Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Cuban Embassy Opens in DC After 54 Years: Will Cuba Remain the 'Green Jewel' of the Caribbean?

Insights + Opinion

With each tug of the rope by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, the Cuban flag inched upward, finding a slight breeze and proudly showed off its brilliant colors of red, white and blue to the 500 or so onlookers. The Cubans and Cuban-Americans—never known for their silence at public events—beamed with national pride and shouted with joy as the flag inched up, "Fidel, Fidel!" Countless eyes filled with tears. Many embraced. The world was changing before us. The Cuban flag flew in Washington, DC for the first time in 54 years, signaling the reopening of the Cuban Embassy and normalization of relations with the U.S.

The Cuban flag flying in Washington, DC for the first time in 54 years, signaling the reopening of the Cuban Embassy and normalization of relations with the U.S. Photo credit: David E. Guggenheim

Inside at the embassy at the reception that followed, we hoisted mojitos and exchanged congratulations. But a number of us have long anticipated this moment with both joy and worry, realizing that the U.S. could become a greater threat to Cuba as its friend than it ever was as its enemy.

Many of us have heard a common refrain from acquaintances, “I want to get to Cuba before the Americans ruin it." Indeed, there is a great fear that Cuba could end up like Cancun and many other places in the Caribbean that have destroyed their coral reefs and lost their culture and identity in the process. A 2014 study found that half of the Caribbean's coral cover has been lost since 1970 due primarily to human impacts. Many seasoned scuba divers scoff at the notion of diving in the Caribbean, having long since abandoned the region for healthier reefs in the Indo-Pacific.

Photo credit: David E. Guggenheim

By not developing like the rest of the Caribbean, Cuba has spared its natural ecosystems, including its coral reefs, the same fate we have seen in so many places. However, a flood of tourism and business development from the U.S. could undermine Cuba's natural heritage and culture. Tourism is already up more than 35 percent since December. Twelve new golf course resorts have been announced to serve growing U.S. tourism demand, and a major U.S. cruise ship line has announced plans to bring Americans to Cuba beginning next year.

Read page 1

The Cuban Ministry of Tourism's slogan is: "Autentica Cuba," Authentic Cuba. Travelers are willing to pay a premium for a truly authentic experience—a healthy, vibrant natural environment and rich culture. There's no need to go the path of Cancun and remake the Cuban landscape and communities to serve tourism. What's special about Cuba is its unapologetic authenticity.

A few of my Cuban colleagues have pointed out that Cuba has strong environmental laws, strong foreign investment laws and has been open to the rest of the world for many years. Surely they are ready for the Americans. There's truth in that position and Cuba deserves praise for its strong, science-based environmental laws. However, the onslaught of millions of American tourists and the promise of billions in foreign investment will surely create unprecedented pressures. It may not happen overnight, but if the rest of the Caribbean is a guide, the unraveling of ecosystems and communities is a disaster that insidiously plays out over decades and many of our Cuban colleagues share our concern.

Now it's a race to work with our colleagues in Cuba and together help chart a sustainable course for the future as relations normalize with the U.S. and the end of the 50-year-old economic embargo nears. To take advantage of this unique moment in history, Ocean Doctor and the Center for International Policy have partnered to create the Cuba-U.S. Sustainability Partnership or CUSP, bringing together Americans and Cubans from the private sector, investors, nonprofit organizations and others to develop guiding principles and best practices for sustainable development in Cuba.

Photo credit: David E. Guggenheim

CUSP is focused not only on environmental sustainability, but also on protection of Cuba´s culture, architecture and communities. Together we are bringing the best minds together to develop innovative solutions focused on balancing economic development and environmental and cultural conservation, and most importantly, learn from the mistakes made elsewhere in the Caribbean. We are also working within Cuban communities to engage a new generation of Cuban entrepreneurs and train them in sustainable business practices.

Through the afternoon a steady stream of onlookers snaps selfies and revels in the new sight of the Cuban flag high above 16th Street Northwest. In their eyes one can see curiosity and a sense of possibility. Among the new opportunities now before us is the chance to work together, as neighbors who share common waters in a beautiful corner of the Caribbean, to help Cuba continue to be the "green jewel" of the Caribbean, a model of sustainability in our hemisphere.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

What Becomes of Cuba After the Embargo Is Lifted?

Preserving Cuba's Oceans

Gardens of the Queen: Caribbean's Last Pristine Coral Reefs

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility on Thursday accused NOAA of ignoring its own scientists' findings about the endangerment of the North Atlantic right whale. Lauren Packard / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Julia Conley

As the North Atlantic right whale was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of critically endangered species Thursday, environmental protection groups accusing the U.S. government of bowing to fishing and fossil fuel industry pressure to downplay the threat and failing to enact common-sense restrictions to protect the animals.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Beth Ann Mayer

Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.

Read More Show Less
Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. JustTulsa / CC BY 2.0

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

Read More Show Less
The Firefly Watch project is among the options for aspiring citizen scientists to join. Mike Lewinski / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tiffany Means

Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.

Read More Show Less
People sit at the bar of a restaurant in Austin, Texas, on June 26, 2020. Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars to be closed by noon on June 26 and for restaurants to be reduced to 50% occupancy. Coronavirus cases in Texas spiked after being one of the first states to begin reopening. SERGIO FLORES / AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.

Read More Show Less
A never-before-documented frog species has been discovered in the Peruvian highlands and named Phrynopus remotum. Germán Chávez

By Angela Nicoletti

The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Left: Lemurs in Madagascar on March 30, 2017. Mathias Appel / Flickr. Right: A North Atlantic right whale mother and calf. National Marine Fisheries Service

A new analysis by scientists at the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that lemurs and the North Atlantic right whale are on the brink of extinction.

Read More Show Less