Blessed Are the Thorns of Cuba’s Marabou

Erasmo Calzadilla

Illustration by Onel

HAVANA TIMES — “(…) thanks to the generosity of the rains this year and last, I made the trip down here by land and discovered everything is green and pretty. The prettiest thing, however, that thing that struck me was how pretty the marabou brushes looked along the length of the highway (…)”  -Raul Castro, Camaguey, July 26, 2007

“Cuban companies are involved in a campaign to eradicate marabou, an invasive plant native to Africa and Asia that has spread across many of the best lands on the island.”  -Xinhua, June of 2012

The marabou (Dichrostachys glomerata) is a brush that was introduced into Cuba at the end of the 19th century. In Africa, its place of origin, it grows in harmony with its surroundings. Here, it has adopted the behavior of a plague.

Many blame the Castros, socialism and even Marxism of turning Cuba into marabou country – but we need to look more closely at the history of the brush.

Ignorance, short-term ambition, the insatiable appetite of the West and the impulse to develop at all costs led our country to adopt an eco-suicidal form of agriculture.

What were the consequences of this? The erosion of lands, the loss of biodiversity and innumerable forms of damage to the environment – damages that, for a while, were manageable with chemicals and other elements of the techno-scientific package destined to agriculture.

When this overly-stressed system began to malfunction, those responsible for the damage calmly walked away and Cuba’s fields were left at the mercy of a few species, the “toughest” and most adapted to adverse environmental conditions.

Like its fields, Cuban society was crushed by the bulldozer of modernity. Colonialism and capitalism slowly unraveled the social tapestry, exterminating socio-diversity and giving rise to the docile and alienated workforce the system needs for its reproduction. The “socialist” revolution took the liquidation of the community to the limits that were unheard of under the preceding systems.

But, one day, the tide began to withdraw from the spaces and institutions where it once reigned. People devoid of “values”, adapted to the struggle for survival, surly, refractive to “culture” and thorny as a marabou field began to occupy the abandoned terrains. This re-conquest could not be idyllic, not after several centuries of a declared or surreptitious war against the country’s social fabric.


Those who long for modernity, progress and development and believe their crisis will blow over have a similar way of treating marabou and the rabble: they are to be eliminated and/or taken advantage of economically.

Few understand that the thorny brush, ugly and devoid of commercial charms as it is, zealously protects the earth, which would otherwise be left at the mercy of the elements.

The feared plague of Cuban fields protects these from the impact of the rain, the sun and the wind. Most importantly, it keeps those who would squeeze the land dry at bay.

The rabble, with all its thorns, could it not be the barrier protecting the charred remains of our authentic social life?

The fact of the matter is that the aggressive and impervious atmosphere of the neighborhoods stops all attempts at intervention, penetration, manipulation or liquidation of the community – thought up by well-intentioned idealists, enlightened utopians, social engineers or ambitious capitalists – dead in its tracks. Long live the thorns, I say.


  1. Some newspaper articles refer to marabou as “Dichrostachys glomerata”, while others identify it as “Dichrostachys cinerea L.”
  2. Para abundar sobre la protección de las tierras por el marabú recomiendo el artículo Marabú, ¡gracias! To read more about how marabou brush protects the soil, I recommend the article: Marabu, gracias! (“Thank you, marabou”)



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Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

Erasmo Calzadilla has 408 posts and counting. See all posts by Erasmo Calzadilla

One thought on “Blessed Are the Thorns of Cuba’s Marabou

  • Erasmo, you live in a fantasy world,

    “Like its fields, Cuban society was crushed by the bulldozer of modernity. Colonialism and capitalism slowly unraveled the social tapestry, exterminating socio-diversity and giving rise to the docile and alienated workforce the system needs for its reproduction.”

    Which social tapestry are you referring to? Prior to the arrival of modern capitalism in Cuba, the social tapestry of your island was one of Spanish colonialism and slavery. It was the force of modernity which drove both those antiquated and exploitative institutions away from Cuba. Prior to colonialism, the native inhabitants lived in primitive hunter gatherer societies, with minimal agriculture, and even less diversity than colonials introduced.

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