Under the Warsaw Pact, Cuba sent rum and sugar to fellow communist countries in exchange for food, oil, machinery and petrochemicals (like pesticides and fertilizers). But when the Iron Curtain fell, assistance was cut off and Cuba became unable to afford the fertilizers, pesticides and modern industrialization machinery the 20th century had to offer, so agro-industry, biocides and other natural farming practices had to be implemented.
Cuba’s ability for commercial, financial and economic success was further crippled when the United States placed a trade embargo on them in 1962. Because of these events and its extremely restrictive fascist regime, Cuba had to become self-sufficient and has remained largely untouched by industry and modern development, resulting in the largest tracts of untouched rainforest, unspoiled reefs and intact wetlands in the Caribbean islands.
As the U.S. begins to renew their relations with Cuba, we must preserve the ecological bastion that Cuba has become and help Cuba resist the financial temptation to develop the island if (or when) Cuba resumes trade with the U.S. One way to ensure the sanctity of the island referred to by Smithsonian.com as the “biological superpower of the Caribbean” is to turn the 45 square miles of Cuban land and water now used by the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay into an ecological center.
Turning the base into something positive is not only reparative for the environment, but it is reparative for diplomacy and each country’s political image. Cuba and America both have committed flagrant human right violations and turning the naval base into a scientific research/conservation station would require political cooperation between the feuding nations and could restore some of the moral integrity each have previously lost.
The Cuban gulag has been a notorious site for human rights violations and unspeakable suffering that Cubans have endured under Castro’s fascistic regime, and Guantanamo Bay has been the subject of intense criticism when torture tactics committed by the U.S. like cramped confinement, dietary manipulation, the facial hold/slap, nudity, stress positions, sleep deprivation, standing, waterboarding and water dousing have been admitted to by the U.S.
Preserving Cuba as an ecological gem and turning Guantanamo into a nature preserve/ecological research station will not only improve relations between the two countries, but it will also improve wildlife diversity and ecology of the Caribbean. Equally important to the ecological benefits are the symbolic benefits. Transforming a place representational of torture and scandal into something that will, via research and preservation, help better the lives of all people is the redemption that Cuba and America need.