Isbel Diaz Torres
A few weeks ago on the TV news/commentary program “La Mesa Redonda” (The Roundtable) — known for its tedious monologues and a skewed approach to any subject — its producers had the surprisingly good judgment to take on the issue of environmental regulations in Cuba.
I sat down anxious to hear the sharpest arguments confronting Cuban legislation on this issue.
According to host Randy Alonso (whose responsibility is signaling to each panelist when it’s their turn to chime in), the program would address the following questions: “How is environmental legislation in our country established? How is it implemented? What’s done to make it effective? Who are the people who violate it and what’s done to them?”
Senior officials from the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment and from the Ministry of Agriculture described how the Cuban system is structured. Their approaches, in all cases, allowed us to discover the utilitarian vision of the environment in the eyes in our research institutions.
The need for environmental legislation, according to this vision, arises from the obligation to protect the country’s natural resources, since these are necessary for its economic development. It’s because of that goal — though one television viewer asked about a law regarding the well-being of animals — the issue wasn’t discussed.
The term “environmental resources” places all of nature, of which we are an integral part, in the position of desired merchandise. All of the knowledge we’re able to accumulate is to exploit it to the maximum. It is a relationship of objectification, one that causes us to become ill from cynicism and dilutes any possible spirituality.
In this roundtable they discussed our Law 81 on the Environment, which was so advanced in its time, especially in the Latin American context. Little was said, though, about its gaps, omissions and exemptions.
The existing legislation is characterized by its unfocused mechanisms of accountability and enforcement, having originated in the absence of a sole body to deal with all aspects related to issues of the environment. This hinders the effectiveness of judicial norms and increases incidences of environmental and ecological crimes.
I repeat: it’s necessary for a single body to be responsible for all socially dangerous acts or omissions that typify acts of environmental crime. The criminal code in force in Cuba fails to provide for its penalization, it merely stipulates sanctions for a few illegal acts that do harm to the environment, those generally associated with the protection of health, personal assets and the national economy.
For example, if someone tortures a cat (a species whose milk and meat are not consumed), would they receive any kind of sanction? And what if they killed that animal?
Why do we frequently see individuals who capture birds of prey to decorate their homes? Isn’t this a type of torture of species that need to fly in open spaces? Where are the inspectors responsible for this matter?
And what if these violent acts are committed by institutions? What if the pruning of a grove of trees in the city leaves several birds’ nests on the ground with the nestlings dying in agony, as occurred recently under the direction of the Ministry of the Interior in Santa Fe? Who gave them a fine? Up to what level do we assign the blame and responsibility?
I speak of inspectors to try to keep with the logic of the commentators who had sat around the table on TV. You readers already know that I’m against repressive bodies of any type. I prefer education, collective control and self-regulation by individuals and communities.
The program gave examples of measures taken against “infringers” of environmental legislation, those who hadn’t assimilated the responsibilities they have to society.” That’s not bad, but we know that these are often only cosmetic measures because they don’t eliminate the causes that generate the problem.
Some time ago I got to know Aniplant, a Cuban NGO. Thanks to their director I was put in contact with several people in the country who have been thinking about the need for an animal protection law. Some of them have even been working on this, but up to now it has proven fruitless. I thought that perhaps she would have been invited on the program to discuss the battles she’s been waging in support of animals and the legal inefficiencies that must be addressed.
Too many documentaries come on TV where they show us animal protection wardens, animal shelters, specialized clinics and other kinds of environmental protection projects. Then, when you step outside into the street, the closest thing you see to all that is a dog catcher grabbing some poor mutt by the tail, slinging it around in the air a couple of times to send it flying into the metal wall of the truck, with the blow silencing the yelps of the sad canine.
That’s how they take those animals to the gas chambers, which our health institutions employ for getting rid of street dogs. There’s no talk of “re-homing” adoption campaigns, vaccination programs or sterilization. Only death.
For me, the only part of the Roundtable program of interest was where journalist Jose Alejandro Rodriguez spoke. Several people commented to me afterwards that the passion and sincerity with which he discussed the issues impacted them very positively. This becomes evident when there’s true involvement, when the indignation is real and when there is a sharp critique made from a determined position.
Rodriguez reflects this wherever he’s presented, be it on TV or in the written press. He raises the accusations and charges that people present to him. He investigates. Like a true revolutionary empowered with his rights, he calls institutions and the municipal governments on the carpet. He calls things by their name, and I imagine that soon he’ll be running into some pretty rough problems in the exercise of his profession.
The “Mesa Redonda” should invite him on more frequently, as well as other “conflictivos” like him. An act like that would win a lot of prestige and credibility for the presently lackluster show.
Other topics like the development and large-scale introduction of transgenic corn and soya crops in the fields of Cuba, as well as violations committed by national scientific institutions during that process, were simply not addressed.
I was able to read a copy of the “Environmental Strategy” of the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment for the 2011–2015 period. It has as a goal “the putting into effect those regulations for the exploration, extraction, transportation and processing of hydrocarbons.” That goal makes me think that over all these years those activities related to hydrocarbons have been operating outside of the law. Am I mistaken?
Another goal was “to apply civil liabilities for environmental damage and criminal liabilities for crimes against the environment” – something else that that apparently wasn’t seen as being done, and also wasn’t exposed on that roundtable.
In short, it’s very difficult to be a judge and an involved party. If you’re going to evaluate the work of those who design and apply environmental legislation, besides themselves, other opinions should be present. But will “Mesa Redonda” ever be interested in such a debate?