Posted on September 28, 2016 by James Bruen
On September 10, 2016, a delegation from the College returned from four days of informal meetings in Havana. These meetings laid the groundwork for further discussions with Cuban environmental organizations and environmental governmental agencies about the potential for pro bono projects in Cuba. This self-funded trip was the result of almost two years of research, U.S. governmental interactions, and planning. The delegation – including David Farer, Mary Ellen Ternes, Eileen Millett and me – found the island enchanting, its people charming, and its environment in need of help. With this blog, we begin a series of reports conveying our optimism and enthusiasm about a path towards College fellows being able to engage in potential environmental projects in Cuba.
On December 17, 2014, President Obama announced that he was rejecting the country’s Cold War-era policy towards Cuba in order to chart a new course with that country. In early January 2015, College President Pam Giblin and her fellow officers approved the initiation of the Education and Pro Bono Committee’s informal investigation and research into whether it was legal and practical to consider approaching Cuban environmental organizations and governmental agencies (potential “Sponsors”) with offers of pro bono environmental assistance. Within a year, the initial solo effort morphed into the Cuba Working Group. Throughout the ensuing year, Allan Gates, David Farer, Dennis Krumholz, Bob Whetzel, Linda Bullen, Seth Jaffe, Bob Percival, Mary Ellen Ternes, Eileen Millett, yours truly, and many others walked the College step-by-step through contacting various federal agencies for permission to approach organizations and agencies in Cuba. After filing a complex application, we successfully obtained an Office of Foreign Assets Control File Number. Throughout this trek, U.S. government regulations and practices continued to be a moving target, but they became more relaxed by the month.
After patient persistence, the College delegation was able to embark on the September 2016 trip planned by Eileen Millett and her nominated travel company, Cuban Cultural Travel. Eileen and CCT did a marvelous job. The delegation took a 45-minute air shuttle and arrived in Havana on Tuesday, September 6. We were briefed by the legal affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy. We proceeded with informal meetings with the editor of TEMA, a Cuban cultural affairs journal; with a Cuban foreign participation/investment expert; with a Cuban health care expert; with a Cuban environmental NGO (Foundacion Antonio Nunez Jiminez de la Naturaleza y Hombre); and with individuals directly and indirectly connected to the Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnologia y Medio Ambiente (CITMA), the Cuban ministry focused on the environment. We might have listened to some Cuban music, seen some Cuban dancing and sipped some Cuban rum along the way, but – believe me – we were “all business.” The meetings with our Cuban contacts generally opened with cautious curiosity, but they concluded with expressions that ranged from mild interest to enthusiastic support. The delegation is cautiously optimistic that these initial discussions and further exchanges of information will lead to a Memorandum of Understanding and subsequent projects throughout the island.
Within the week, the College will send formal expressions of interest to 7 individuals who are either connected to the environmental NGO or CITMA. We will include a draft MOU which could be approved by both the Cuban Sponsor and the College’s Executive Committee. Attached are links to exemplars of the letter and MOU.
If an MOU is mutually executed, we will promptly ask the Cuban Sponsor to provide the College with a list of potential environmental projects in Cuba. We will circulate the list to all Fellows in the College. We will ask that interested Fellows submit their current curricula vitae to me as Chair of the Cuba Working Group of the Education and Pro Bono Committee. I will send them on to the Cuban Sponsor. The Cuban Sponsor will select the Fellow or Fellows it wishes to work with. The Cuba Working Group will place the Sponsor in touch with the selected Fellow(s). The ensuing engagement will be between the individual selected Fellow(s) and the Sponsor. The College will not be a party because it does not practice law.
The MOU will provide that generally all work done by College Fellows will be done free of charge. But, if the Sponsor requests or approves travel to Cuba, the Sponsor will pay coach round trip air fare and all reasonable out-of-pocket travel expenses.
You will see in subsequent blog posts from David, Mary Ellen, and Eileen, that our delegates had the time of their lives in Havana. The establishment and execution of international pro bono work is one of the great benefits of Fellowship in the American College of Environmental Lawyers. Whether you are interested in China, Haiti, Eastern and Southern Africa or Cuba, please let us know and send us your expressions of interest when we post our Sponsors’ lists of projects. I can assure you that Eileen, Mary Ellen, David, and I can hardly wait for our next assignment.