Cuba’s Environmental Problems

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March 11th, 2011

When socialism was introduced to Cuba, the idea was that it would be more eco-friendly than capitalism. Instead, the Revolution to quickly controlled two major factors that eventually led to environmental problems in developing countries: population growth and poverty. Contributing to the issue of poverty in Cuba are the financial, economic and commercial blockades imposed by the United States. In order to preserve the environment in Cuba and combat these issues, serious action was necessary. “The amount of environmental damage falls into two categories: a) small-scale environmental destruction committed by individuals through illegal hunting, deforestation, dumping of waste into aquatic ecosystems, etc.; or b) large-scale environmental destruction resulting from major projects and industries approved by governmental agencies and owned by international companies, like hotel chains and mining companies after the Special Period, and agriculture before the Special Period”.[1] The opportunity for Cuba to protect its environment came after the fall of the Soviet Union and the strengthening of the US blockade in 1990. This period, referred to as the Special Period (1990-2000), witnessed a decrease in many environmentally damaging activities both by choice and by necessity, but also resulted in many decisions to resuscitate the Cuban economy. After the Earth Summit in 1992, following Fidel Castro’s speech regarding the condition of the environment on a global scale, Cuba designed and implemented a variety of programs, administrative structures, and public awareness activities to promote sound environmental management and sustainable development. What is most important is the damage that ahs already been done and the efforts to reverse these conditions. Currently, there are many efforts to bring the Cuban environment to a sustainable level.

When the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe ended trade and financial relationships with Cuba, the island was forced to make severe adjustments. The emergency measures implemented by the Cuban government aimed at preventing the total economic collapse of the regime, have been referred to by the leadership as the “special period in peacetime.” This Special Period brought about “the creation of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA) in 1994 [which] provided an important impetus for environmental policy and management on a national scale.”[2] In 1995 the National Environmental Strategy (EAN) was designed, but was not approved by the government until 1997. Since then the EAN “is the guiding document of Cuban environmental policy, establishing the principles upon which the national environmental efforts are based.”[3] The strategy identifies the main environmental issues in Cuba and proposes ideas and various methods to prevent, solve or minimize these problems. The strategy goals are to improve environmental protection and the use of natural resources in an attempt to meet sustainable social and economic development objectives. Evaluations of Cuba's environmental record in comparison with Eastern European records shows "that environmental deterioration in Cuba over more than three decades of socialist rule responded to specific conditions not usually found in developing countries...but were present in the former Soviet Union and the former Eastern European socialist countries."[4] As a result of this, Kirwin Shaffer states that: Consequently, central planning ignored local environmental concerns. Also, the absence of private ownership and the lack of citizen input in decision making meant that all decisions affecting the local level were made with regard to how they fit with the overall national plan. Results and impacts at the local level were secondary. Which leads to these conclusions: Cuban agricultural and industrial development following the Soviet models have had similar consequences for water, soil and air...
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