Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies

Session II: Resistance & Resilience: Responses to the Climate Crisis in Cuba and Puerto Rico

November 9, 2020

The latest installment of the new conference series, Resistance & Resilience: Responses to the Climate Crisis in Cuba and Puerto Rico, was held online on October 29, 2020. This second panel delved into the burgeoning field of Environmental History within the Caribbean Basin and the Greater Antilles. Academics from Cuba and Puerto Rico spoke of their recent work and research topics to build a narrative arc for the audience that attempted to approximate the many factors that have shaped and transformed the environment of their islands.

The event brought together Reinaldo Funes, Tania López Marrero, Claudia Martínez Herrera, Jorge Nieves Rivera, and Juan Giusti Cordero and was moderated by Margarita Fernandez, director of the Caribbean Agroecology Institute. As relayed by the speakers’ expertise, Environmental History in the Greater Antilles is a field that draws upon diverse areas of study and methodologies to create more holistic appraisals of a given epoch. Participants underlined their drawing of knowledge from sociology, history, economics, geography and ecology to achieve a deeper understanding of the many colliding forces that shaped the islands’ development and their divergent historical trajectories. The panelists covered a wide range of periods and topics, as the impact of early Spanish colonialism, the slavery plantation system and the environment, the relations with the United States industrial metabolism as sugar f coffee suppliers, the development policies after the Second World War, or the so called “Special period” crisis of the 1990s in Cuba. Addressing the environmental debates and challenges of climate crisis with a historical perspective is not only a curiosity, but an invaluable tool to understand the challenges the region confronts. 

As noted by the panelists; is the significance of local academics, like themselves, in studying their own environmental histories, and in doing so opening up spaces for decolonial and participatory analyses that challenge the traditional western academic views. Through this lens, many dynamics of colonialism and extractive economies and their relationship to nature and societies are evaluated with critical analyses that can inform social movements and progressive policies of today.  Identifying and sharing these perspectives are important for the  weaving of a greater and more detailed tapestry of the region’s Environmental History, what Cuban environmentalist Antonio Nunez Jimenez once posited as the role that a “culture of nature” should play as a cornerstone of society.    

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Written by Devin Osborne, Yale School of the Environment, MEM 21