Thursday, October 23, 2014

What Will Become of Cuba After the Embargo is Lifted?

What Will Become of Cuba After the Embargo is Lifted?
by EcoWatch October 21, 20149:00 am
Written by David Guggenheim and reposted with permission from EcoWatch.

When a foreigner sets foot in Cuba, it immediately becomes clear that
this magical island is profoundly unique and has developed drastically
differently than any other country in Latin America and the Caribbean.
And for those who venture into its verdant mountains or below its
aquamarine waves, a striking revelation awaits: Just as the fifties-era
Chevys and horse-drawn buggies portray an island seemingly frozen in
time, so, too, do its exceptionally healthy and vibrant ecosystems
illustrate that Cuba may have picked the perfect time in history not to
follow the path of its neighbors. Indeed the past half century has seen
a tragic and unprecedented decline in Caribbean coastal and marine

Elkhorn coral, one of the Caribbean's most iconic and important species,
is estimated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA) to be 95 extinct from Caribbean waters today. But in Cuba's
Gardens of the Queen National Park—which includes Cuba's first "no-take"
marine reserve, the largest in the Caribbean—a barrier reef of healthy
and magnificent elkhorn stretches across more than thirty miles as part
of a barrier reef, brimming with snapper, grunt, eagle rays and sea
turtles, leaving one scratching their head and wondering how in a world
of corals dead and dying that such a sight is possible today.

The health of Cuba's environment is partially an accident of history and
the unique way Cuba has developed—or not developed as the case may be.
The U.S. economic embargo, which was imposed on Cuba 54 years ago today,
has no doubt kept millions of would-be tourists from Cuban shores and
the consequent development of the resorts and golf courses that might
have accommodated them. However, an important part of the story lies
with the Cubans themselves who have placed strong environmental laws in
place along with a comprehensive national system of protected areas.
Its national commitment to protect 25 percent of its marine waters in
protected areas is world-leading. In comparison, the global average is
only one percent.

At a time when we reflect on the embargo, it is critical to consider
what becomes of Cuba's environmental achievements in a post-embargo
world. Given the uncertainty in Cuba's future—including a burgeoning
privatization movement and the possibility of an end to the U.S.
economic embargo and massive influx of tourism and business—it is
important to anticipate dramatically increasing pressures on Cuba's
natural resources. A team of Cuban and American scientists believes that
placing an economic value on Cuba's natural resources will be essential
to ensure the long-term protection of Cuba's ecosystems and the
"future-proofing" of its environmental laws.

By the 1960s it became clear that traditional economics failed to take
into account important factors, such as social welfare and the
environment. Environmental economics seeks to measure the environmental
impacts or costs of economic decisions, helping to address the
shortfalls of policies based on traditional economics which often treat
environmental impacts as externalities without economic consequence.
Interestingly, Cuba's "Law of the Environment" requires that its
environmental ministry "… direct actions intended to promote the
economic evaluation of biological diversity." Cuba has a handful of
dedicated environmental economists who have had to adapt to an
ever-shifting economic landscape that is comprised of dizzying
combinations of socialist and capitalist elements. The work of one Cuban
environmental economist, Tamara Figueredo, helped support the Cuban
government's decision to establish Gardens of the Queen as a national
park in 2010. Our team is now working with Tamara to perform an economic
assessment focused on the possible expansion of the marine reserve
within Gardens of the Queen National Park.

We believe that helping Cuba apply the principles of environmental
economics will serve to "future-proof" the country's strong
environmental legacy against future economic pressures by providing it
with the tools and information necessary to demonstrate the economic
value of its resources in their natural state. Such studies, though
limited in Cuba, have already demonstrated that protecting large marine
areas can be more valuable to the economy than commercial fishing,
thanks to Cuba's growing ecotourism sector.

Just over the horizon lies the first day of Cuba's post-embargo
existence. It is our fervent hope that on that day and those that
follow, Cuba avoids the well-worn path that too many nations followed
over the past half century, at the expense of too many of their
environmental treasures. By considering the economic and cultural value
of some of the last remaining vibrant marine ecosystems in the
Caribbean, Cuba has a unique opportunity to continue on a truly
sustainable path. In a country where boundless Cuban ingenuity keeps
Chevys running for more than 60 years, we have faith that Cuba's people
will find a way to ensure that their pristine ocean ecosystems endure
for centuries to come.

Source: What Will Become of Cuba After the Embargo is Lifted? | Care2
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