Cuba Delegation 2: ACOEL’s Possible Contribution to the Cuban Environmental Community and Other Observations from XI International Convention on Environment & Development (Part 2 of a Two-Part Series)

Posted on September 13, 2017 by Mary Ellen Ternes

As noted in yesterday’s post, David Farer and I recently went to Cuba as delegates to the XI International Convention on Environment & Development, specifically, the Congress of Policy, Law and Environmental Justice.  At the conference, on behalf of ACOEL, we presented our paper, “Lessons Learned:  Effective Environmental Regulation of Critical Infrastructure Development & Operation.” Let me share some of the “flavor” of our experience.  It is first worth noting that little English was spoken at this quite international conference, but participants got by with assistance by Google Translate.  Also worth noting is that many of the conference participants are familiar to us all.  For example, those with exhibition booths at the conference included the Environmental Defense Fund, which has made considerable efforts to protect Cuban fisheries; and the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, which is working closely with the Cuban Environmental Agency on research in the Gulf of Mexico.  Also exhibiting were Cuban administrative and educational entities, such as the Nuclear Agency and the Institutes of Geology and Paleontology, Physics and Astronomy, Ecology, Science, Sea and Climate, and Meteorology, as well as several entities focusing on sustainability, local food, and climate change adaptation and environmental protection.

Fellow speakers included environmental and energy professionals from the United States, Canada, and Mexico, as well as Columbia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Peru, Chile and Spain.  Topics ranged broadly from cultural heritage to mining law; the impact of climate change on urban agriculture; perspectives of ecofeminists; sustainability in urban areas; limits of rights, policy and environmental management; resolving water disputes; methods to establish legally protected areas, particularly coastlines; and approaches to protecting drinking water and defining solid waste for community waste management. Of particular interest to U.S. environmental practitioners were Cuban presentations on improving the regulation of environmentally responsible businesses, the test for environmental damage and its main problems, and approaches to a law of liability to resolve civil damages.  Toward the end of the Congress, attendees were invited to the Cuban Bar Association to participate in an analysis and discussion regarding foreign investment and the environment. 

The Congress ended with a presentation of the 2017 book: “Environmental Act, Twenty Years Later,” edited by Teresa D. Cruz and Orlando Rey.  This 120 page book reviews, in Spanish of course, the history of Cuba’s first framework environmental law of 1997: Law No. 81, the Environmental Law.  The story behind Law No. 81 –including information on Cuba’s rich biological diversity, the country’s depth in science and education, and the fact that the law was supported by Fidel Castro – are the subject of Oliver Houck’s excellent article, Environmental Law in Cuba, J. Land Use & Envtl. L. (Fall 2000).  Those appreciating Professor Houck’s description of the hard road Cuba traveled to recover its original astonishing beauty after tripping along a precipice of potential environmental ruin would have appreciated the XI International Convention and the passionate arguments by presenters.  They should also appreciate the new book commemorating Cuba’s environmental passage.

We are looking forward to ACOEL’s next steps toward pro bono projects with Cuba.

Hurricane Irma Note:  As of the date of this posting, the Cuban people  – like so many others in the Caribbean and our own country -- are facing a long and difficult road to recovery from the hurricane’s devastation.    We hope that the College’s efforts can aid in this process.

Cuba Delegation Part 4: Las Terrazas

Posted on October 12, 2016 by Eileen Millett

I stood staring at the ruins of slave quarters on what had once been a 19th century coffee plantation situated in the northwestern part of Cuba ― Las Terrazas, in the Sierra de Rosario mountains.  I was struck by the unabashed preservation of the old with the new.  Slave quarters juxtaposed with Algarrabo cententarios trees growing up through the balconies and ceilings of La Moka, an ecological hotel.  La Moka is a modern twist on old colonial architecture, with a multi-tiered atrium lobby built around trees that disappear magically skyward.  We had journeyed 45 minutes from La Habana above the shores of San Juan Lake and beneath the mountains to another place and time. 

Las Terrazas is a biosphere with a protected ecosystem, a buffer zone that supports ecological practices, and an area that fosters ecologically sustainable development.  It combines a small community of about 1,200 people, many of them artists, with ecotourism.  The hotel and the buildings seem to melt into the mountains by design.   In those mountains, even with my Spanish proficiency, I struggled to understand Ariel Gato, in his artist studio, where hanging in the sun was his very own recycled computer paper for drawing, prints, and other art work.  Later, I learned his accent was shared by many farmers, or campesinos, influenced by the Haitian settlers who brought coffee, and spoke the French language.   Gato is renowned for his art work, but he is clearly more than simply an artist.  

In 1968, then-President Fidel Castro founded a green revolution, making Las Terrazas a green project.  Architect Osmany Cienfuegos mobilized work brigades that created terraces of timber, fruits, ornamentals and vegetables.  Starting in 1971, the brigades carved roads through the mountains to build homes, schools, playgrounds and clinics all surrounding San Juan Lake.  Owing to the success of the reforestation project, the biosphere came under UNESCO protection in 1984.

We walked through Las Terrazas and were treated to zip line tours, steel cables whisking people above Las Terrazas; enjoyed coffee that was muy sabroso; and learned something about the art of coffee-making along the way.  In the old days, slaves had to turn the coffee beans― red in their original form― every 30 minutes.  Still today, this dry method is used where water is scarce.   Coffee beans are spread out on huge surfaces to dry in the sun.  Beans are raked and turned throughout the day and then covered at night or during rain, in order to prevent the beans from spoiling.   From this vantage point on the ranch, we could see the port of Mariel, where the Brazilians and Cubans are building a major container terminal that will have the capacity to handle vessels deeper than Habana Bay, and will have facilities for offshore oil exploration.  We are marching toward a new day for Cuba.

Small expressions of sustainable initiatives seem to be on the rise in Cuba.  The day before visiting Las Terrazas, we visited a local permaculture project near Cojimar, a seaside village, best known for its setting in Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea.  Mosquitoes fell in love with me there, but we could have been in any 1950’s fishing village.  Nearby, we encountered a family-run business –Planta de Fregado—an ecological car wash that uses plant solids, gravity feed and carbon filtration for a completely organic car wash.  The owner was enthusiastically confident of replicating his system all over Cuba. 

In Cuba, the legacy of slavery and the old African traditions blend seamlessly with so much of the new world.  In some ways they are frozen in time and in other ways, not so much.  Little Zika problem here, at least with standing water outside, as we witnessed systemized mosquito spraying throughout the countryside.  However, the mosquito problem occurs with water indoors, as no amount of education convinces people not to keep glasses of water under their beds, in the corners of rooms and on dressers to ward off evil spirits or to bring good luck.  Officially Cubans are atheists, unofficially Roman Catholic, but in reality most Cubans practice Santeria, a system of beliefs that merges Yoruba myth with Christianity and indigenous American traditions.  The Cubans are unabashed in recognizing African influence in their music, their food and their religion.  Perhaps it has, too, influenced permaculture projects, and the biosphere reserve ― Las Terrazas.  

Cuba Delegation Part 3: Environmental Law and Policy Wonks Wanted

Posted on October 11, 2016 by Mary Ellen Ternes

Our ACOEL delegation to Cuba was an incredible opportunity to engage substantively with the lovely people of Cuba.  My personal experience is that the Cuban People are joyful, happy, warm, generous, well-educated and proud of Cuba.  Cuban literacy rates are extraordinarily high (97%), and with government funded education, the population has high rates of secondary education, including masters and PhD graduates, in science, medicine, engineering, architecture, and law as well as the creative arts, music, art, dance and so much more.

As a second career lawyer and chemical engineer, I loved engaging in Cuba’s electrifying mix of science and engineering education, creativity and equality.  But my fascination was also challenged by the need to fully appreciate contextual implications of Cuba’s post-revolutionary government, including government-controlled media and government-provided and government-directed education and careers, healthcare, housing and food distribution. This is a wholly different mindset from U.S. capitalism, of course, which takes time and engagement to fully explore and understand.  With its socialist roots and communist goals, most important in Cuba is equality:  equality between bricklayers and brain surgeons, as well as between women and men.  And while Cubans exhibit pride in their cultural emphasis on equality, a quality the U.S. is struggling to achieve in many respects, this emphasis may result in disincentive regarding the more challenging career choices.  Also, with government-controlled investment, we saw stark contrasts between recent and historic choices in investment, targeted skills and effective implementation contrasting with apparent inefficiencies and possibly strategic neglect.  For example, Havana’s recently completed opera house, which we were told was completed within three years by Cuban workmen, is a marvel of execution.  It is simply breathtaking and a great example of Cuban potential.  Yet several doors down are majestic and palatial structures built in the 1800’s, for which rooves and windows have long given way to healthy vegetation, and even trees, within roofless walls.

As environmental lawyers, of course, we were visiting to learn about Cuban environmental policies and to see if Cuba might be receptive to ACOEL’s offer of pro bono assistance.  Recall that the timing of Cuba’s disengagement from the U.S. occurred somewhere around Kennedy’s disastrous Bay of Pigs in April 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, which were contemporaneous with awakening of the U.S. consciousness regarding environmental policy with the first publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” in September 1962.  In light of this, I did not expect to see evidence of U.S.-based or otherwise familiar environmental policies, practices or approaches. In our discussions throughout our visit, however, Cuba’s great interest in protecting the environment was quite clear, particularly Cuba’s focus on protecting native species and surface water and Cuba’s commitment to the Paris Agreement. 

Cuban historic domestic industries include textiles, footwear, cement, flour milling, fertilizer, nickel and steel production; mining for nickel, copper, chromium and manganese; and agriculture including tobacco (cigars!), henequen (agave), rice and coffee.  With Cuba opening up to the world, the Cuban government has received many proposals for development projects in the country including, of course, hotels and golf resorts, but also a long list of projects that can replace current imports and benefit from Cuba’s natural resources including:  radial tires, petroleum, automobiles and trucks, refrigeration and air conditioning, stainless steel and alloys, aluminum cans and glass bottles, tableware and other goods for the hotel industry, industrial waste treatment and waste-to-energy project proposals, pharmaceuticals, containers and equipment for drug storage, delivery and other medical uses, cell phones, concentrated animal feeding operations, animal and agricultural goods processing (for example, fruits and vegetables, soy bean, yeast, spirits (rum!), sugar, coffee, cacao, dairy, shrimp, chicken, pork, beef, charcoal), and many more industrial, commercial and consumer goods.

With the natural beauty and unique species native to the Cuban archipelago, the Cuban Government quite rightly demands demonstration up front that all projects will result in no unacceptable impact to the environment and native species.  However, in making this demonstration, proposed projects would greatly benefit from design and implementation of environmental management systems and approaches similar to those long implemented by the United States. For example, there may be a need for more air pollution control requirements for sooty stacks, even if Cuba is surrounded by ocean; limitations on releases of pollutants to the environment; and a systematic method of identifying, characterizing and managing solid and hazardous wastes produced by industry.  Also, many indicated they had concerns regarding water resources and expressed an interest in water conservation, efficient use of water resources and protection of surface and drinking water resources.  Certainly, when and if the lovely historical ghost structures so common throughout Cuba are to be preserved or redeveloped, systematic methods of renovation or redevelopment would be helpful.  And finally, as Eileen will share in her blog, there are opportunities and great enthusiasm in sustainability and conservation, including sustainable energy projects, and potentially exploration of more efficient approaches to electricity distribution, such as distributed energy generation, renewable energy and energy conservation.  But beyond the technical standards, more than anything, Cuba’s greatest opportunity may be in developing and adopting an integrated environmental program that will result in predictable, consistent and fair implementation, monitoring and enforcement, with reasonable penalties for noncompliance.

I am hopeful ACOEL has an opportunity to assist Cuba, and that our ACOEL Fellows catch our Cuban Enthusiasm and volunteer to join us in Cuba pro bono projects!

Cuba Delegation Blog 2: Notes from Our Informal Meetings

Posted on October 10, 2016 by David B. Farer

Jim Bruen, Eileen Millett, Mary Ellen Ternes and I remain energized from the dynamic set of informal meetings in which we participated while in Cuba.  I thought you might find useful the following notes and points from four of those meetings, as we explore the potential for ACOEL pro bono projects there.  We certainly have the capacity and will to help in Cuba, and I am optimistic that the College and its Fellows will find a path to do so.

One overall note on the tone and content of the meetings – and of our casual conversations with Cubans we met during our time there – is that most people had both positive and critical things to say about the government, the system and quality of life.  Most, though, expressed optimism for the future of their country.

You may find some of the notes below inconsistent or contradictory.  I think that’s reflective of the differing viewpoints and experiences to which we were exposed.

Sept 7, 2016:  Meeting with Political Scientist /Publisher/Editor

•    Cuba in transition; you are here at a special time

•    Changes had already occurred before December 2014; more changes since then, and more to come

•    Electoral system:  Citizens vote for representatives to the  National  Assembly/ Assembly chooses President and Vice President

•    Raul Castro has committed to step down in 2018

•    Current VP, Miguel Diaz-Canel, is a 55 year old engineer; 30 years younger than Raul Castro

•    Most in assembly are engineers, economists and teachers who serve in government at no additional salary while also pursuing their professional careers

•    Power will be passing to a much younger generation of legislators and leaders; and that generation consists of highly educated professionals

•    In order to travel outside of the country, Cubans need only their passports and any necessary visas from the countries to be visited.

•    Government publications remain narrow in point of view; but that is not the case with private publications, where dissenting opinions are published.

•    The outside perception of Cuba may be that Cubans have the least available access to world views through the internet.  However, even though lack of internet may be the case at home, computers and the internet are commonly available at work and school and most people now also have internet-connected smartphones.

•    Human rights issues remain, including prohibition on founding political parties

•    Approximately 170,000 Americans visited Cuba last year; that is 705 more than the year before.

  • This year: expecting the total to be more than 500,000

•    Key issues for updating the Cuban socialist model:

  • Have to confront increased social inequality & poverty
  • About 20% suffering from poverty; 4 times more than 20 years ago
  • Yet others are achieving higher overall income with salary plus additional sources of income.  Income differential and poverty must be dealt with.
  • Severe housing shortage is a critical problem.
  • Housing in bad condition/ and housing shortage
  • Super centralization as a defensive posture
  • Overextended bureaucracy
  • Water supply/ energy supply problems
  • 20% of Cubans are over 60; by 2025, that will be up to 25% 
    • Life expectancy is about 80 years
    • Population growth rate = -1.5%
    • Birth rate has been low since early 70s
  • Surge of migration.  65% more than the year before.  Up by 45,000 this year.
  • Media:  all media is currently government media
  • Inconsistent economic system 
  • High dependency on imports
  • Low domestic food production and industrial output

•    Last of the key issues/problems:  U.S. policy toward Cuba

  • Negative impact of embargo
  • Fortress mentality
  • Travel restrictions for U.S. citizens

•    Cuban culture is closer to American culture than that of any other country in the region

Sept 7, 2016:  Meeting at the Fundacion Antonio Nuñez Jimenez de la Naturaleza y el Hombre (“Cuba Nature Foundation”) with an Engineer of the Foundation, a Faculty Member of the Instituto Geografia Tropical, and a Representative of the Ministry of Science

•    The Foundation is the only scientific foundation/ NGO in Cuba (there are other NGOs that are cultural foundations).

•    Among other things, it manages protected areas in Cuba.

•    Foundation has collaborated with foundations/NGOs  in U.S., and there have been visits back and forth

•    Biggest problem is that the embargo gets in the way of funding from U.S. institutions

•    Over 50 international cooperative projects over the past 21 years

•    Goal of conservation of Cuban biodiversity and geographical diversity             

•    Problems:  invasive species/ pollution/ climate change/mining   

•    Existing environmental legal framework:

  • National environmental policies, strategies and legislation
  • Article 27 of the Constitution on protecting environment
  • Law number 81:  Approved 1997

•    Cuba has entered three treaties/conventions:  on bio diversity, climate change, and drought.

•    Most important current issues are seen as:

  • Soil degradation
  • Loss of biodiversity
  • Damage to forest cover and lack of water
  • Climate change vulnerability

•    Where does Cuba go from here?  Varying views expressed:

  • Process of last 60 years for environment has been good/big question is how to preserve going forward as things change     
  • Having to redefine behavior and economy
  • Problem of dealing with laws on the books that reflect a former reality
  • We are a country rich in spirit and ideas, but we are poor in our economy
  • How to organize the economy?
  • Challenge:  don't take the same directions that others took 100 years ago
  • Everything to be done from an environmental perspective depends on how you organize your financial structure and financing
  • Existing environmental act should be sufficient for big picture, but we need the legislation to implement it.
  • Right now it is reactive, not preventive.

•    General discussion among them:

  • Need to access financing and technology to protect the environment and human settlements 
  • Existing law based on national/fed strategy and structure.  No local structure. 
  • No legal framework to determine the information you need and which set of regulations applies.   There can be conflicting regulations from one ministry to another.  This needs to be combined and systemized.
  • No unity on legislation, on what it means; you get lost looking for information.
  • Same on pollution controls:  different regulations from different ministries.  Cleanup standards as example:  One ministry comes up with standards/ another comes up with methodology and other aspects, but there is no master plan to compel a combination of the two.
  • Implementing ministry does not itself have the power to enforce.  Other institutions may have power to enforce.  So there is an issue on means of enforcement.
  • Current law already has a way to incentivize local application of laws or enforcement  of them, but in practice it is not happening, and dissemination of information on the regulations and methods of enforcement is not occurring

Sept 7, 2016:  Meeting with Former Official at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA)

•    The official worked at CITMA until she retired in 2014.  Her work had different aspects, including ecology, assisting companies on decision making at high levels, and environmental communication.

•    Overview of environmental law in Cuba:

  • Until 1990, done empirically
  • But after 1990, determined to be in interest of the  state and the agency to control environmental issues
  • Before 1990, several agencies were dealing with protection of the environment, but then new system was established in 1990 - directed from CITMA (or “Ministry of Science”)
  • Continues under Ministry of Science
  • Within the Ministry, there is an Agency on the Environment
  • There are several other institutions within the environmental agency.
  • Local administrations propose areas to protect: geographic areas/not topics
  • The Ministry analyzes what has to be done about local efforts to develop in these geographic areas.
  • Ministry works together with local government
  • When a company wants to work in one of these areas, it has to pass consideration by  a commission that considers what company wants to do
  • Ministry of Science issues permits to companies to work in these areas.
  • Ministry's model for development requires compliance with permits:  risk, air quality etc. within one permit roof
  • Ministry follows UNESCO standards for protection of biosphere
  • Other ministries also have an interest:  geographical and others including tourism
  • Other involved institutions:  Ministries of Mining, Energy, Tourism, for example, depending on project.

Sept 9, 2016:  Roundtable Meeting with Law Professor and with Engineers Connected with the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment

•    They find a basic harmony in the existing environmental structure; but they are not saying the harmony is perfect; can always be better

•    But there are many disparate environmental regulations that have been implemented over time based on urgencies and commitments; often, environmental regulation in Cuba is based on international commitments

•    Since 1992, Cuba has been on path to amend laws to meet international commitments

  • As a result of those commitments, have to revamp institutions:
  • Such as sustainable development
  • But need a clearer legal framework to make it work better

•    Biggest problem here has been adaptation, as opposed to remediation

•    But now:  a delicate balance must be reached between development and environmental protection, and need a strong legal framework for this

•    Per the Paris Accord, we have to deal with adaptation as well as mitigation

•    Have to regulate technology to regulate environment

•    Should look to integrate all of the different laws

  • Right now, each agency issues its own regulations
  • Would be good to integrate and facilitate within one unit       

•    Specific focus could be to introduce a legal framework for  the verification of  remediation, mitigation and adaptation.

•    Currently, each ministry issues resolutions:  their own general determinations to be followed

•    Vertical governmental structure:

  • Municipal/provincial/ national
  • Local decisions cannot contradict national or provincial decisions
  • They don't have equivalent of state legislation

•    CITMA decisions have to be observed all over the country

•    Each province also has experts in each area, representing the Ministry in the region

•    Same at municipal level

•    There are civil and criminal penalties in the current environmental laws

•    The environmental laws are meant to be preventative but there have been sanctions

•    Ministry of Justice tends to have all fines and sanctions in one single act.   And they do find efficiencies here, having fines and sanctions centralized within one act.

•    There are administrative sanctions; plus potential taking over of / confiscation of materials and closure of establishments

•    Almost everything needs an environmental license of some degree:  Whether biotech/ chemical / nuclear/ industrial activities in general; license seen as critical

•    Mariel Port district being dealt with very firmly and strictly

•    There are municipal/ provincial/national courts, including specialty courts like the environmental court

Cuba Delegation Part 1: Havana Calling – The College’s New Initiative for Pro Bono Work in Cuba

Posted on October 5, 2016 by James Bruen

On September 10, 2016,  a delegation from the College returned from four days of informal meetings in Havana. These meetings laid the groundwork for further discussions with Cuban environmental organizations and environmental governmental agencies about the potential for pro bono projects in Cuba. This self-funded trip was the result of almost two years of research, U.S. governmental interactions, and planning. The delegation – including David Farer, Mary Ellen Ternes, Eileen Millett and me – found the island enchanting, its people charming, and its environment in need of help. With this blog, we begin a series of reports conveying our optimism and enthusiasm about a path towards College fellows being able to engage in potential environmental projects in Cuba.

On December 17, 2014, President Obama announced that he was rejecting the country’s Cold War-era policy towards Cuba in order to chart a new course with that country. In early January 2015, College President Pam Giblin and her fellow officers approved the initiation of the Education and Pro Bono Committee’s informal investigation and research into whether it was legal and practical to consider approaching Cuban environmental organizations and governmental agencies (potential “Sponsors”) with offers of pro bono environmental assistance. Within a year, the initial solo effort morphed into the Cuba Working Group. Throughout the ensuing year, Allan Gates, David Farer, Dennis Krumholz, Bob Whetzel, Linda Bullen, Seth Jaffe, Bob Percival, Mary Ellen Ternes, Eileen Millett, yours truly, and many others walked the College step-by-step through contacting various federal agencies for permission to approach organizations and agencies in Cuba. After filing a complex application, we successfully obtained an Office of Foreign Assets Control File Number. Throughout this trek, U.S. government regulations and practices continued to be a moving target, but they became more relaxed by the month.  

After patient persistence, the College delegation was able to embark on the September 2016 trip planned by Eileen Millett and her nominated travel company, Cuban Cultural Travel. Eileen and CCT did a marvelous job. The delegation took a 45-minute air shuttle and arrived in Havana on Tuesday, September 6. We were briefed by the legal affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy. We proceeded with informal meetings with the editor of TEMA, a Cuban cultural affairs journal; with a Cuban foreign participation/investment expert; with a Cuban health care expert; with a Cuban environmental NGO (Foundacion Antonio Nunez Jiminez de la Naturaleza y Hombre); and with individuals directly and indirectly connected to the Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnologia y Medio Ambiente (CITMA), the Cuban ministry focused on the environment. We might have listened to some Cuban music, seen some Cuban dancing and sipped some Cuban rum along the way, but – believe me – we were “all business.” The meetings with our Cuban contacts generally opened with cautious curiosity, but they concluded with expressions that ranged from mild interest to enthusiastic support. The delegation is cautiously optimistic that these initial discussions and further exchanges of information will lead to a Memorandum of Understanding and subsequent projects throughout the island.

Within the week, the College will send formal expressions of interest to 7 individuals who are either connected to the environmental NGO or CITMA. We will include a draft MOU which could be approved by both the Cuban Sponsor and the College’s Executive Committee. Attached are links to exemplars of the letter and MOU.  

If an MOU is mutually executed, we will promptly ask the Cuban Sponsor to provide the College with a list of potential environmental projects in Cuba. We will circulate the list to all Fellows in the College. We will ask that interested Fellows submit their current curricula vitae to me as Chair of the Cuba Working Group of the Education and Pro Bono Committee. I will send them on to the Cuban Sponsor. The Cuban Sponsor will select the Fellow or Fellows it wishes to work with. The Cuba Working Group will place the Sponsor in touch with the selected Fellow(s). The ensuing engagement will be between the individual selected Fellow(s) and the Sponsor. The College will not be a party because it does not practice law.

The MOU will provide that generally all work done by College Fellows will be done free of charge. But, if the Sponsor requests or approves travel to Cuba, the Sponsor will pay coach round trip air fare and all reasonable out-of-pocket travel expenses.

You will see in subsequent blog posts from David, Mary Ellen, and Eileen, that our delegates had the time of their lives in Havana. The establishment and execution of international pro bono work is one of the great benefits of Fellowship in the American College of Environmental Lawyers. Whether you are interested in China, Haiti, Eastern and Southern Africa or Cuba, please let us know and send us your expressions of interest when we post our Sponsors’ lists of projects. I can assure you that Eileen, Mary Ellen, David, and I can hardly wait for our next assignment. 

Havana Calling: The College’s New Initiative for Pro Bono Work in Cuba

Posted on September 28, 2016 by James Bruen

On September 10, 2016,  a delegation from the College returned from four days of informal meetings in Havana. These meetings laid the groundwork for further discussions with Cuban environmental organizations and environmental governmental agencies about the potential for pro bono projects in Cuba. This self-funded trip was the result of almost two years of research, U.S. governmental interactions, and planning. The delegation – including David Farer, Mary Ellen Ternes, Eileen Millett and me – found the island enchanting, its people charming, and its environment in need of help. With this blog, we begin a series of reports conveying our optimism and enthusiasm about a path towards College fellows being able to engage in potential environmental projects in Cuba.

On December 17, 2014, President Obama announced that he was rejecting the country’s Cold War-era policy towards Cuba in order to chart a new course with that country. In early January 2015, College President Pam Giblin and her fellow officers approved the initiation of the Education and Pro Bono Committee’s informal investigation and research into whether it was legal and practical to consider approaching Cuban environmental organizations and governmental agencies (potential “Sponsors”) with offers of pro bono environmental assistance. Within a year, the initial solo effort morphed into the Cuba Working Group. Throughout the ensuing year, Allan Gates, David Farer, Dennis Krumholz, Bob Whetzel, Linda Bullen, Seth Jaffe, Bob Percival, Mary Ellen Ternes, Eileen Millett, yours truly, and many others walked the College step-by-step through contacting various federal agencies for permission to approach organizations and agencies in Cuba. After filing a complex application, we successfully obtained an Office of Foreign Assets Control File Number. Throughout this trek, U.S. government regulations and practices continued to be a moving target, but they became more relaxed by the month.  

After patient persistence, the College delegation was able to embark on the September 2016 trip planned by Eileen Millett and her nominated travel company, Cuban Cultural Travel. Eileen and CCT did a marvelous job. The delegation took a 45-minute air shuttle and arrived in Havana on Tuesday, September 6. We were briefed by the legal affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy. We proceeded with informal meetings with the editor of TEMA, a Cuban cultural affairs journal; with a Cuban foreign participation/investment expert; with a Cuban health care expert; with a Cuban environmental NGO (Foundacion Antonio Nunez Jiminez de la Naturaleza y Hombre); and with individuals directly and indirectly connected to the Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnologia y Medio Ambiente (CITMA), the Cuban ministry focused on the environment. We might have listened to some Cuban music, seen some Cuban dancing and sipped some Cuban rum along the way, but – believe me – we were “all business.” The meetings with our Cuban contacts generally opened with cautious curiosity, but they concluded with expressions that ranged from mild interest to enthusiastic support. The delegation is cautiously optimistic that these initial discussions and further exchanges of information will lead to a Memorandum of Understanding and subsequent projects throughout the island.

Within the week, the College will send formal expressions of interest to 7 individuals who are either connected to the environmental NGO or CITMA. We will include a draft MOU which could be approved by both the Cuban Sponsor and the College’s Executive Committee. Attached are links to exemplars of the letter and MOU.  

If an MOU is mutually executed, we will promptly ask the Cuban Sponsor to provide the College with a list of potential environmental projects in Cuba. We will circulate the list to all Fellows in the College. We will ask that interested Fellows submit their current curricula vitae to me as Chair of the Cuba Working Group of the Education and Pro Bono Committee. I will send them on to the Cuban Sponsor. The Cuban Sponsor will select the Fellow or Fellows it wishes to work with. The Cuba Working Group will place the Sponsor in touch with the selected Fellow(s). The ensuing engagement will be between the individual selected Fellow(s) and the Sponsor. The College will not be a party because it does not practice law.

The MOU will provide that generally all work done by College Fellows will be done free of charge. But, if the Sponsor requests or approves travel to Cuba, the Sponsor will pay coach round trip air fare and all reasonable out-of-pocket travel expenses.

You will see in subsequent blog posts from David, Mary Ellen, and Eileen, that our delegates had the time of their lives in Havana. The establishment and execution of international pro bono work is one of the great benefits of Fellowship in the American College of Environmental Lawyers. Whether you are interested in China, Haiti, Eastern and Southern Africa or Cuba, please let us know and send us your expressions of interest when we post our Sponsors’ lists of projects. I can assure you that Eileen, Mary Ellen, David, and I can hardly wait for our next assignment. 

Report from the ACOEL International Pro Bono Program

Posted on July 1, 2015 by James Bruen

            There are exciting developments in the College’s pro bono projects for Cuba, China and East Africa. This is our updated report.

            1.         Cuba

            With permission of the Executive Committee, the College has applied for a license to work in Cuba from the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”). OFAC has replied by assigning the College a case number (an important development since we now have access to a Treasury Department case officer to help us) and noting that the College’s potential activities might (or might not) qualify for one of the 12 exceptions to the requirement for an OFAC license. We can either take our chances by proceeding with work and keeping careful records of our activities while awaiting a potential audit or apply for a specific opinion or license for a specifically described project. The pro bono program will work further with the Executive Committee to determine the nature and timing of our potential work in Cuba, but we regard this as a very promising path forward for the program.

            2.         China

            Notwithstanding the May 26 press coverage of the proposed new Chinese legislation declaring that Western non-profits are no longer welcome in China (describing them as “potential enemies of the state”[1]), our program continues to go forward with opportunities to work there. Zhou Saijun, the Director of Environment and Energy Committee under All China Lawyers Association has confirmed that ACLA will continue to cooperate with ACOEL and NRDC for its annual lawyer training. This event will take place in Xian in September 2015. There will be an opportunity for a College Fellow to speak at the training session. We will know shortly the proposed date and topic for the speech. As usual, we will ask those interested to submit their curricula vitae to me for transmission to the ACLA. They will select the Fellow they feel is most suited to their needs.

            Xian, as you may well know, is the site of the famous, and once-buried, terracotta warriors and their terracotta horses. It should be on everyone’s bucket list.

            3.         East Africa

            Coordinating the legal and political clients for work in East Africa has been challenging. But within the month, I hope to circulate a survey to solicit expressions of interest for work on  East African environmental issues. I will do what I can to get our African contacts to pick up the pace.

            In the interim, please call me at 415.954.4430 if you desire further information.

 


[1] See May 26, 2015 Wall Street Journal article by Andrew Browne which states in part, ”There have always been challenges in dispensing humanitarian services across such a vast country—everything from HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns to environmental cleanups and care for orphans. Regulations are so onerous that it is virtually impossible for many civic groups to operate legally. Still, thousands persist, often counting on sympathetic local police and officials to turn a blind eye to infractions. But that kind of indulgence may soon be ending. A Chinese draft law treats the entire sector of foreign nonprofits as potential enemies of the state, placing them under the management of the Ministry of Public Security. ***”