includes Cargill, the National Grain and Feed 
Association, the National Chicken Council and other companies and 
organizations, flew to Havana to meet with Cuban officials.

And cruise ship companies and hotel chains like Marriott and Hilton have 
indicated their enthusiasm. “I can’t stop thinking about it,” Frank Del 
Rio, chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, said in 
an interview. “Cuba and the cruise industry are just a match made in 
heaven, waiting to happen.”

Despite modest economic advances in the last 15 years, much in Cuba can 
seem frozen in time, with crumbling Havana buildings and old Chevys and 
Ladas serving as markers of how far the country has been left behind. 
But that also means that much of Cuba’s more than 3,500 miles of 
coastline has remained undeveloped.

In Jucaro, on the south coast, weatherworn fishing boats line the 
harbor, but the condos and souvenir shops that clutter most Caribbean 
seaside towns are nowhere to be seen.

Over the last two decades, Cuba has taken steps to preserve its natural 
resources and promote sustainable development. Environmental problems 
remain, including overfishing and the erosion and deforestation left 
from earlier eras. But the ministry overseeing environmental issues has 
a strong voice. And since 1992, when Fidel Castro denounced “the 
ecological destruction threatening the planet” in a speech to the Rio de 
Janeiro Earth Summit, a series of tough environmental laws has been 
passed, including regulations governing the management of the coastal 
zone. The government has designated 104 marine protected areas, though 
some still exist only on paper, with no administration or enforcement, 
and it has set a goal of conserving 25 percent of the country’s coastal 
waters.

Yet Cuba’s commitment to environmental protection has never been tested, 
or tempted, as forcefully as it is likely to be should the trade and 
travel barriers with the United States fall. Despite the thaw between 
the United States and Cuba, many obstacles to tourism and commerce 
remain. Congress would have to vote to ease the embargo, an unlikely 
development during the presidential campaign. And even if the embargo 
were lifted, Cuba’s labyrinthine tax structure, legal system and laws 
regulating business present their own hurdles.

Cuba’s green sensitivities evolved as much out of necessity as ideology.

The collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1991 and the continued isolation by 
the United States forced the country to fend for itself. With the tools 
of big agriculture — fuel for heavy machinery, chemical fertilizers, 
pesticides — out of reach, farming moved away from the increased sugar 
production that characterized the Soviet era, turning more to organic 
techniques and cooperatives of small farmers. Oxen replaced tractors, 
and even today, a farmer walking behind his plow is a common sight in 
the countryside.

“Basically, folks said we need the farmers to go out and figure out how 
we’re going to feed ourselves,” said Greg Watson, a former agriculture 
commissioner for Massachusetts, who visited Cuba last fall with a 
delegation studying sustainable agriculture.

At the same time, scientists, who are held in high esteem here, promoted 
the value of keeping marine resources intact — both to draw European 
tourism, essential for an island country with little domestic industry, 
and to help sustain the fisheries that formed a vital part of the economy.

Cuban officials insist that the country’s strong environmental laws and 
commitment to protecting natural resources will hold up in the face of 
American money and influence. And they note that Cuba is no stranger to 
tourism: Europeans, Canadians, Australians and others flock to cafes in 
Old Havana, visit Vinyales or sun themselves on the beach at Varadero or 
Cayo Coco, resort areas that already have hotels, developed with the 
help of foreign investment.

“We are not afraid of you coming to Cuba,” José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, 
chief of mission for the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, said at 
a panel on Cuba and the environment last month. “The conservation of the 
environment is in our Constitution.”

But much will depend on the government’s determination to see that 
environmental laws are enforced, said Liliana Núñez Velis, president of 
the Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation for Man and Nature, a 
quasi-independent environmental organization in Havana.

“This tsunami is coming,” Ms. Núñez said, referring to American 
interests. And inside Cuba, she added, “An internal tsunami is asking 
for consumption, consumption, consumption and profit, benefit and profit.”

How fully the country will pursue development is likely to be a leading 
topic at the Seventh Congress of the Cuban Communist Party next year, 
said Dan Whittle, a lawyer and senior director of the Cuba program for 
the Environmental Defense Fund.

Within Cuba’s government, “there are some who would prefer to move 
faster than others,” Mr. Whittle said, adding that environmental 
officials in Cuba were trying to identify gaps in oversight and laws 
that need to be strengthened.

“They would like to see the party congress embrace sustainability and 
sustainable development,” he said.

Government officials know that they need to be more flexible and 
efficient in dealing with potential investors, Mr. Whittle said.

“There’s a widespread recognition that you can’t spend years debating 
whether to approve a new hotel or a golf course,” he said.

But, he added, Cuba is also aware of the perils of unchecked economic 
growth, and some officials consider countries like China, which 
sacrificed environmental concerns in favor of development, examples of 
what to avoid.

Whether they will have the discipline to do so, he said, remains to be seen.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, who has worked to 
promote collaboration between American and Cuban scientists, said the 
amount of money that may be available close by “does put them at a 
choice point, in terms of whether they’re willing to sacrifice what 
they’ve got environmentally in order to develop and look more like Miami 
Beach or Montego Bay.”

Mr. Whitehouse said he suspected, however, that Cuba would wade into 
American economic waters with caution. “I don’t think they’re so lustful 
of development that they will just roll over and completely prostitute



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