Last month I participated in a series of talks in Havana on the prospects for improving U.S.-Cuba relations during the Trump era. At the event, hosted annually by Cuba’s Center for International Policy Research, American and Cuban speakers agreed that recent actions taken by the Trump administration would only harm the Cuban people and undermine American interests.
Fortunately, most also believe that these setbacks will be temporary and that the strategic drivers in favor of normalization remain strong. For example, popular support for improved relations with Cuba remains high, even among Cuban-Americans in South Florida. With time and perseverance, relations can and will get better.
The new restrictions on trade and travel, along with the severe rhetoric coming out of the White House, are no doubt creating confusion and prompting many Americans to postpone or cancel plans to travel to or invest in Cuba. But for every person who hesitates, there are others who are pushing ahead with new initiatives, deals, investments, and exchanges in Cuba, still allowed by U.S. law and policy, and welcomed by Cuban partners.
When asked about the implications recent U.S. policy changes might have on Environmental Defense Fund’s work with Cuban scientists, fishermen and conservationists, my colleague Valerie Miller said it best “We can’t stop and we won’t stop.”
This sentiment is shared by many on both sides of the Straits of Florida. Several American groups continue to collaborate with Cuban institutions to research and protect the Island’s remarkable biodiversity. In November, scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute teamed up with Cuban researchers to study coral reefs in the renowned Gardens of the Queen National Park off Cuba’s south coast. Scientific data collected from this trip will help managers develop more effective strategies for protecting imperiled coral reef ecosystems in the region and worldwide.
In November, dozens of farmers, academics, and others from the U.S. traveled to rural communities on the island to compare notes and share best practices with Cuban farmers about sustainable agriculture. Cuba has become a leader in agroecology and Americans have much to learn from their example – and can help them succeed in the future.
There are a number of other active collaborations on clean energy, climate change, public health, livable cities, and other issues, led by Cubans and Americans who are undaunted by current politics.
So far, President Trump has left much of President Obama’s policies on Cuba intact, including the 22 agreements signed between the two governments between November 2015 and January 2017. Several of these address environmental and scientific matters, including how the two countries will cooperate to prevent another catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Though U.S. environmental officials are temporarily unable to travel to Cuba because of U.S. State Department restrictions, non-governmental groups are helping keep these agreements alive by hosting dialogues and exchanges in the U.S. and third countries.
This is not a time to put normalization on hold. We can’t stop and we won’t stop.
Daniel Whittle is the Senior Attorney and the Senior Director of the Cuba Program at the Environmental Defense Fund