“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced – Even a Proverb is no proverb to you till your Life has illustrated it.” – John Keats
Cuba is not a zoo. It is not a theme park. While Cubans are generous hosts, Cuba should not be considered a place where “the natives welcome Americans with open arms,” no matter what the Cedar Rapids Gazette says [h/t Lou Pérez].
Whether you come to the island for official, research, and commercial purposes, or on a people-to-people license, Cuba is a great place to go: to learn, exchange, make friends, make progress and make bigger plans – so long as you can set the tropes aside, and come with ears to hear.
This week, the news is filled with examples proving that point.
For three decades, Cuba was falsely listed as a State Sponsor of Terror. Among the shifting set of bogus reasons was the empty allegation that Cuba allowed representatives of the FARC, who had been engaged in a civil war against the government of Colombia, to reside in safety on the island. They were there, but not for reasons that could justify Cuba’s stigmatization.
Cuba was finally removed from the terror list a year ago, and it is being rightly celebrated now that Colombia and the FARC have concluded a peace accord, bringing to an end, as USA Today put it, “the longest-running armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere.”
Cuba was instrumental in giving confidence to the FARC to negotiate, as Cynthia Arnson of the Wilson Center said, because it was “the country with the greatest credibility among guerrilla movements in the region.”
Before visiting the island in 2015, Representative Bradley Byrne (AL-1), a national security conservative, criticized President Obama’s decision to remove Cuba from the terror list as “premature.” After visiting the island Rep. Byrne said, “Cuba is not involved with the terrorists we see today which is [sic] mainly among Islamic groups in the Middle East. So, I think the President made the right decision to remove them from the terrorist list.” Only by coming to Cuba with open eyes did the facts come into Mr. Byrne’s view.
This week, as Prensa Latina, reported, “Specialists and officials from Cuba and Germany are…discussing possible areas of cooperation on environmental issues related to the prevention and reduction of the effects of climate change.”
Here, again, there are a constellation of issues that touch on Cuba’s economy, energy security, and the environment we share in common, that can only be resolved through direct contact, negotiation, and collaboration.
Cuba is 95 percent dependent on fossil fuels. As Dr. C. Juan Triana Cordoví observed this week, in an article titled Oil and Our Daily Dependence, while Latin America generates 20 percent of its electricity using renewable sources and globally it is about 12 percent, Cuba is at the stage where renewables meet just 5% of its needs. This is at a moment when fuel consumption is high, Venezuela’s concessionary oil shipments are declining, and Cuba’s economic growth targets can’t be met without more energy.
In the long term, Dr. Triana Cordoví writes, Cuba needs to invest $3.6 billion over 15 years in order to get 24% of its electricity from renewable sources, as its economic plan prescribes. In the meanwhile, it will continue drilling in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico looking for the deposits of commercially-recoverable oil that the U.S. government and Cuba’s investor-partners believe are there.
This, in turn, makes even strong supporters of the new policy opening with Cuba very nervous. As the Tampa Bay Times editorialized earlier this month:
“It is critical that the United States continue to develop relationships with Cuba rather than turn back the clock as Sen. Marco Rubio and other Republican hard-liners prefer. If the United States cannot persuade Cuba to avoid or severely limit oil drilling in the gulf waters … it can at least share technology and expertise to prepare to jointly deal with any spills or rig explosions that would threaten Florida. That requires cooperation, not fighting the opening of a Cuban consulate in Florida or clinging to the outdated economic embargo.”
The idea of coming to Cuba for cooperation is at the heart of what makes the upcoming Cuba Energy and Infrastructure Summit so intriguing. The summit is “aimed at exploring…methods [of] linking foreign investors to the opportunities offered by the Cuban energy sector,” as Cuban state media described it.
Conversations about attracting investment to energy are happening all over the world, and for good reason. As the Nobel Prize Winning economist Michael Spence observed recently, public and private investments in infrastructure, such as those providing energy, are powerful engines of growth with more equitable gains than investments that typically reward those at the top. He says, “a green approach” to building clean energy, and using green finance to do it, will “not only stimulate additional growth; it would also be likely to increase the quality of growth, not to mention the lives of ordinary people.”
Economic powerhouses like China also believe that “the transition to low carbon growth has become an opportunity to spur economic growth.”
Cuba needs energy. To protect the U.S. coastline and our shared ecosystem, the U.S. needs to make our technology available to Cuba as it drills in the Gulf, and allow our companies to play a supporting role as it tries to bring oil onshore to power its economy going forward. We need to build on the cooperation that has been taking place between Cuba and U.S.-based institutions in areas like science and conservation for over a century so that the search for and use of oil, as well as the transition to renewables, takes place as swiftly and safely as possible.
The United Nations Environment Programme and other multilateral institutions should ensure that conferences like the one next week in Havana can move from talking about investment to securing the new and innovative sources of green finance that are being created globally. This could enable Cuba to meet its investment targets and allow Cubans and the nations around them to breathe a little easier when it comes to its energy consumption and environmental commitments.
Direct contact and talking together do make a world of difference. U.S. Senator and Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine professed his faith in this idea, when he came out in support of President Obama’s Cuba policy.
“There are still issues between the United States and Cuba, and we should talk and seek an agreement on human-rights, issues, for example,” he said. “But we need to have a relationship with Cuba, like with other nations. Diplomatic relations aren’t a sign that everything’s perfect, but it’s a channel for dialogue, and I’m really glad that the relationship between the United States and Cuba is in a new chapter.”
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