Isbel Diaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES – I’ve been witness to how Cuban police officers encourage the contamination of Havana’s northern coast, particularly the area known as the Malecon ocean drive and along the coastline.
It was Saturday night and, as many know, the ocean drive is one of the few places that young people without decent incomes can turn to for leisure. I was there with a group of friends, gathered around a bottle of Havana Club, enjoying the sea breezes.
Hundreds of other people at either side were also drinking rum or that terrible sweet wine that street vendors sell illegally in this part of town (at prices more in tune with the pockets of ordinary Cubans).
Our first surprise was seeing two police officers approach each small group and say something to them. A few moments later, it was our turn, and we found out what this was all about.
“Good evening,” said one of the two officers. “You can’t have that bottle there.”
We looked at one another, a bit confused, as it is perfectly legal to drink in public in Cuba and, at the ocean drive, it’s almost a tradition. What’s more, even though a lot of people were out, the atmosphere was relaxed.
Of course, we didn’t immediately comply. We needed to know the reason behind this decision, so, bold as brass, we asked the young police officer, who replied that “when people start throwing bottles, you’ll know why.”
He immediately gave us some advice, as he had apparently done with each group:
“Look, you can do this. Throw the empty bottle away,” he said, pointing towards the rocks and the sea below, “and put the other one inside the backpack. I just don’t want to see them.”
Our ecological senses suddenly began to tingle.
“You can’t tell people to throw bottles into the sea,” we replied, angered.
The other cop walked closer to see what was going on and we told him the same thing. The officers hadn’t planned on meeting so much resistance and, of course, could say nothing against our environmentalist arguments, so they left.
The Guardabosques (“Forest Ranger”) project, which I founded with a group of friends some years ago, has on occasion organized what we call “Malecon Clean-Up Days” to address the deplorable state of this coastal area.
On such occasions, the only thing the Ministry of the Interior has done is obstruct our work and threaten the activists. It is almost as if an anti-ecological posture is institutional policy.
Every day, we see people on the ocean drive hurl glass bottles, cans, plastic bags, food, condoms and all kinds of garbage into the sea, indiscriminately. If law and order officials are promoting this kind of aggression, we’ll soon have a veritable marine dump at the entrance to the bay area.