Are We Caring for the Environment in Cuba?

Empty can, dumped in an area of the Havana coastline

A man dressed like a mechanic pours liquid from a tank into the sewer. A few yards away, two boys are scrubbing a motorcycle and the soapy water runs off onto the ground, watering the roots of some nearby trees. Several neighbors have set fire to a pile of trash: dry leaves, branches, but also a couple of batteries, a portable radio and even a laser printer cartridge. After re-using it a dozen times, the restaurant cook pours the burned oil down the sink, that is if he doesn’t take it home for his family to eat. The hairdresser upstairs does the same thing, when she tosses the used hair dye down the toilet. This irresponsibility in the treatment of waste products extends across the entire Island. Few are aware of the ecological damage caused by ordinary daily activities.

Separating trash such as cardboard and glass, which is natural to others, seems like a chimera in a country that hasn’t even solved the problem of efficient trash collection. Even today the containers on the corners overflow, bringing the flies, health hazards and stink that now make up an inseparable part of cities like Havana. Thus, it’s hard work to awaken awareness in a population whose priorities still center on the so-called community services working at all. However, much of the damage that we are causing to the environment is irreversible, and requires urgent measures to slow it down as quickly as possible. The State sector is the greatest predator of our ecosystem, with its enormous factories that spew chemicals into rivers and the oceans, its many sugar plants without oxidation ponds, and its thousands of vehicles that don’t meet environmental standards. In addition, all this is hidden by the absence of transparency, the falsification of statistics and the prohibition on independent organizations that could address such behaviors. Nevertheless, we as citizens also have to share a good part of the blame.

The lack of an environmental mindset is felt in every detail of our lives. It’s notable, for example, the self-confidence with which so many Cubans cut down a tree, cement over their backyard where plants used to grow, throw chemical products into the water, mistreat and kill animals, or simply toss out recyclable materials. It’s not enough to ask children in elementary school to plant a bean seed to foster in them a love of nature. It’s also not enough to show ads on prime time TV calling on us to preserve the planet on which we live. Caring for the environment has to become a part of educational programs, strictly addressed in the law, and promoted in all areas.

The emerging civil society should also adopt this banner. Without lowering the torch of human rights and democratic changes, it’s time for civic movements to create environmental defense strategies for this Island we will bequeath to our children. Groups that report incidents against the ecosystem, organize recycling training programs, and try to protect natural resources should all take on a leading role. It’s great that we want the coming generations to be free, but we must start by guaranteeing we have a country to bequeath to them.

The clock is ticking. Nature does not wait. Tomorrow there will be no turning back.

The post ¿Cuidamos el medio ambiente en Cuba? appeared first on Generación Y – Yoani Sánchez.


19 thoughts on “Are We Caring for the Environment in Cuba?

  1. Someone needs to start Lazagna composting in the neighborhoods. A layer of grass clippings, a layer of food waste and a layer of leaves. Repeat the layers. Keep the pile moist. After 3 months, one can plant directly into the layers. Cardboard is a super fuel for heating. It could be used in community laundries for heating water. Old oil can be burned to
    melt metal. Machine parts can be produced. ( Or jewelry) A community without trash or garbage is the poorest. So man made resources must be reused. S

  2. Pingback: Who’d a-thunk it? Environmental devastation under communism and a lack of property rights? | AEIdeas


    On August 8, 2012 BBC News reported that Cuba’s ban on anti-Castro musicians had been quietly lifted and on August 10 the BBC correspondent in Cuba, Sarah Rainsford, tweeted that she had been given names of forbidden artists by the central committee and the internet was a buzz that the ban on anti-Castro musicians had been quietly lifted. Others soon followed reporting on the news. The stories specifically mentioned Celia Cruz as one of the artists whose music would return to Cuban radio.

    Their is only one problem. It is not true. Diario de Cuba reported on August 21, 2012 that Tony Pinelli, a well known musician and radio producer, distributed an e-mail in which Rolando Álvarez, the national director of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television Instituto Cubano de Radio y Televisión (ICRT) confirmed that the music of the late Celia Cruz would continue to be banned. The e-mail clearly stated: “All those who had allied with the enemy, who acted against our families, like Celia Cruz, who went to sing at the Guantanamo Base, the ICRT arrogated to itself the right, quite properly, not to disseminate them on Cuban radio ”

    YOUTUBE: Jenifer Lopez – Celia Cruz Tribute (American Music Awards 2013) “AMA”


    GLOBAL POST: Cuba’s telecoms company to allow self-employed workers – Agence France-Presse
    Cuba will allow self-employed workers at the country’s telecoms monopoly, Etecsa, in the latest in a series of economic reforms to streamline a bloated government bureaucracy.

    Under the new system, which was announced Monday on the website, private sector “communications agents” will be allowed to assist with local, regional and international phone calls.

    They also will be allowed to sell prepaid phone cards and Internet cards, or reload used ones, and also will be able to take telephone bill payments.

    The agents, who will work on a commission paid by Etecsa, will be required to obtain licenses and pay taxes on their earnings.


  5. HI Ximena Hernandez-Cata !! YOU COME HERE TO TELL ME WHAT DO DEAR??? SOOO CUTE!

    Beautiful documentary and beautiful island! However, Cuba is in reality an ecological disaster. The waters are contaminated and they have introduced new foreign species, like the Claria fish, that have destroyed the native species. The underground waters are salty in many areas. The government has built reservoirs on almost every river and this has created an increased rate of evaporation. Many rivers are dying. The MARABÚ, an African invasive plant, has taken over many agricultural areas. Please help!!!!

    YOUTUBE: La Claria – Revolución Azul

  6. Socialist Worker,

    Are you mentally insane? Your posts make no sense. Ever.

    I’m talking about toxic waste from foreign multinationals dumped straight into Cuban water.

    Foreign capitalists are exempt from environmental regulations in Cuba.

    Not that these are ever enforced for Castro’s state corporations either.

  7. Nutty Observer of course is referring to the fluoridation and chlorination of drinking water. This has long been a chief beef of the right wing communist conspiracy types like the John Birch Society.

  8. As usual, the last two posts by the Castro fan club include nothing to do with Yoani’s article.

    Why is Castro an anti-environmentalist?

    Why do leftists support multinationals who dump toxic waste in Cuba’s water supply?

    Why is Taiwan cleaner than mainland China?

    Not hard to connect the dots (think Communist).

  9. @Socialist Worker

    This is quite accurate observation of yours: that “One of the tactics of Imperialism has been to move the dirtier aspects of production to the poorer countries”

    A good example was the idea to send Syrian chemican weapons to Albania. But Albania, surprisingly, said no.

    Next they might send the gases to Guantanamo. But don’t expect the opposition in this blog.

  10. To: Ximena this problem goes way beyond Cuba and that’s why its worth commenting on. It brings forth the question of global warming, the pollution of the ocean, energy production, clean water, eco systems and the relation of industrial production to the environment. These problem are global in nature. One of the tactics of Imperialism has been to move the dirtier aspects of production to the poorer countries. This way the can portray themselves to those us who live in the US and Europe as environmental leaders. While at the same time claiming that environmental concerns like safety are to costly. To the poorer countries they say we are providing you with jobs and if you don’t like it we will go elsewhere which is the same attitude they express at the union bargaining table.

    When a disturbed individual kills a half a dozen people they close down a whole city in an effort to find the guilty party. The free press can’t write enough angry stories about the perps and the need for more laws and fewer constitutional protections to give the police a freer hand in apprehending criminals. When a dozen people are killed in the latest Texas Oil refinery explosion they write a dozen workmen’s comp checks to the widows and orphans. If the local news has time to seek an interview with the plant manager or a company spokesman. He will just shrug his shoulders and say it was an unfortunate accident that cost the company money. What he won’t tell the reporter is that for the company accidents are covered through insurance and considered just part of doing business. To refine oil safely would mean keeping up with repairs and expensive shutdowns. So instead they wait for the place to blow up and then that becomes the shutdown time.

  11. Just like in Cuba, environmentalists in the former Soviet Bloc were considered trouble-makers who had to be crushed, or at best ignored.

    When the iron curtain fell, the whole world saw what a toxic wasteland the Communists created. Unlike the West, they were doing nothing about cleaning it up.

    Same thing in China.

    You can suppress dissent, but you have to breathe the same air as dissenters and smell the same toxic garbage.

  12. A great post by Yoani.

    What’s interesting is that socialist governments are always such terrible polluters, while right-wing governments, like many in Europe, have been the most environmentally responsible.

    Many leftists, who did a lot of good backing the environmental movement in the 60s and 70s, now support the world’s worst polluters.

    One gift Castro gives foreign corporations is the absence of environmental regulations.

    When Sherrit spills toxic chemicals in the water supply the locals may complain, but the Communist bosses just tell them to shut up or else.

  13. The industrial world has built their ecomomies on trash.

    For 100 years they were polluting the world and now, as they can afford clean air and garbage processing, they point the finger to the Third World: don’t you even dare to do the same thing we did to get rich.

  14. OK, Nick, Socialist Worker, and Humberto Capiro. I see you all over this blog too much. Why try to piggy-back on Yoani’s blog? Do yourselves a favor and start your own blogs! Enough of your spam on this one. A buen entendedor…

  15. Humberto, What does your “reply” have to do with the price of beans? Or in this case with the article that Yoani wrote on refuse in Cuba? Please let’s stay focused. If you have so much to say or share, why not start and write your own blog? Thank you.

  16. re HUMBY’s excerpt from the right wing propaganda outlet, The Miami Herald @ 4.34pm.

    The USA’s policy of funding dissidence in Cuba has obviously been a miserable failure.
    In fact almost as miserable a failure as the bloody attempt at invasion at Playa Giron/Bay of Pigs a half century ago.

    I think that the world ought to congratulate President Obama and Mr Kerry for their responsibility and forward thinking worldview regarding Iran.

    It shows that with a little bit of effort, a mature attitude and a hesitancy to indulge in the usual gung ho sabre rattling, then a peaceful outcome is possible.

    I hope that a similar policy is implemented towards Cuba.
    As I have said before, I think President Obama brings a rare degree of intellect and statesmanship to the Oval Office.
    I am hopeful that he will bring USA’s policies regarding Cuba up to date and more in line with the rest of the planet before he leaves office.

  17. One of the biggest problems in consumer society is that the end user has no other choice besides fixing, professional repair or throwing away. So unless you have the mechanical aptitude, or electrical ability and tools or access to tools you choice comes down to a professional repair or disposal. People routinely throw away small appliances like toasters and electric knives. The knife has lots of what should be valuable copper wire in its motor and cord yet it will most likely end up in the land fill along with the toasters copper wire cord. Plus lots of plastic that was once crude oil, lots of steel and worn out clothing that isn’t used for rags is disposed of in landfills. In fact some of the most well know items of commerce the US bank notes are produced from paper made of flax and cotton rags. They however are burned rather than recycled after wearing out.

    What if the stores, distributors and manufactures had to take back and recycle their products? Would they then build products that would allow for better recycling instead of cheapest manufacturing. How many jobs would be created if such an endeavor were made. Of course the National Association of Manufactures would oppose such an idea as costing to much because it would cut into the sacred cow of profit. Is the massive transfer crude oil and mineral ore to landfills, so necessary to industrial profit, the correct way of advancing human life on earth?

    We’ve had the problems of air,. water, and land pollution since the beginning of the industrial age where wealth is created by the division and exploitation of wage labor. It has fallen upon the working class to take up the cause of pollution control because for the capitalists its to expensive.

  18. MIAMI HERALD EDITORIAL: Listen to Cuba’s dissidents – Saturday, 11.23.13

    The Obama administration is dropping broad hints of possible changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba. Any change should come with a cautionary note: Watch what Cuba’s leaders do to dissidents and the average citizen alike, not what they say about “modernizing” Cuba.

    It’s encouraging to hear that the administration is thinking about how to move the needle on Cuba, as President Obama told an audience in Miami recently. Too often Cuban issues are deemed politically risky and shoved aside.

    But policy toward Cuba should not be forged in a vacuum. Raúl Castro and his octogenarian colleagues show that they’re determined to hang onto power. They’re not interested in genuine democracy and they’re not about to tolerate any changes that could threaten their survival. The regime’s actions speak volumes about its true intentions:

    • November began with a delay in the trial of three democracy activists arrested last year during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI. The church has a new pope, but these dissidents are still in jail.

    • The following weekend, Cuban security officials detained 30 members of the Ladies in White in yet another crackdown on freedom advocates, and a government mob pummeled a prominent dissident, Guillermo Fariñas, when he dared complain to the police.

    • On Oct. 14, police and a pro-government mob arrested 22 members of the Ladies in White who were marking the anniversary of the death of their founder.

    • In September, more than 700 short-term detentions of dissidents were reported by Cuban human rights groups, one of the highest totals in years.

    This goes to the heart of what Cuba’s dictatorship is all about — power. It’s important to put events in this context and not the false reality portrayed by the regime.


  19. Excellent article again, Yoani. The environmental problem created by refuse handling and disposal is particularly critical on an island, and Cuba should have a very strict policy of containing refuse in a sanitary way, disposing of it ecologically, and making recycling a national priority and habit. The more articles of consumption become available, the bigger becomes the problem of disposing and eliminating trash and containers. Raising the consciousness of the citizenship is of utmost importance. Thank you for doing it, and for informing us at the same time!

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