The Cuba – U.S. Sustainability Partnership (CUSP)





The historic December 17, 2014 announcements by Presidents Castro and Obama to normalize diplomatic relations heralds a new era of Cuba-U.S. relations. Ironically, the U.S. may become a greater threat to Cuba as its friend than it ever was as its enemy. A flood of tourism and business development from the U.S. could undermine Cuba’s natural and built heritages – both of which contribute to the nation’s cultural identity. Such has befallen many  islands in the Caribbean over the past 50 years. Already, 12 new golf course resorts have been announced to serve growing U.S. tourism demand and Carnival has announced cruise ship visits to Cuba for U.S. citizens beginning in 2016.

Elkhorn coral is now 95 percent extinct in the Caribbean but it still thrives in Cuba

A 2014 study found that half of the Caribbean’s coral cover has been lost since 1970 due primarily to human impacts. Yet Cuba’s coral reef ecosystems remain remarkably healthy and intact as do many of its marine and terrestrial ecosystems, owing both to the unique way Cuba has developed and the strong, science-based environmental laws and policies. Not only are these ecosystems critically important in their own right, but they are also of great importance to the Cuban economy and serve as “living laboratories” that may provide insights to restore degraded ecosystems in other parts of the Caribbean.

As with its natural environment, Cuba has a strong sense of its cultural heritage and takes great pride in its extraordinarily rich architectural legacy and other cultural resources. Its remarkable restoration of Old Havana and 18th-century Trinidad serve as models of self-financing and sustainable tourism that have been recognized worldwide. Four of Cuba’s cities, along with five other notable places on the island, have been designated UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Although Havana has zoning laws and an active landmarks commission, Cuban architects, preservationists, planners, and others who care about the city fear needs are so great that it will be very hard for Cuba to resist the allure of fast foreign money and development that can rip apart its urban fabric.

A New Partnership

Taking advantage of this unique moment in history – as relations between the U.S. and Cuba normalize but prior to the end of the economic embargo – CUSP is engaging private sector investors, corporations and NGOs, through the formation of a unique partnership committed to a code of ethics, guiding principles and best practices for sustainable development in Cuba. CUSP will:

- Provide a rich source of expertise to educate the U.S. private sector about Cuba and its unique environmental, social and cultural heritage, needs and vulnerabilities.

- Develop and commit to a set of ethics, guiding principles and best practices for sustainable development that ensures the protection of Cuba´s environment, culture and communities.

- Facilitate constructive engagement and information exchange between CUSP members and the Cuban community and collaborative development of innovative solutions focused on balancing economic development and environmental and cultural conservation.

- Serve as a credible body to educate the public and inform conservation policy initiatives with governmental agencies in both the U.S. and Cuba.

- Work within Cuban communities to engage a new generation of Cuban entrepreneurs and train them in sustainable business practices.

The initial focus of CUSP is on promoting responsible, sustainable tourism. In seeking to encourage Cuba and U.S. stakeholders—initially hotels and tour operators—to commit to meaningful international standards, CUSP will play an important role in helping to ensure Cuba’s tourism industry develops sustainably and preserve its magnificent natural and cultural heritage. CUSP will work with international and local organizations such as Cuba’s World Heritage commission, Havana’s landmarks commission and Cuban environmental organizations to build a constituency for Cuba’s adoption of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s (GTSC) sustainable criteria. This work also involves significant outreach to Cuban communities to help educate them and provide perspective about the history of the Caribbean and the loss of environmental resources and culture as a result of uncontrolled growth, especially from tourism and foreign investment.


The first CUSP meeting among U.S. NGOs was held in Washington, DC on May 15, 2015 with strong support. In June 2015, meetings in Havana with the Cuban government and NGOs also resulted in strong support. CUSP was then formally announced during a panel at Capitol Hill Ocean Week on June 9, 2015 (see video). CUSP is now moving forward but needs your help to keep pace with the explosive growth that Cuba now faces.

Please join us and help this important effort succeed by making a secure donation to the Cuba Project at CIP.

You may also mail a check to the Center for International Policy. Please make your check payable to “Center for International Policy”; write “Cuba” on the memo line of your check; and mail to:

Center for International Policy
2000 M Street NW, Suite 720
Washington, DC 20036

The Center for International Policy is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Your donation is fully tax-deductible in the US.