Why Cuba’s Sustainability is Not an Accident


Written by Rachel Cernansky

Cuba gets a lot of attention for sustainable practices it has adopted over the last few decades, but they’re often framed as accidental choices—that embargo restrictions have made it difficult to get things like pesticides and traditional building materials and so has ended up with sustainable architecture and agriculture because it had no other choice.

Although that’s true to some degree, it’s an unfair generalization in many ways.

Cuba is home to the Caribbean’s largest and best-preserved wetland area, the Cienaga de Zapata Biosphere Reserve, and some statistics show that Cuba’s protected lands overall have grown by 43 percent since 1986.

A bicycle culture has taken hold, and whether or not that started accidentally, Havana officials have worked to make the streets safer for cyclists by adding bike lanes and offering a bus to take cyclists to and from the center of downtown so that they don’t have to ride along cars and trucks on busy roads.

And while deforestation is said to be Cuba’s most pressing environmental problem, there have been some impressive reforestation efforts, including one in a low-income neighborhood in Havana that “used to be a garbage dump” and is now an extensive woodland area.

Writing the Environment Into the Laws
These are individual examples of specific efforts—but the government deserves credit for integrating sustainability, very intentionally, into policy initiatives.

GreenLeft summarizes the policies and initiatives that unfolded after 1992, when Fidel Castro delivered a strongly pro-environment speech to the Earth Summit in Rio:

Between 1992 and 1998, the National Assembly of People’s Power amended the Cuban constitution to entrench the concept of sustainable development; the National Environment and Development Program was developed (outlining the path Cuba would take to fulfil its obligations under the Rio summit’s Agenda 21); CITMA was established; an overarching environment law passed; and a national environment strategy was launched.

Other major initiatives included a national strategy for environmental education; a national program of environment and development; projects for food production via sustainable methods and biotechnological and sustainable animal food, as well as a national scientific technical program for mountain zones and a national energy sources development program. Each of these program are composed of smaller projects and initiatives, involving local communities, People’s Power bodies, universities, schools and mass organisations.

Authors Daniel Whittle and Orlando Rey Santos explain in a research paper on Cuba’s environment that CITMA, the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment, became the first cabinet-level agency devoted to the environment when it was established in 1994—and that it almost immediately began assessing Cuba’s air and water quality, land degradation, biodiversity resources, and human settlements, among others.

The paper continues that the National Assembly formally approved in 1997 the Law of the Environment (Law 81), which would affirm CITMA’s role as the lead environmental agency:

Among the six stated objectives in Law 81, there are two that expressly provide for a new and meaningful role for the general public in environmental decision making. The law tracks Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration by establishing the public’s legal right to access to information, access to participation, and access to justice. If faithfully implemented, these provisions promise an unprecedented role for nongovernmental organizations, trade associations, and the general public in the realm of policymaking and decision making on particular projects and activities of government agencies, state-owned entities, and foreign investors.

Cuba is also home to a 2010 Goldman Prize winner, a biodiversity researcher whose work with farmers has helped to increase crop diversity and ultimately encourage Cuba’s agricultural shift away from a dependency on chemicals and toward sustainability.

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.


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Photo from cheeses via flickr


Jospeh R.
Jospeh R.2 years ago

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Stanley Rampersad
Stanley Balgobin5 years ago

Cuba is a model for the rest of the world!!! Corrupt USA vulture Capitalism failed the people miserably. Vampire Corporate interests have taken over the politicians and government on all levels. The Vampire CEO's exploit the working poor to the maximum the law permits. Still the brainwashed people send their children, husbands to the military to kill innocent civilians, women and children for oil interests and Private plunder of Haliburton and Blackwater. The criminals remain unpunished and Wikileaks who exposed the truth and Julian Assange are sought for punishment. Still the people do nothing. The Corporate press hide the truth, and the show goes on ad naseum.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

Thanks for the article, a really interesting

Mark Donners
Mark Donner5 years ago

Since places like capitalist style communisms of US and Canada (whose model is the capitalist communist systen of China) have been very busy destroying the future of the planet, they should be considered the world's terrorist states and have embargos and boycotts enforced on them.

Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M5 years ago

Thank you for this great post. It goes to show that the less you have, the more inventive you have to be. Way to go Cuba!!

Stefanie D.
Stefanie D.5 years ago

cont'd from below:

If you can get a chance to watch this documentary, it will incense you no end, and hope such approach to economy driven by wasteful approach to production of 'anything', that the SOONER we move on to a more sensible 'greener' more durable 'lasting' manufacturing economy, the better:

"The Light Bulb Conspiracy"
(Wasteful Global Planned Obsolescence)

Stefanie D.
Stefanie D.5 years ago

Truth be told, many of our non-communist and non-socialist systems that were 'capitalistic' and 'opportunistic' are badly tainted by massively wasteful 'planned obsolescence' policies long entrenched into our economics back in the early 20th Century. This only exacerbated excessive production of things we really didn't need to 'consume'... buy then dispose, and replace with yet another of dubious gains of improvements. Too many products, and that includes so called 'durable goods' were designed to FAIL with set lifetimes, so further production could continue on the basis of assured obsolescence.
Many communist countries out of necessity of limited resources were faced with producing products to last as long as possible, and still be produced economically so it could be affordable by the 'masses'; thus, they were not tainted by the more 'abundant and prosperous' non-communistic and opportunistic consumption oriented Capitalistic West, the world many of us here grew up in, a 'planned obsolescent' oriented world. This approach meant everything else is designed least optimally, never the 'best', nor 'lasting', always a compromise in one way or another even if 'newer'.
If you can get a chance to watch this documentary, it will incense you no end, and hope such approach to economy driven by wasteful approach to production of 'anything', that the SOONER we move on to a more sensible 'greener' more durable 'lasting' manufacturing economy, the better:
"The Light Bulb Conspiracy

Charles Yheaulon
Charles Yheaulon5 years ago

Maybe we should put in sanctions on the U.S.

Ricardo S.
Ricardo S5 years ago

Thanks a lot! Great Article! :-D

Susan Oliver
Susan Cytko5 years ago

When you have little you use the basics you do have to be bountiful, without toxins, without pollution, and you succeed.