As the US starts to thaw its relationship with Cuba, important economy, touristic and cultural prospects start to emerge; but as these prospects emerge, so to do environmental concerns. Cuban scientists are worried that as American tourists and money start flowing into their country, the environment will be the one to suffer.
"We don’t have to be imprisoned by the past," said President Barack Obama this morning announced the U.S. would reopen an embassy in Cuba this summer. He continued with a rather cliche and hollow statement: "There are Americans who want to travel to Cuba," Obama said from the Rose Garden. "There are American business that want to invest in Cuba. … Above all Americans want to get to know their neighbors to the south."
But there is some truth to what he's saying - Americans have been trying to travel (more or less legally) to Cuba ever since diplomatic relationships between the two countries broke in 1962. But Cuba, a country that is in desperate need of the economic benefits that a lifting of the embargo would almost certainly bring, is still an untouched land, even an environmental paradise in some areas.
Like most of his countrymen, Jorge Angulo hopes that the United States will lift the decades-old economic embargo against Cuba. But Angulo, a senior marine scientist at the University of Havana, is also concerned.
“Like anywhere else, money talks,” Dr. Angulo said. “That might be dangerous, because if we go too much on that side, we lose what we have today.”
Despite little economic advancements in the past 20 years, Cuba seems frozen in time when it comes to its natural wonders. Cuba has taken steps to preserve its natural resources and promote sustainable development. Environmental problems remain, including overfishing and the erosion and deforestation, but the ministry overseeing environmental issues has a very strong voice in the government, and they're making sure that Cuba's pristine areas remain just like that: pristine. Scientists are highly revered and respected, but will this idea stand as American dollars start coming in? That's highly debatable. Cuba’s commitment to environmental protection has never been tested, and there are major reasons for concern.
Still, officials seems prepared - or at least they claim they are.
“We are not afraid of you coming to Cuba,” José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, chief of mission for the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, said at a panel on Cuba and the environment last month. “The conservation of the environment is in our Constitution.”
Time will tell.