by Sebastian Africano, International Director
In two weeks, I’ll board a plane in Miami that will take me to an island on which not many living U.S. citizens have set foot. The United States’ relationship with Cuba has been strained (at best) since Fidel Castro wrested power from military dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. This was the same year that Bob Dylan graduated from High School, Alaska and Hawaii were granted statehood by President Eisenhower, and the first color photograph of earth was transmitted from space.
Now, 56 years and 10 U.S. presidents later, we still hold an ideological, geopolitical grudge with a neighbor that’s closer to our mainland than either of the two states added to our country in 1959. On December 17, 2014, President Obama took momentous steps to thaw U.S. relations with Cuba, by easing some restrictions on travel and trade with the island nation. This is a significant step in starting a new conversation between our two populations to examine how each of us lives, what we value individually and as societies, and where there is common ground on which we could begin building a common future.
The threat climate change poses to agricultural communities is one such platform that doesn’t discriminate by political ideology, language, or history, and one conversation where all perspectives need to be heard. Trees, Water & People intends to take part in this important conversation with Cuba, and will take our first step by attending the Tenth Convention on Sustainable Development and Environment in Havana from July 2 – 6 2015. There we will meet with colleagues from Cuba’s Institute for Agroforestry Research (INAF) and the Cuban Association of Forestry and Agriculture Technicians (ACTAF) to discuss current challenges in the rural areas of the country, and where TWP’s experience in Agroforestry and rural development could potentially contribute to a solution.
Rural communities in Cuba live in similar conditions as their Caribbean and Central American neighbors, with salty and silty soils, a volatile tropical climate, and difficulty accessing water. As such, there exist great opportunities for exchange and learning in agriculture, soil remediation, and forestry. Cubans have much to teach, having lived through “The Special Period” that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. During that time, Cuban people survived through solidarity and ingenuity, having to devise ways to produce the majority of their own food without the benefit of petro-chemical and technological inputs. The lessons learned during these challenging times, and while living under 50 years of a brutal U.S. economic embargo, make Cuba a staunch ally in facing the adversity that will come with climate change.
Behind the curtain of U.S./Cuba relations there is a Latin American nation of over 11 million people whose reality is only known to us by the tidbits of popular culture that sneak into the mainstream. These people, while having lived a different history than the majority of their neighbors, still face the same challenges and have the same aspirations of most communities in Latin America – keeping their families fed and healthy, leading productive and purposeful lives, and creating opportunities for their children. Just as we support other Latin American communities struggling with issues relating to rural vulnerability, we seek to work with the Cuban people to create a collaborative future around resilience, reconciliation, and climate change readiness in the tropics.
Check in with TWP regularly for updates on our first exploratory trip to Cuba, and to support building climate resilience in the Americas! Also, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (970)484-3678 ext.16 with any questions.