A Victory for Citizen’s Responsibility

Isbel Diaz Torres

The field that was a forest can now have a second life.

HAVANA TIMES — Do you remember the grove of casuarina evergreen trees that was completely cut down a year ago in the coastal town of Santa Fe? Well, I can tell you that between the allegations raised by Havana Times, those of the Guardabosques environmentalist organization and pressure from locals, we have succeeded in getting the military out of there.

The momentum that was generated caused the residents to submit a formal complaint to the Council of State. In this, the community warned about the dangers posed by this planned development and demanded respect for their neighborhood and nature.

Shortly after we learned that the Ministry of the Interior had shelved their plan for building homes for military officers at that site.

The young designer and environmental activist Patricia Alonso, whose sensitivity to nature and to her community has been outstanding throughout this case, informed me that crews had refilled the area with fertile soil and replanted the entire block before pulling out permanently.

She doesn’t know what species they planted there because they once again failed to discuss matters with the community.

Seedling planted by the Ministry of Interior

Jimmy Roque Martinez, a member of the Guardabosques, went to Santa Fe soon after to verify the status of the affected parcel. He met with Dianidis, a young mother whose son had suffered emotionally over the loss of the casuarina tree grove.

“I thought that if they were going to do anything here, they would tell us that they were going to turn it into a park or that they were going to plant larger trees, because planting little trees is the same as doing nothing. Up to now no one has watered the seedlings, and so far only grass is growing,” Dinaidis told Jimmy.

The photos show that grass is indeed covering the entire block, meaning that none of those tree plantings are going to survive without an extra bit of help. At the moment, according to the resident, the place has become a site for horse grazing.

It might be impossible to reproduce the exact same look as before — restoring the 80-year-old casuarinas, the flamboyant trees, the royal palms or the three “ocuje” trees cut down by the soldiers, but we can’t let it turn into brush, which usually winds up as a dump, a source contamination.

“Just like this had functioned as an ecological park for children and adults, it wouldn’t have been be a bad idea to put in some benches (…) but in the end they haven’t done anything – it’s the same vacant lot,” complained Dinaidis.

She spoke to Lazarus E. Delgado, the delegate for surrounding area, who recommended that she visit the administration office for the Playa municipality “to see if they are putting it in their budget to turn this into a park and to plant trees… because they’re the only ones who can do that.”

But in my experience it’s not only local administrations that can plant trees. This case has shown that the popular will can do many things, and that a responsible citizens’ initiative that is committed to the community has every right to undertake such transformations.

I have always been clear that the only reward for those who work from their heart — without any other compensation than making a social contribution — is the opportunity for even more work.

The ball is now in the court of the people and local organizations to come up with a better end for this site. If the residents and other sensitive people were pained by the cutting down of this grove, now is our chance to get back what others destroyed.

As for the soldiers who were originally going to get their apartments in this wooded area, don’t worry. According to very close sources, they’ve already started construction on 25th Avenue, where Cuban workers are building luxurious fully furnished buildings for officials and senior officers.

In the meanwhile, we need to be thinking about how to influence others with regard to this little piece of land that we’ve won.


Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

2 thoughts on “A Victory for Citizen’s Responsibility

  • Congratulations on your victory! Hope you get to transplant some larger trees. Still, they’ll grow back fast in the tropics. (I remember planting a tree in my front yard when we first moved into our house in Cutler Ridge, Miami, in 1958, and had to trim it back many times, last time being in 1975. Alas! Hurricane Andrew brought both tree and house down in 1992!

  • Why don’t the residents in the surrounding community pool their resources and collectively purchase the plants and benches to make this vacant land into a park? If 100 households gave 10 cuc each, all the costs would be covered. My own neighborhood did this very thing to build a playground. Many of those who gave money did not have small children but contributed anyway. Normally, 10 cuc would be a lot to ask of a Cuban household but not for this particular community. It is easy to talk solidarity, but actions are a horse of a different color.

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