Farewell to the Ceiba Tree at the University Of Havana

Isbel Diaz Torres

What’s left of the ceiba at the U of H.

HAVANA TIMES — The robust ceiba tree that was growing in front of the university steps in the Cuban capital has been drastically pruned. This is another example of sloppy and disrespectful work of those involved in the green areas in this battered city.

Although strictly speaking, the tree isn’t located on the grounds of the almost 300-year-old campus, for many of us who have studied there it’s an important point of reference and was simply known as “the university ceiba.”

Located in Colina Park, right on the corner of San Lazaro and L streets, the powerful concrete base (built exclusively to safeguard the ceiba) wasn’t enough to protect it from woodcutters who swarm through the streets.

Every day I understand less about the principles governing the work of those who are supposed to ensure the care of the capital city’s environment. This time there’s no way they can provide a compelling reason to justify the latest predatory act.

Looking at the actual situation on site, I could have almost guaranteed that the roots of the plant wouldn’t have affected the adjacent building, nor did the branches endanger power lines, as they pass a good distance from there.

San Lazaro St. and the entrance to the U of H.

The only reason I can imagine is that the residents in the building wanted to see the concerts given across the street on the steps of the university. The foliage of the beautiful specimen probably obstructed the view from the windows.

Given the youth of the tree, there’s a chance it might survive, though there’s no guarantee of that. I remember how the ceiba in my neighbor of St. Augustine held on for three years, even growing new twigs each spring – until it finally died. In this case the trunk isn’t as thick, which could be an advantage.

What does appear incapable of surviving is the respect — the almost reverence — held for the ceiba trees famous in this city. The mixture of history and religion that was linked to this sacred tree formed a protective shield that functioned for decades.

The pragmatism and cynicism corroding Cuban society today will make it hard for us to understand how our identity is being stripped away and how our oldest symbols are being demystified.

It all makes me wonder what today’s college students are saying about all this?


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.

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