Obama’s climate change plan and the sound of two, wet hands clapping

Goodbye, Miami?

Last week, Rolling Stone published a stunning report about the bleak future facing Miami because of climate change:

“[T]he unavoidable truth is that… rising waters will destroy Miami slowly, by seeping into wiring, roads, building foundations and drinking-water supplies – and quickly, by increasing the destructive power of hurricanes. ‘Miami, as we know it today, is doomed,’ says Harold Wanless, the chairman of the department of geological sciences at the University of Miami. ‘It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when.’”

This dire warning wasn’t news to the scientists, federal agencies, local governments and academic institutions in South Florida, which have been alert to this crisis for some time.

Earlier this year, U.S. government scientists singled out Florida, Louisiana, and North Carolina, each with at least a thousand square kilometers of dry land less than 1 meter above high tide, as uniquely vulnerable to rising seas. In Dade County, land valued at $70 billion is at risk due to accelerated sea-level rise.  The Everglades and Florida Keys, top tourist attractions, are threatened, and one study projects that Florida will lose $9 billion in tourism revenue by 2025 and $40 billion by 2050.

While the Miami Herald reported last year that “South Florida took the threat seriously before most everybody else,” the magnitudes of the climate threat and the costs associated with mitigation, adaptation, and resiliency make the risks “seem only bigger, scarier and no longer quite so far down the road.”

Not so far away across the Florida Straits, Cubans are subject to the same weather and similar anxieties.  According to the Associated Press, Cuban scientists are now projecting that 122 Cuban towns could be seriously damaged or ‘wiped off the map’ by rising tides which, in turn, would taint supplies of fresh water, brutalize croplands, drive families from their homes, and endanger “a $2.5 billion-a-year tourism industry that is its No. 1 source of foreign income.”

The U.S. and Cuba live in the same neighborhood and share the same climate and ecosystems.  However distant Havana and Miami are politically, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why it is in both our nations’ interests to increase cooperation on scientific activities and take steps to ultimately solve the problem of climate change.

Here, there are reasons for hope.

First, Cuba can be a real partner. As scholars from UC Berkeley and the University of Matanzas reported last year, while “Cuba represents 2 percent of the Latin American population…it has 11 percent of the scientists in the region.”  Compared to many developed and developing nations, Cuba has robust resources for research, and a real track record of focusing on core dimensions of the climate change problem.

Second, while Cuba’s environmental record  is hardly spotless, it has long taken decisions to protect its natural resources, to save food and water supplies or revenue from tourism.  Scientific American offers this summary of Cuba’s work to create a sustainable shark fishery.  Here, the Environmental Defense Fund discusses a joint project with Cuba’s government that led to the creation of the largest marine reserve in the Caribbean.

Third, the U.S. government has acted quietly but affirmatively to encourage scientific and environmental exchanges with Cuba for a number of years.  In one example, the U.S., Cuba, Mexico, and the Bahamas held talks in March on oil spill prevention and response and have all but finalized a “protocol” for cooperation.

Fourth, in the climate change action plan he unveiled this week, President Obama signaled a commitment to working with willing global partners in a way that bypasses Congress:

“I’m directing my administration to launch negotiations toward global free trade in environmental goods and services, including clean energy technology, to help more countries skip past the dirty phase of development and join a global low-carbon economy.”

This declaration could form the basis for executive actions to remove barriers and resource constraints that stop scientists on both sides of the Florida Straits from doing more.

As Melissa Gaskill writing in Scientific American explains:

University of Havana researchers can’t just hop over to Cabañas whenever they need to—few have cars and fuel can be hard to come by. Also, scientists in the U.S. and Cuba find it challenging to communicate, as e-mail can be slow and sporadic. An American scientist may suggest a Web site resource to a colleague in Cuba only to discover Cubans can’t access it. Travel restrictions imposed by both governments create delays, a forced flexibility familiar to Cubans. The U.S. government restricts U.S. scientists from training their Cuban counterparts but allows mutually beneficial exchanges of information, turning the normal process of collaboration into something more complex.

Experts like Dan Whittle of the Environmental Defense Fund know how problems like this are solved. “Environmental protection doesn’t happen by accident. It requires good science, careful planning, and strong political will. In the case the U.S. and Cuba, it starts with exchange, dialogue, and cooperation.”

Earlier this year, a dozen environmental, scientific, and research organizations called on President Obama to ease restrictions on licenses required for travel to Cuba for environmental purposes, licenses for research equipment, and licenses that would enable donors to fund environmental projects and programs in Cuba that would otherwise limp along or not get done.

Having spoken so forcefully on climate change, the president can answer their call for action, and the people of Miami will applaud him for doing so.

After all, he’d just be carrying their water.

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Panamá’s Foreign Minister calls for a renewed relationship between Cuba and the OAS

Fernando Núñez Fábrega, Panamá’s Foreign Minister, says now is the moment for open relations between Cuba and the United States, so that Cuba can participate in the Inter-American system, reports EFE.

Referring to Panamá’s position that Cuba should be invited to the next Summit of the Americas, to take place in that country in 2015, he stated: “We hope that an invitation is given,” expressing the need for the OAS to “say that the moment has come for an opening toward Cuba.”

In April 2012, when the Summit of the Americas last met in Cartagena, Colombia, no final declaration was issued due to Cuba’s exclusion from the summit, whose attendees have historically been members of the Organization of American States.  A year ago, Cuba expressed its willingness to attend in Cartagena, but had “no desire” to rejoin the OAS, as the BBC reported. The United States and Cuba were alone in opposing Cuba’s participation in Colombia, and Panama faces a boycott of Summit members should it be excluded again in 2015.

Article accuses U.S. Interests Section officials of taking bribes for visas

An article published in the blog La Pupila Insomne and reposted in Granma alleges that officials at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana accepted bribes in exchange for granting visas to Cuban citizens to visit and immigrate to the U.S. In response, the Interests Section issued a press release to “clarify” its visa-granting process to “counter some misunderstandings” about the process, and affirmed that “USINT takes allegations of corruption very seriously.”

Seven years ago, the U.S. Interests Section wrote a cable to Washington about corruption in Cuba called “A State on the Take.”  It was published in Wikileaks.

IN CUBA

DSL Internet connections in Cuban homes next year

Jorge Legra, director of strategic programs at ETECSA, Cuba’s government-owned telecommunications service provider, put forth a plan that will further expand Internet connections for the people of Cuba, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune. Legra explained, “We’re thinking of reaching homes with ADSL technology … We could be talking about the last quarter of 2014.”

ADSL is a common type of DSL connection. Now that a fiber optic cable has expanded Internet bandwidth, ETECSA has been able to provide faster Internet connections to more citizens. Few Cubans have the ability to access the Internet at home. Legra acknowledged the difficulties of taking everyone online immediately, but said that Cuba will continue to work on its Internet infrastructure as well as to lower the high prices currently associated with access.

Amendments made to Cuba’s penal code

President Raúl Castro has signed a decree updating Cuba’s penal code, reports Café Fuerte. One goal of the decree is to reduce the country’s prison population by offering leniency and alternative measures for perpetrators who do not “represent a menace to society.” Changes include special considerations for mentally ill lawbreakers, shifting more cases to municipal level courts, and shortening pre-trial holding periods, among others. A translated description of the amendments is available from Havana Times. The decree will be effective October 1st, 2013.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Cuban doctors heading to Saudi Arabia, Cuba graduates newest class of doctors

Doctors from Cuba will soon depart for Saudi Arabia, reports the AFP. Saudi Arabia’s government and Cuba’s ambassador Enrique Enríquez reached an agreement on a new cohort of Cuban doctors to support the health care system in Saudi Arabia. This announcement is a part of President Raúl Castro’s plan to increase the export of paid Cuban medical professionals. Currently, such programs account for $6 billion in income per year, making them the largest cash flow for Cuba’s economy – followed by tourism, remittances, and nickel, reports AFP. Currently Cuba has medical programs in 66 countries, of which 40 receive the services free and 26 pay.

Cuba’s international medical cooperation programs continue because its government creates access to medical education, creating a surplus of medical workers locally. This week, Granma reported that over 5,683 Cubans will graduate from Cuban universities as medical doctors this month, bringing the total number of Cuban doctors trained since 1961 to 124,700. An additional 4,843 international students from 70 countries will receive their medical degrees as well, with the largest cohorts from Bolivia, Ecuador, Mexico, Argentina, and El Salvador.

EU pressures U.S. to comply with WTO ruling over ‘Havana Club’ trademark

Trade diplomats from the EU are urging the U.S. to comply with the 2002 WTO ruling prohibiting U.S. rum producer Bacardi from distributing rum under the label “Havana Club,” as Cuba owns the trademark, reports AFP. Cuba’s government collaborates with French liquor distributor Pernod Ricard to produce the Havana Club brand of rum available on the island and internationally, while Bacardi produces a version of the rum made in Puerto Rico.

A 1998 U.S. law barring renewal of Cuban trademarks appropriated by the government is often cited as the justification for Bacardi’s use of the name, even though the original owners of the label, the Arechabala family, let the trademark expire in 1973 and Cuba’s government registered it in 1976. The American University Washington College of Law’s Intellectual Property Brief provides an overview of the case and offers analysis of the latest developments.

Around the Region

Venezuela’s Chargé D’Affaires and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State have a quiet meeting

Although Calixto Ortega, Venezuela’s Charge D’Affaires in Washington, and Roberta Jacobson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, had a quiet meeting in Washington this week, neither country is commenting, reports El Universal. The first face-to-face encounter, between Jacobson and Venezuela’s new top diplomat in the U.S. since his appointment in April, follows the pledge made earlier this month by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Elías Jaua to resume dialogue and initiate respectful relations between the U.S. and Venezuela.

Taped telephone conversation reveals details of meeting between Venezuela’s opposition and the U.S. government

In a recording released this week by Venezuela’s government, opposition politician María Corina Machado says Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, head of Venezuela’s opposition coalition, MUD, told U.S. officials that “the only way out of this is to provoke or to accentuate a crisis, a coup d’etat,” reports Reuters. When Aveledo visited Washington last week, El Nuevo Herald reports, he met with Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson and Jake Sullivan, Vice President Biden’s security advisor, to discuss Venezuela’s April 14 presidential election and the subsequent controversy. Machado has confirmed her voice is on the recording, reports El Universal.

David Smilde of WOLA’s Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog provides a translation of sections of the recording, and writes that Machado’s revelation about what Aveledo told U.S.officials “[suggests] that the opposition is doing just what the government has been accusing it of: trying to destabilize the country to the point that there is a break in democratic institutions.”

Recommended Reading

“Temporary” refugees and immigration policy, Phil Peters, The Cuban Triangle

Phil Peters examines the omission of Cuba from the U.S. Senate’s debate and newly passed bill on immigration and reminds readers that only around ten percent of Cuban immigrants in the U.S. have refugee or asylee status.

Champions and businesspeople, Charly Morales Valido, OnCuba Magazine

Morales Valido features three of Cuba’s sports legends who run their own successful business. Mireya Luis and Raúl Diago, volleyball Olympian and World Champion, respectively and Javier Sotomayor, world record high-jumper, talk about their experiences as restaurateurs in Havana. The Spanish-language version of the article includes photos.

Cuban Drug Policy and Bilateral Counternarcotics Efforts, Ashley Badesch, Just the Facts

Badesch explains Cuba’s efforts in confronting the issue of drugs usage, sales, and trafficking within its borders as well as agreements with other nations. She highlights the positive developments resulting from Cuba’s efforts at the same time as demonstrating the difficulties the country has experienced when trying to collaborate with the United States.

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