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Initiatives for Environmental Activism Take Off in Cuba

The Center for Education and Promotion for Sustainable Development (CEPRODESO) is an environmental coalition with a legacy of commitment to policy influence (Photo: Ramón Crespo. Used with permission)

*This article was originally published in Barrio Journalism (Periodismo de Barrio). Read the original version here and other articles by Ramón Crespo Hernández here.

The Center for Education and Promotion for Sustainable Development (CEPRODESO) first launched its efforts in the early 2000s in communities within protected areas around Vueltabajo, a tobacco-growing region in the western Cuban province of Pinar del Rio. At that time, locals were asked to cease logging and hunting but were not offered viable alternatives in harmony with their customs.

Those individuals had accumulated a lifetime of knowledge through co-existing with nature, and our work was to (re)build a wider collective knowledge. Our aim was to dismantle harmful behaviors, so we started by asking them what changes they wanted at that present moment and constructing a plan for their future

said Juan Francisco Santos Estévez, organization coordinator. He added:

We define environmental education as a process that enables people to raise their level of competence in order to establish forms of sustainable interaction with the world.

The organization perceives nature as a relationship among equals and asserts that it's the ideal way to build a society that loves and respects all forms of life and, in turn, respects itself.

“Political ecology,” explains Santos, is “to regard nature as subject to the same rights as human beings, a concept that can be difficult because it challenges the anthropocentric view to which we have become accustomed.”

Santos continued that Western culture sees the environment as a source of goods made available for humanity’s use. Therefore, people have a tendency to talk about natural resources using economic terms, when in reality they are referring to living organisms and ecosystems, not objects for consumption.

To change that mentality, CEPRODESO bases their educational philosophy on the tenets of Brazilian pedagogue Paulo Freire.

With a more developed campaign than the early days of its inception, CEPRODESO offers children’s workshops, accompanies delegates from people’s councils, and promotes academic research and an alternative communication program, all in the quest to boost social responsibility mobilization.

Created in 1999, CEPRODESO still comprises six specialists who share a commitment to participatory environmental management and political ecology. A subsidiary under the Center for Environmental Services, the group has been involved with dozens of ventures, movements and organizations across Cuba and the Americas for the last 18 years.

Their well-known “big brothers” are TECMA (Environmental Street Theater) and CREA (How I Build Environmental Education), collectives trained in popular environmental education methodology that work within in the greater national network of educators at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in the United States. 

Santos explains:

What we do requires a multi-front effort from organizations, entities, and civil society.

In addition to these activities, CEPRODESO convenes the biannual Latin American Meeting of Experiences in Popular Environmental Education to discuss issues pertinent to the common agenda of Cubans. 

The seventh conference brought together over one hundred people from across the Caribbean and Latin America. Representatives of organizations such as the Landless Rural Workers Movement, the World Women’s March, the Saddlebag Network and Friends of the Earth International attended to speak face to face with Cuban counterparts. 

Despite low media turnout due to hosting its sessions in western Pinar del Rio, far from Havana, Cuba's capital, the meeting addressed some of the most urgent environmental problems for the region such as the commodification of nature, salinization, biodiversity loss, environmental public policies, and anti-extractivism of minerals and other ressources.

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