Cuba Delegation Blog 2: Notes from Our Informal Meetings

Posted on October 10, 2016 by David B. Farer

Jim Bruen, Eileen Millett, Mary Ellen Ternes and I remain energized from the dynamic set of informal meetings in which we participated while in Cuba.  I thought you might find useful the following notes and points from four of those meetings, as we explore the potential for ACOEL pro bono projects there.  We certainly have the capacity and will to help in Cuba, and I am optimistic that the College and its Fellows will find a path to do so.

One overall note on the tone and content of the meetings – and of our casual conversations with Cubans we met during our time there – is that most people had both positive and critical things to say about the government, the system and quality of life.  Most, though, expressed optimism for the future of their country.

You may find some of the notes below inconsistent or contradictory.  I think that’s reflective of the differing viewpoints and experiences to which we were exposed.

Sept 7, 2016:  Meeting with Political Scientist /Publisher/Editor

•    Cuba in transition; you are here at a special time

•    Changes had already occurred before December 2014; more changes since then, and more to come

•    Electoral system:  Citizens vote for representatives to the  National  Assembly/ Assembly chooses President and Vice President

•    Raul Castro has committed to step down in 2018

•    Current VP, Miguel Diaz-Canel, is a 55 year old engineer; 30 years younger than Raul Castro

•    Most in assembly are engineers, economists and teachers who serve in government at no additional salary while also pursuing their professional careers

•    Power will be passing to a much younger generation of legislators and leaders; and that generation consists of highly educated professionals

•    In order to travel outside of the country, Cubans need only their passports and any necessary visas from the countries to be visited.

•    Government publications remain narrow in point of view; but that is not the case with private publications, where dissenting opinions are published.

•    The outside perception of Cuba may be that Cubans have the least available access to world views through the internet.  However, even though lack of internet may be the case at home, computers and the internet are commonly available at work and school and most people now also have internet-connected smartphones.

•    Human rights issues remain, including prohibition on founding political parties

•    Approximately 170,000 Americans visited Cuba last year; that is 705 more than the year before.

  • This year: expecting the total to be more than 500,000

•    Key issues for updating the Cuban socialist model:

  • Have to confront increased social inequality & poverty
  • About 20% suffering from poverty; 4 times more than 20 years ago
  • Yet others are achieving higher overall income with salary plus additional sources of income.  Income differential and poverty must be dealt with.
  • Severe housing shortage is a critical problem.
  • Housing in bad condition/ and housing shortage
  • Super centralization as a defensive posture
  • Overextended bureaucracy
  • Water supply/ energy supply problems
  • 20% of Cubans are over 60; by 2025, that will be up to 25% 
    • Life expectancy is about 80 years
    • Population growth rate = -1.5%
    • Birth rate has been low since early 70s
  • Surge of migration.  65% more than the year before.  Up by 45,000 this year.
  • Media:  all media is currently government media
  • Inconsistent economic system 
  • High dependency on imports
  • Low domestic food production and industrial output

•    Last of the key issues/problems:  U.S. policy toward Cuba

  • Negative impact of embargo
  • Fortress mentality
  • Travel restrictions for U.S. citizens

•    Cuban culture is closer to American culture than that of any other country in the region

Sept 7, 2016:  Meeting at the Fundacion Antonio Nuñez Jimenez de la Naturaleza y el Hombre (“Cuba Nature Foundation”) with an Engineer of the Foundation, a Faculty Member of the Instituto Geografia Tropical, and a Representative of the Ministry of Science

•    The Foundation is the only scientific foundation/ NGO in Cuba (there are other NGOs that are cultural foundations).

•    Among other things, it manages protected areas in Cuba.

•    Foundation has collaborated with foundations/NGOs  in U.S., and there have been visits back and forth

•    Biggest problem is that the embargo gets in the way of funding from U.S. institutions

•    Over 50 international cooperative projects over the past 21 years

•    Goal of conservation of Cuban biodiversity and geographical diversity             

•    Problems:  invasive species/ pollution/ climate change/mining   

•    Existing environmental legal framework:

  • National environmental policies, strategies and legislation
  • Article 27 of the Constitution on protecting environment
  • Law number 81:  Approved 1997

•    Cuba has entered three treaties/conventions:  on bio diversity, climate change, and drought.

•    Most important current issues are seen as:

  • Soil degradation
  • Loss of biodiversity
  • Damage to forest cover and lack of water
  • Climate change vulnerability

•    Where does Cuba go from here?  Varying views expressed:

  • Process of last 60 years for environment has been good/big question is how to preserve going forward as things change     
  • Having to redefine behavior and economy
  • Problem of dealing with laws on the books that reflect a former reality
  • We are a country rich in spirit and ideas, but we are poor in our economy
  • How to organize the economy?
  • Challenge:  don't take the same directions that others took 100 years ago
  • Everything to be done from an environmental perspective depends on how you organize your financial structure and financing
  • Existing environmental act should be sufficient for big picture, but we need the legislation to implement it.
  • Right now it is reactive, not preventive.

•    General discussion among them:

  • Need to access financing and technology to protect the environment and human settlements 
  • Existing law based on national/fed strategy and structure.  No local structure. 
  • No legal framework to determine the information you need and which set of regulations applies.   There can be conflicting regulations from one ministry to another.  This needs to be combined and systemized.
  • No unity on legislation, on what it means; you get lost looking for information.
  • Same on pollution controls:  different regulations from different ministries.  Cleanup standards as example:  One ministry comes up with standards/ another comes up with methodology and other aspects, but there is no master plan to compel a combination of the two.
  • Implementing ministry does not itself have the power to enforce.  Other institutions may have power to enforce.  So there is an issue on means of enforcement.
  • Current law already has a way to incentivize local application of laws or enforcement  of them, but in practice it is not happening, and dissemination of information on the regulations and methods of enforcement is not occurring

Sept 7, 2016:  Meeting with Former Official at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA)

•    The official worked at CITMA until she retired in 2014.  Her work had different aspects, including ecology, assisting companies on decision making at high levels, and environmental communication.

•    Overview of environmental law in Cuba:

  • Until 1990, done empirically
  • But after 1990, determined to be in interest of the  state and the agency to control environmental issues
  • Before 1990, several agencies were dealing with protection of the environment, but then new system was established in 1990 - directed from CITMA (or “Ministry of Science”)
  • Continues under Ministry of Science
  • Within the Ministry, there is an Agency on the Environment
  • There are several other institutions within the environmental agency.
  • Local administrations propose areas to protect: geographic areas/not topics
  • The Ministry analyzes what has to be done about local efforts to develop in these geographic areas.
  • Ministry works together with local government
  • When a company wants to work in one of these areas, it has to pass consideration by  a commission that considers what company wants to do
  • Ministry of Science issues permits to companies to work in these areas.
  • Ministry's model for development requires compliance with permits:  risk, air quality etc. within one permit roof
  • Ministry follows UNESCO standards for protection of biosphere
  • Other ministries also have an interest:  geographical and others including tourism
  • Other involved institutions:  Ministries of Mining, Energy, Tourism, for example, depending on project.

Sept 9, 2016:  Roundtable Meeting with Law Professor and with Engineers Connected with the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment

•    They find a basic harmony in the existing environmental structure; but they are not saying the harmony is perfect; can always be better

•    But there are many disparate environmental regulations that have been implemented over time based on urgencies and commitments; often, environmental regulation in Cuba is based on international commitments

•    Since 1992, Cuba has been on path to amend laws to meet international commitments

  • As a result of those commitments, have to revamp institutions:
  • Such as sustainable development
  • But need a clearer legal framework to make it work better

•    Biggest problem here has been adaptation, as opposed to remediation

•    But now:  a delicate balance must be reached between development and environmental protection, and need a strong legal framework for this

•    Per the Paris Accord, we have to deal with adaptation as well as mitigation

•    Have to regulate technology to regulate environment

•    Should look to integrate all of the different laws

  • Right now, each agency issues its own regulations
  • Would be good to integrate and facilitate within one unit       

•    Specific focus could be to introduce a legal framework for  the verification of  remediation, mitigation and adaptation.

•    Currently, each ministry issues resolutions:  their own general determinations to be followed

•    Vertical governmental structure:

  • Municipal/provincial/ national
  • Local decisions cannot contradict national or provincial decisions
  • They don't have equivalent of state legislation

•    CITMA decisions have to be observed all over the country

•    Each province also has experts in each area, representing the Ministry in the region

•    Same at municipal level

•    There are civil and criminal penalties in the current environmental laws

•    The environmental laws are meant to be preventative but there have been sanctions

•    Ministry of Justice tends to have all fines and sanctions in one single act.   And they do find efficiencies here, having fines and sanctions centralized within one act.

•    There are administrative sanctions; plus potential taking over of / confiscation of materials and closure of establishments

•    Almost everything needs an environmental license of some degree:  Whether biotech/ chemical / nuclear/ industrial activities in general; license seen as critical

•    Mariel Port district being dealt with very firmly and strictly

•    There are municipal/ provincial/national courts, including specialty courts like the environmental court

Perspectives of Twenty-four Pioneers on the Past and Future of Environmental Law

Posted on June 16, 2016 by Leslie Carothers

On Earth Day 2016, the Environmental Law Institute presented to the public a collection of 24 videotaped interviews conducted over the past five years to record the career experiences of many pioneers of environmental law.  The men and women profiled were active in the environmental movement in the sixties and early seventies.  They served as Democratic and Republican legislators, organizers and advocates for public interest organizations, administrators of national and state environmental agencies, academics producing new ideas and educating new lawyers, and legal counsel to business and government agencies contending with a host of new environmental laws.   ELI’s interviewers wanted to learn why these pioneers chose to enter the field of environmental law, what they see as its major successes and shortcomings, and how they view the health of environmental activism and public commitment today.

Among other things, the oral histories provide interesting insight into the roots of activism for early environmental lawyers and what different life experiences and motivations may influence today’s new environmental lawyers.  Practically every pioneer spoke of enjoyment of nature and the out of doors experienced through growing up on a farm or in rural areas or visiting campsites and parks on family vacations and scouting trips.  They witnessed both the beauty and the degradation of natural and scenic resources and were inspired to seek ways to protect them.  The other factor mentioned most often was the example and energy of other social movements in the sixties and seventies, first and foremost the civil rights struggle.  Personal experience and the climate of social activism combined to motivate many environmental pioneers to become leaders in the new environmental movement. 

Most of the pioneers express optimism that new generations of young women and men will take up activism and environmental law to attack today’s agenda of complex and serious problems.   But many worry that the communications technology building young people’s impressive expertise may also be keeping them glued to their screens and disconnected from the natural world.  Robert Stanton, former Director of the National Park Service and the first African American to hold the position, comments in his interview that we should not be unduly critical of young people who spend so much time inside.  He observes that when he was growing up, there were only a few black and white TV channels to compete with going outdoors!   Still, a lifelong activist like Gloria Steinem believes that excessive dependence on electronic connections can weaken the interpersonal qualities of empathy that depend on face-to-face communication and can dilute the emotional drivers for action in concert with others.  Activism means more than making a statement and pressing “send.”    The impact of technology is just one of many issues discussed in an engaging set of interviews available to all.  Visit ELI’s website at http://www.eli.org/celebrating-pioneers-in-environmental-law for a unique source of perspective on the evolution of environmental law and the prospects for further progress on pressing problems in today’s very different social and political setting.