Academic journal article Journal of International and Global Studies

Eco-Tourism and Sustainable Community Development in Cuba: Bringing Community Back into Development

Academic journal article Journal of International and Global Studies

Eco-Tourism and Sustainable Community Development in Cuba: Bringing Community Back into Development

Article excerpt

Given the important role international tourism plays in Cuba's national budget, this paper will examine the nature and role of tourism and its relationship to community development and environmental sustainability. This paper will address the issues surrounding changes taking place in Cuba that offer the potential to benefit local communities and enhance environmental awareness and protection yet remain within the discourse of the Revolution regarding social justice, efficiency, and solidarity.

Following the Cuban revolution in 1959, Cuban relations with the United States deteriorated as U.S. property and businesses were nationalized. By the end of 1960, trade relations between the U.S. and Cuba collapsed, leading Cuba to establish economic relations with the Soviet Union. Out of necessity, given U.S. antagonism and trade blockade, Cuba became economically dependent on trade with the Soviet bloc (Chomsky, 2010). With the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1989-1990, Cuba's special trade relationship with the USSR also collapsed, leading to a significant economic depression in Cuba, known as the Special Period (Periodo especial). Food shortages and rationing along with rolling electric blackouts were pervasive throughout the 1990s (personal interviews with J. Garcia and M. Frank in Havana, 2006-2013). The severity of the U.S. blockade and the lack of hard currency reserves in Cuba meant Cuba had to reinsert itself into the international economy by means of its internal resources. At the 1992 Earth Summit meeting in Rio de Janeiro, then-President Fidel Castro called for global environmental awareness warning, "An important biological species--humankind--is at risk of disappearing due to the rapid and progressive elimination of its natural habitat. We are becoming aware of this problem when it is almost too late to prevent it" (Marce, 2016).

Following Castro's call for environmental awareness, Cuba published a document, Programa Nacional sober Media Ambiente y Desarrollo (PNMAD, National Program on Environment and Development) to assess environmental conditions and resources (Diaz-Briquets & Perez-Lopez 2000, p. 8). (1) Gold asserts that "sustainability, in the context of Fidel Castro's discourse, should be understood not only as an economic relationship to nature, and a political discourse against capitalism, but as a nationalist banner for an ever-transformative Revolution" (2014, p. 412). Due to a lack of agro-chemicals, tractors, and fuel, a shift from industrial agriculture to organic farming and urban gardens operationalized Castro's environmental message. The transformation was not exclusively born of necessity but also reflected early Revolutionary ideas about the relationship between nature and humanity (Bell, 2011; Whittle & Santos, 2006). Following Castro's message, a policy linking the environment and international tourism developed as a means to secure foreign currency (Feinberg & Newfarmer, 2016).

Today's global environmental crises requires development that is sustainable but also meets the basic needs of local communities for healthy ecosystems. An important ingredient for community development, according to Perez Sainz and Andrade-Eekhoff, is the degree of what they refer to as 'social integration' (2003). Social integration includes low poverty rates and access to education and social services provided by government. Thus, the government plays a crucial role in local development, but it is the community or localized social movements that should determine how and the degree to which the community is inserted into the national and global market. Given its relatively unspoiled environment, high educational achievement, environmental awareness, and limited resources, Cuba is in a unique position to expand a model beyond resort tourism, allowing for community-based, sustainable development that focuses on ecological and cultural tourism. Such a transformation would support emergent discourses on environmental sustainability, self-reliance, and nation building (Gold, 2014, p. …

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