Like other Caribbean countries, Cuba has adopted policies to relocate populations and prohibit (re)building in coastal zones at risk of climate change effects. Yet residents do not uniformly see such measures as welfare promoting and risk reducing, and may resist relocation, even in places where disaster planning is respected and effective. In such instances, vernacular narratives reveal local understandings of threats, vulnerabilities, and the measures taken by the state. Drawing on the case of Carahatas, a coastal community in Cuba, this study contrasts local residents' understanding of risks with those apparent in public policy.
Results from this extensive case study (2016–2020) reveal how citizens resist relocation and struggle for continuity in a context of marginalization. Most residents are less afraid of sea level rise than relocation and prefer to maintain their livelihoods and traditions. Local voices reflect a focus on the risks of daily life. Public policies—based on the adaptation-resilience framework—prioritize instead a longer-term approach, emphasizing safety and best use of state resources over maintenance of existing livelihoods, settlements, and social networks. Understanding vernacular explanations of risk and disasters is crucial to develop risk reduction policy that respond to people's needs and expectations.