Dr. Rosa Elena Simeon Negrin
The steadfast, committed and selfless work of Dr. Rosa Elena Simeón Negrín has been vital for fostering the notions of sustainability amongst and raising the environmental awareness of Cubans.
She took on a position of leadership, which was to continue for some 20 years, just at a time when the issue of the environment was beginning to feature prominently in the political agenda of Governments and international organizations. She was able to witness, from a unique vantage point, a historic moment at the height of the environmental movement in its modern configuration – which places it in the context of development – and she was able to translate the best of those practices into everyday life in Cuba.
In 1989, she participated, for the first time, in the Forum of Ministers of the Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean, whose sixth meeting took place in Brasilia that year. Since then she has played a prominent role in subsequent regional forums and her presence has been widely recognized.
In addition to directing Cuba’s preparations for the Rio Summit, she also presided over this country’s distinguished delegation, comprising ministers and other dignitaries.
She always had a clear vision of the concept of “thinking globally and acting locally” and this same vision impelled her to attend negotiation meetings, at which she was able to meet the need to act within her own country while being able to speak with authority at every international forum.
In 1994 she participated in the development of the Alliance of Small Island States Summit (AOSIS). By that time, she was already an accomplished international mediator and was able to bring the experience which she had gained from her participation in the Rio Summit to bear on that forum, enriched by her years of valuable work at the national level from the perspective of a developing island State.
The ninth meeting of the Forum of Ministers of the Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean took place in Cuba in 1995. Under Elena Rosa’s presidency, this event marked a significant change in those forums, with a shift towards a more pragmatic approach in the way the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) dealt with environmental problems in the region.
Rosa Elena was in Kyoto in 1997, to participate in the discussion of the Protocol that bears that city’s name, a Protocol which was developed for the purpose of implementing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climatic Change.
She was elected a member of the Bureau of the UNEP Governing Council in 2000, in which office she demonstrated her astute judgement and experience.
She participated in the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa in 2002. Through her presence and pertinent statements she played a key role in ensuring the success of the most important contributions of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.
In 2003, after her decisive role in the negotiation of its headquarters agreement, she presided over the sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, which took place in Havana.
Created under her direct supervision, the Cuban environmental system is based on key values and represents the outcome of a meticulous process of design and development, among which the following are particularly worthy of note:
- Clearly drawn up policies and strategies, which are being constantly improved and provided with the necessary follow-up arrangements;
- A conception of environmental management as the ability to implement environmental policy and to take specific measures in that regard, and to operate in coordination with all the bodies and agencies which are concerned with natural resources and have an influence on the sound use of the environment;
- A regulatory and control system with both national and local dimensions, and an acknowledged and growing capacity for the implementation of environmental legislation;
- A range of services and research, which are continuously expanding into new areas, including by enlisting the cooperation of recognized research bodies with the new environmental training centres, now operating in almost all areas of the country.
It is incumbent on those of us who are followers of the work of Elena Rosa to continue efforts to strengthen it, to follow her ideas and above all her actions, and to remember always her loyalty and respect for Fidel and Raul, as well as her great sensitivity to the wishes of the people.