Like a long-expired, forgotten bag of frozen peas you find in the dark recesses of your basement freezer, the United States is finally thawing out one of the remaining vestiges of its Cold War policy: its icy diplomatic relationship with Cuba.
While the U.S.’s embargo against Cuba has not yet been lifted, it has been loosened, with a limited amount of goods — rum and cigars from Cuba; computers and telecom tech from the U.S. — being traded between the two. Crucially, earlier this year, the U.S. removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and the two countries formally resumed diplomatic relations, marked by the opening of embassies in Havana and Washington, DC.
As significant as these steps may be, there are still some very touchy issues between the countries, not least the U.S.’s naval base at Guantanamo Bay and its controversial failure to close the military prison/detention camp there.
The announcement that the U.S. and Cuba would begin cooperating on environmental issues has been understandably less controversial.
A toothy start
Last month, Cuba and a U.S.-based environmental group began cooperating in order to preserve Cuban shark populations. Shark numbers in the Gulf of Mexico, including Cuban waters, have declined in recent years due to overfishing and a large market for shark fins. The U.S. Environmental Defense Fund’s Cuba program was considered an important first step, not only in terms of the regional marine environment, but also in establishing healthy relations between the two countries.
Cuba is considered the crown jewel of the Caribbean, principally because of its incredible coral reef ecosystems, its mangroves, its seagrasses.
—Daniel Whittle, Environmental Defense Fund (via BBC)
A historic agreement
On Wednesday, relations were strengthened significantly when Cuban and American scientific institutions signed a Memorandum of Understanding for preserving Marine Protected Areas. Among the signatories were Cuba’s vice-minister of science and the director of the U.S. National Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
It is hoped that as Cuba’s economy opens up, this cooperation will help protect its valuable and well-preserved, yet vulnerable ecological areas. The agreement also encompasses ecological areas within U.S. waters.
The five zones covered by the memorandum:
Guanahacabibes National Park (Cuba)
Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (U.S.)
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuaries (U.S.)
Dry Tortugas National Park (Cuba)
Biscayne National Park (Cuba)
Cuba: The world’s most sustainable country?
Perhaps one of the side effects of the embargo has been that despite a high ranking in human development, according to the UN — especially in the areas of education and health care — Cuba has never become heavily industrialized. This has been great news for its ecology.
According to the World Wildlife Fund’s 2006 sustainability report, Cuba was the world’s only country to achieve sustainable development. Furthermore, without access to “green tech”, Cuba was still found to be the only sustainable economy with “very high” human development by the Global Footprint Network.
Perhaps besides cigars and rum, Cuba could export a bit of that sustainability.