Some History on “Revolutionary” Deforestation in Cuba

Work in the “Cordon de la Habana” in the late 1960s.

HAVANA TIMES – Esteban’s store was, as they say, on the corner. On a parterre between the sidewalk and the street a huge pine tree grew. I don’t know why in Cuba many things are called with English words. (It must be ideological penetration).

We called it: the pine tree on the corner, although it was not pine, but a casuarina. One grew on every corner of the neighborhood. They shaded the area where boys played marbles.

Those pine trees – which were not pine trees – were there before I was born.

One day; Someone discovered that they were old or posed a danger to electrical wiring during cyclones or could attract lightning. And they cut them down.

Then, the Camilo-Che Invasion Brigade was in full swing.

It was an army. It advanced, from the eastern Cuban province of Oriente, towards the west of the country, felling trees. It was a war, to rescue land in order to plant more sugar cane and livestock pastures.

The forests came down with military techniques, military equipment, uniformed personnel under the name of the Youth Labor Army… Every week in the cinemas, in the ICAIC Latin American News Reel, they gave the war reports and visual information: rows of combat tanks, tied together with thick chains or steel cables with heavy iron balls which, as they passed, crushed the weeds; The sappers dynamited the trees… In short: A war.

Today, one might ask: And where did the fauna of the countryside go? Many see the current droughts as the product of that battle against the forests.

But those initial experiences of the revolution, which its detractors call madness, were not all destructive.

The most emotional episodes that I remember were in the one called, Cordón (ring) de La Habana.

The attempt to convert the capital into an area of economic importance for coffee production. The project would surround Havana with fast-growing, high-yielding coffee fields. A low bush, to easily harvest the beans. The variety of coffee trees planted was caturra.

And mobilizations began through the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, known by their acronym, CDR. A mass organization at the block level.

The enthusiasm, tremendous. The participation of people in the capital, extraordinary. You came home from work: if there was time, you washed up and ate lightly and went out with the older kids to the concentration points where the trucks, flatbeds, and buses were waiting to transport people to the different work areas.

Our area went to Las Guacimas, an almost rural town (it still is) in the southeast of the capital.

Activities: fill polyethylene bags with soil. They would serve to establish seedlings. Move them to planting areas, etc. Many worked during the day and received a salary. These improvised peasants were people who had presented their documents to emigrate to the United States and, while their exit date arrived, they were fired from their jobs and sent to work in the Havana Cordón or as street sweepers. However, the greatest volume of activities was carried out with nighttime by Voluntary Work of the population.

We left around six in the afternoon. We returned around midnight, or a little after.

It was a great party. We sang on the way there and back. There was a lot of light in the fields. As light as day! It was an opportunity for couples to shake the control of their elders. The time of infidelities under the cover of the effort to develop the country. A moment when a large number of shy people woke up.

The snacks: abundant, healthy, and free. Fruit juices, yogurt, breads with cheese… All the time: varied popular music, broadcast through loudspeakers.

The CMCA station, which broadcast in English abroad, and whose advertising spot was recited by an announcer with a funny voice saying: Ci-em-ci-ei or di friend vois ov Kiuba, Brodcastin from Havana, Kiuba, fri territori ov América. It disappeared, giving way to Radio Cordón of Havana, which later also went down in history.

There was another plan attached. Windbreaks. Another ring, external to the coffee plantations. Consisting of tall trees such as eucalyptus and casuarinas that would protect the caturra coffee and the capital itself from the onslaught of cyclonic winds in the summer.

Later… Reality.

The caturra type coffee was not good. They changed the name of the station to Radio Ciudad de La Habana. The Command Posts for the mobilizations disappeared. Years later, the casuarinas planted near the beaches were cut down. They polluted the sands.

Many see the inexperience of a young state, suffocated by a superpower. Others, the error of choosing an inefficient economic-social system as a platform for a political-economic program or vice versa. Likewise, geographical fatalism and the influence of the stars are appealed to.

It is even said that reality is a certain hypnosis socially induced by culture. Which is true? Pilate asked Jesus. But he didn’t answer him.

Read more from the diary of Eduardo N. Cordovi here on Havana Times.