Posted on March 13, 2023 by David B. Farer (Co-chair, ACOEL Inter’l Pro Bono Committee; Chair, Cuba Working Group)
On February 9 & 10, 2023, seven ACOEL Fellows participated in a long-anticipated symposium, in Havana, Cuba, jointly presented by ACOEL and the Foundation Antonio Nunez Jimenez of Nature and Humanity (FANJ), the Cuban NGO with which ACOEL entered an MOU in February 2019. The topic and title was: USA-Cuba Key Environmental Issues: Lessons Learned – Lessons Shared.
Joining me in the ACOEL delegation were Elizabeth Andrews, Bessie Daschbach, Lee DeHihns, Lewis Jones, Rob Kirsch and Marla Wieder.
The Cuban participants in the symposium panels were drawn from the Environmental Law Faculty of the University of Havana, the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture, and FANJ. Also attending were representatives of MINREX, which is the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Organization of Collective Law Firms (the organization of Cuban lawyers), as well as additional representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture and FANJ.
FANJ purposefully kept attendance at the event limited to no more than twenty-five people to foster open exchange. We had a translator with us throughout the two days of the symposium, translating all presentations, Spanish to English and visa versa, and all dialogue among us.
This was the fourth delegation of ACOEL Fellows to Cuba since efforts commenced in 2016, under the auspices of the College’s International Pro Bono Committee and its Cuba Working Group, to seek opportunities for College Fellows to engage in pro bono projects in aid of the Cuban people.
A joint symposium had been planned for presentation by ACOEL and FANJ in Havana in March 2020, but just days before the planned event, it was postponed in the midst of the quickly accelerating Covid shutdowns. We continued to interact with our colleagues at FANJ through the ensuing period, including participation in a joint webinar with Columbia University and the Environmental Defense Fund. As Covid restrictions lifted, ACOEL and FANJ reset our plans for the joint symposium, resulting in the February 2023 event, the culmination of the seven years we have been engaged in this project, and the major kickoff to targeting specific opportunities to work together pursuant to the MOU.
Day One of the symposium commenced with a Cuban panel on the current structure of environmental laws and regulations, including Constitutional Amendments in 2019 that establishes every individual the right to a healthy environment, further changes in environmental law in 2020, and a brief history of Cuban environmental laws starting in 1981.
That was followed by an ACOEL panel (Lee DeHihns, Rob Kirsch and me) on addressing environmental issues as a central element in negotiations between Cuban and foreign companies contemplating joint ventures in Cuba.
Third panel of the day was also an ACOEL panel (Elizabeth Andrews, Bessie Daschbach and Lee DeHihns) on various methods and approaches on community enforcement of environmental laws, and how this is addressed in the U.S.
Day Two opened with a Cuban panel on agricultural law and its relationship to environmental law, including aspects particular to the U.S.-Cuba food market.
That was followed by another Cuban panel, this on a recap on how environmental liability has developed in Cuba.
The final panel was an ACOEL presentation (Elizabeth Andrews, Lewis Jones and Marla Wieder) focusing on urban trees, with examples of different approaches on a municipal and regional basis.
In closing discussions, we engaged on determining next steps, including a follow-up discussion to start to focus on particular priorities so that we can move toward creating specific opportunities for working together. We will be coordinating on topics for that discussion, which will be by way of video-conference.
The panelists from both countries came well-prepared, and all acquitted themselves with grace, erudition and comradery. The ACOEL contingent has returned energized and excited to proceed further.
As we had hoped, we also had productive interactions with our Cuban counterparts outside of the sessions themselves, including in social settings. More to come on that in a separate blog. The ACOEL panelists will be working with the International Pro Bono Committee and Communications Committee to arrange to post all of the materials from the symposium (PowerPoints and the like from both the ACOEL and Cuban panelists) on the ACOEL website. A more extensive report on the symposium and the work of the Cuba Working Group will also be posted.