The New York Times has published a piece expressing reservations over the Obama administration’s diplomatic outreach to Cuba, which included the announcement yesterday of plans to reopen the American embassy there after 54 years. The Times’s concern is not the island nation’s history of human rights abuses or its ongoing sponsorship of terrorism. Nope, what the paper of record is bemoaning is how American companies looking to do business in Cuba could threaten the country’s “pristine” environment, which is the product of decades of communist dictatorship.
— NYT Science (@NYTScience) July 1, 2015
“The country is in desperate need of the economic benefits that a lifting of the embargo would almost certainly bring,” the Times article reads, adding:
But the [embargo], combined with Cuba’s brand of controlled socialism, has also been protective, limiting development and tourism that in other countries … have eroded beaches, destroyed forests, polluted rivers, damaged coral reefs and wreaked other forms of environmental havoc.
Cuba came under communist rule in 1959 after Fidel Castro successfully overthrew the Batista government. For decades, Castro ruled as a dictator and ally of the Soviet Union, imposing a harsh communist regime on the Cuban people that stymied economic growth and the standard of living, leaving much of Cuba’s environment untouched.
For whatever reason, the Times is worried that Cuba’s pristine “coral reefs, mangrove forests, national parks and organic farms” will be affected if President Barack Obama is successful in his political push to normalize relations with the island nation and lift the U.S. embargo.
“Already, American corporations are poised to rush into a country only 90 miles from Florida’s shores,” the Times article warned, but not without noting the despair faced by many Cubans who suffer from a lack of prosperity:
Despite modest economic advances in the last 15 years, much in Cuba can seem frozen in time, crumbling Havana buildings and old Chevys and Ladas serving as markers of how far the country has been left behind. But that has also meant that much of Cuba’s more than 3,500 miles of coastline has remained undeveloped.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba was forced to become self-sufficient. People began small-scale, organic farming after Soviet technology and food supplies dried up, and the country became more reliant on tourism from westerners who wanted to see Cuba’s scenic beaches and coral reefs.
While Cuba’s environment may still be “pristine” as the Times describes it (ignoring the deplorable environmental record of Cuba’s chief subsidizer, the Soviet Union), Cubans still frequently experience food shortages, lack of access to electricity, and poor health care.
Cuba’s centralized economic system means frequent shortages of food and other basic products. The Economist noted in 2010 that Cuba’s farms barely produced 20% of the country’s food needs, and even with recent agricultural reforms under Raul Castro there are still shortages.
Reuters reported last year that the “communist-run country still encounters chronic shortages” and that “Cubans have come to consider shortages normal, providing both a source of frustration and humor.” The report noted further that “shoppers routinely swap tips on where to find the basic and the obscure. Others trudge from store to store until they find what they need.”
While bad for Cubans, the country’s laggard economy was great for environmental conservation, according to residents worried about American access to Cuba’s coastlines.
“This tsunami is coming,” Liliana Núñez Velis, president of the the semi-independent think tank Antonio Nuñez Jiménez Foundation for Man and Nature, told the Times. “[A]n internal tsunami is asking for consumption, consumption, consumption and profit, benefit and profit.”
This report, by Michael Bastasch, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.