WASHINGTON, DC—During a two-day visit to Washington on November 17 and 18 to meet with State Department officials and Members of Congress, John Hemingway, grandson of author Ernest Hemingway, called for an end to the decades-old U.S. embargo against Cuba and greater scientific, environmental and ocean resource cooperation between the two countries.
In a briefing at the National Press Club on November 18, Hemingway noted how “Cuba has been ignored by the U.S., which is amazing, because it is the biggest island in the Caribbean, with 11 million people, and we are… pretending that it is not there.” Later, in the U.S. Senate, Hemingway added that “we need Cuba, and its scientists, and the information they are gathering” on threats posed by overfishing and pollution to marine resources in the Florida Straits.
Pointing to the importance of preventing another disastrous oil spill that could equally affect U.S. and Cuban coastlines and marine resources, Hemingway criticized the U.S. embargo and travel restrictions for making it difficult for the countries to work together to both prevent and respond to an environmental disaster.
Hemingway joined Daniel Whittle of the Environmental Defense Fund, and Jorge Angulo Valdés of the Center for Marine Research of the University of Havana, in emphasizing how much the two countries can learn from each other, and mutually benefit, in jointly studying resources such as marlin, tuna, sea turtles, bonefish, shark, and tarpon that are equally important to the tourism and fishing industries of both countries.
The three of them participated in productive discussions at the Department of State. The delegation also met with several members of Congress and with Ambassador José Ramón Cabaňas at the Cuban Interests Section.
Mr. Whittle noted that it is easy to forget that Cuba and the United States are only 90 miles apart and share the waters of the Florida Straits, yet precisely because of that it is imperative that the two countries work closely to address environmental concerns—pollution, overfishing, oil spills, and more—in our shared waters. He said that the Obama Administration should take steps now to strengthen and expand scientific exchange and environmental cooperation.
“U.S.-Cuba relations were once as close as the sliver of saltwater that separates us,” said Whittle. “Working together now to protect our shared environment can be an important next step in restoring those good relations.”
“Science is our best diplomacy,” said Dr. Angulo Valdes. “Removing constraints on scientific collaboration will help us ensure that we are preserving our shared marine resources for the benefit of both countries.”
During his visit to Washington, Mr. Hemingway and his colleagues urged President Obama to use his executive authority to expand licensed travel to Cuba in order to facilitate cooperation between the two countries. Mr. Hemingway’s visit is particularly well-timed given the news that the United States and Cuba are cooperating on the Ebola outbreak, as well as indications that the Obama Administration is considering updating its policy toward Cuba.
The visit was organized by the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) under the auspices of LAWGEF’s U.S.-Cuba Hemingway Commemorative Project.