While I somewhat tongue-in-cheek renamed the conference “Cuba in the Crosshairs”, its actual name was Cuba at the Crossroads. The conference did yield some good information and it illuminated a contrast between my view and that of conference participant Lauren Nareau, who had a somewhat rosier view of Cuba’s potential to achieve sustainable development.
Nareau’s talk was titled “Climate Change and Cuba-US Relations: Out of the Cold War and into the Anthropocene.” She presented a Cuba poised to move towards sustainability, because it hasn’t modernized. And indeed, there is this potential.
My view is a little darker, I am afraid. The Cuba that I see is overwhelmed by its own problems, quite unable to even cope with its own garbage. The Cuba of tomorrow will, more than likely, be subsumed by capitalism. Whatever is good now will diminish, and whatever is bad now will get worse. This is the dark side of growth.
During the panel on evolving government, it became clear that Cuba is quite self-absorbed in its own difficulties. Sitting, as it does, with Puerto Rico, Haiti, and other Caribbean islands in crisis, it seems that this region is going to slide into a troubled period. Alas, the conference presenters cared little for open debate. Perhaps the time was not appropriate for this and there was, instead, a need for more formality.
The guest speaker, Miguel Coyula, is a well known Havana architect and retired professor, who gave a fairly classical understanding of the situation on the ground today. He shared his fear that the city will be overcome by the forces of capitalism and sadly lose its specificity of time and place.
It is up to the future generation to guard against this danger. Unfortunately for this conference, the future generation was predictably apathetic, seemed bored by the older people talking, and preferred instead to stand out side, presumably discussing which clubs to go to that evening.
They will therefore inherit the problems without engaging in them, and perhaps will have a bold new solution that we have not thought of. Let us hope so, for the gift of the city of Havana, and other cities in Cuba for that matter, are being given to them to do with what they will.