Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies

Resistance & Resilience: Responses to the Climate Crisis from Cuba & Puerto Rico

May 21, 2021

Panelists: Made Vazquez and Alois Arencibia of Cuba Solar, Ruth Santiago lawyer activist and community organizer in Puerto Rico, Arturo Massol-Deya of Casa Pueblo and UPR Mayagüez, joined by Moderators Margarita Fernandez of Caribbean Agroecology Institute, and Agustin Carbo, EDF energy reform in Puerto Rico.


Session 4: Energy Transformations

The fourth installment of Resistance and Resilience: Responses to the Climate Crisis From Cuba and Puerto Rico, focused on the current state of energy and energy transition in Cuba & Puerto Rico. Moderated by Agustín F. Carbó, who has been working in PR with the Environmental Defense Foundation (EDF) on energy reform; the energy panel brought two representatives from Cuba Solar, Madelaine Vazquez, who has an expertise in energy education and public engagement and numerous publications in Cuba, and Alois Arencibia, who works extensively in the policy aspects of energy in Cuba. They were joined by two representatives from Puerto Rico, Ruth Santiago, a lawyer who works with community and environmental groups to change energy policy on the archipelago, and Arturo Massol-Deyá, a professor at UPR Mayagüez and head of the community-based environmental organization Casa Pueblo.  

The session began with an overview of the historical implementations of and struggles with energy systems across the two islands. Most notable was the initial (and in the case of Puerto Rico, continued) attempt of foreign interests to create and maintain a centralized energy system that may be maladroit for the geographical challenges of Caribbean archipelagos, vulnerabilities to severe weather events and policy restraints. This went hand in hand with both islands being out of the loop of opportunities that could exist for renewables elsewhere and in the US. While pending feasibility, attempts persist for Puerto Rico to have an energy system that mirrors mainland US. Cuba, on the other hand, had come to a very different realization. Following its “Special Period” of the early 1990s, with the twin impacts of the US embargo and economic collapse of key trading partners, the island nation was essentially cut off from external support and its primary reliance on fossil fuel proved to be increasingly problematic. This spurred a greater conversation about the need to instill energy resiliency on the island early on.    

The second portion of the conversation dealt with the ongoing efforts at the organizational, community and policy level, to interrogate the best possible paths forward for energy development in the unique island contexts faced by both archipelagos. Cuba has been exploring options with extensive educational efforts around the benefits of renewable energy, as well as in-depth survey efforts to determine its citizens’ energy consumption patterns in an attempt to map the needed trajectory for response. One of its current noted initiatives was the utilization of biogas from farming to distribute to surrounding households to fulfill their energy needs.  Puerto Rico, as seen through the work of Ruth Santiago, has been utilizing community engagement to spur interrogation of the often problematic PREPA energy organization. Representing a self-reliant alternative, we found the efforts Casa Pueblo towards modeling the benefits of decentralized solar initiatives. So far, they have been successful in powering the entire mountain town of Adjuntas with a localized network of solar panels. The looming question of the future of a resilient and sustainable energy system is very much playing out right now, with the question of how the resources that will be applied for restoration efforts after Maria hanging heavily over the moment.