Popular Power and Environmental Governance: The Cuban approach to natural hazards and disaster risk reduction
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This thesis explores factors that have endowed Cuba with an outstanding approach to natural hazards and disaster risk reduction (DRR). In addition, the research analyses the connection of these factors with the practice of environmental governance within the Cuban development model. Cuba’s development model is embedded in its socialist project, which has been historically contested by hegemonic paradigms. Therefore, Cuba’s socialist model is examined in relation to the concept of legitimacy. For this purpose, the concept of participatory or direct democracy is also analysed. This alternative democracy model emphasises representativeness and people’s participation in decision-making (popular power). Legitimacy is here considered essential by a perspective that goes beyond strictly political. Its importance is rather based on a general goal of this research: to discuss factors that can be applied worldwide to improve disaster risk reduction strategies. Natural hazards represent a worldwide threat and their effects are particularly devastating in poor countries (C. Field, 2012; Gencer, 2013; Mas Bermejo, 2006). These effects are not only evidenced in the short term by fatalities and material losses; they can also affect countries in the long term by hindering businesses and enterprises that may contribute to economic development (UNISDR, 2013). Finding solutions to cope with this problem is a matter of concern for countries in general, and particularly important to countries that show the worst results in these aspects. Cuba’s example of Community-Based Disaster Management (CBDM, see Thompson & Gaviria, 2004) is noteworthy not only for providing solutions that can be worldly applied. Cuba’s example demonstrates that successful approaches to natural hazards are not necessarily based on the income level of countries, nor to the degree of investment in disaster risk management. Cuba’s remarkable results in disaster management could be better explained by the socio-political context in which its disaster risk reduction (DRR) strategy is immersed. The research carried out for this thesis used a mixed-method approach (qualitative and quantitative) and was carried out in areas in Cuba that have been affected by natural hazards, according to available historical data of human and economic losses. The findings obtained in the selected areas were analysed within the socio-political context of the country. The consistency of these findings with national policies and popular practices provides the basis of a discussion of particular aspects of environmental governance and legitimacy of alternative models of democracy.