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  • Observations of Environmental Change in Cuba
  • Lisa Davis, David M. Brommer, and Enrique Rodriquez-Loeches Diez-Argüelles


Analysis of global processes of change at the regional scale is vitally important to not only better predict and prepare for change occurring at the regional scale but also to better understand the drivers of change, as they tend to be spatially and temporally complex. The importance of regional analyses to questions of globalization, development, and environmental change in the Caribbean and the Southeastern United States has been recognized (Torres 2005), as have the importance of connecting regional scale changes occurring in the Southeastern United States to global and transnational processes (Lecce and Alderman 2004). Comparative geography, as a means of analysis, is a useful way to explore the economic, social, cultural, and environmental trajectories of two locations that share certain historical and physical commonalities. Through comparative analysis diverging and converging paths of socio-cultural and environmental change can be identified and new insight gained concerning the impacts of ongoing change, as well as future directions of change. Moseley (2005) exemplified the comparative geographic technique in his comparison of Sub-Saharan Africa and the Southeastern United States. In the following, we discuss observations of ongoing environmental change occurring in the Caribbean nation of Cuba made during a trip to Cuba in May 2008 and highlight some of the environmental changes that are taking place both in Cuba and the Southeastern United States.

Why Cuba? At first glance there may appear to be few similarities between the Southeastern United States and a socialist island nation located in the Caribbean, but the two locations have many similarities, including being locations of civil wars in the past, having agricultural histories that include plantation agriculture of sugar cane and tobacco, having temperate climates, and their geographic proximity to each other. Gamble (2004) also noted connections between Caribbean nations and the Southeastern United States extending back to the 1700s through a variety of socio-economic, political, and cultural processes, as well as the environment and physical geography, in essence viewing the Caribbean and the Southeastern United States as a region not defined by [End Page 84] political boundaries but by similar physical and socio-economic traits.

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Figure 1.

Political mural, with Che Guevara at the forefront, that reads, "of these men a town begins."

It is not our intention to present an exhaustive discussion of environmental change in Cuba or to discuss all of the social, cultural, and natural processes responsible. But instead to discuss major environmental changes taking place in Cuba and to identify the environmental changes that are similar to those experienced in the Southeastern U.S., shedding light on processes of global environmental change relevant to the region as a whole. Ongoing environmental change in Cuba largely stems from the liberalization of specific sectors of the Cuban economy and regional climate variability. Our observations, therefore, focus on these vectors of change.

Socio-Economic Change and Resulting Urban and Physical Landscape Change

Cuba's cultural and physical landscapes have abundant visual reminders of Cuba's socialist government (Figure 1), history with the former Soviet Union and the United States (Figure 2), and complex relationship with the United States (Figure 3). Equally as tangibly represented in the cultural and physical landscape are examples of social, economic, and cultural change affecting the physical environment. As might be expected, some of the socio-cultural drivers of environmental change in Cuba are similar to those occurring in many Caribbean nations, but others are relatively unique to Cuba because they are related to liberalization of the tourism and agricultural economies. As is common in many locations in the Caribbean, growth in the tourism industry has had direct impacts on the environment. Most evident of these is the conversion of natural beaches and coastlines into large resorts for packaged tourism.

There are roughly 300 Cuban beaches (Sainsbury 2006) used by tourists, mainly from Europe, including Spain, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany but also [End Page 85]

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Figure 2.

Combining Soviet and U.S. cultural representations in Cuba, a Soviet Lada drives on the Malécon...


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pp. 84-93
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