U.S. Experts Outline Steps to Boost Cooperation on Cuba

April 28, 2009
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(Washington, DC – April 28, 2009) Experts outlined a new path for the United States and Cuba to work together on environmental issues to protect diverse marine resources in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean at a meeting today at the Brookings Institution. The meeting comes less than two weeks after President Obama eased travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans and announced plans to revisit U.S. policy on Cuba. EDF has asked that environmental protection be among the top priorities in future Cuban policy for the administration.

"The U.S. and Cuba share many ecological resources, but the countries have different ways of managing them," said Daniel Whittle, a senior attorney at Environmental Defense Fund. "More information exchange among academics, scientists and conservation groups will help both countries do a better job of managing coastal and marine resources. The sooner we work together, the sooner we'll see benefits for the people, the environment and the economy in both countries."

Whittle added that expanded scientific and management cooperation can help address the growing threats to coral reefs, ocean fish populations, habitats for migratory birds, marine mammals and turtles, and biodiversity. Fishing, development in coastal areas, and offshore oil and gas exploitation have a direct impact on the United States.

Under current U.S. law, travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens is extremely limited and Cuban scientists are rarely granted visas to conduct research or attend professional meetings in the United States.

"An important first step toward managing our shared marine resources would be to greatly increase the flow of information and expertise between the two countries," said Vicki Huddleston, a visiting foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution and former chief of the United States Interests Section in Cuba from 1999 to 2002.

Just 90 miles from the tip of Florida, Cuba shares a large amount of ocean territory with the United States. Because of the prevailing currents and Cuba's proximity, preserving its marine resources is critically important to the economies of coastal communities in both countries.

"Cuba is well positioned to take a positive environmental course, led by smart growth, protection of biodiversity, and sustainable economic development," said Scott Edwards, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Program at EDF. "Greater cooperation on the environment between the U.S. and Cuba would help both countries develop new capacity within their environmental agencies, scientific institutions and non-governmental organizations."

President Obama has the legal authority to institute far-reaching cooperation with Cuba on joint marine environmental projects.

"There is essentially no limit to the conservation activities in Cuba that President Obama can authorize, whether they take the form of government-to-government initiatives or the authorization of American NGO projects in that country," said Robert Muse, an attorney based in Washington, D.C. and an expert on U.S. laws relating to Cuba. "It is hard to think of a more constructive use of the President's foreign affairs prerogative than the preservation of the marine environment the U.S. shares with Cuba."