The Ghost of Hydraulic Willpower returns to Cuba

Isbel Diaz Torres

HAVANA TIMES — The new “State Plan to tackle Climate Change”, is trying to pick up on one of the most disastrous experiences of Communist(?) willpower in the 20th century: Hydraulic Resolve.

Under the childish name “Tarea Vida” (Life task), the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA) has presented an ambitious program to the government with good outcomes and off the mark results, which we will talk about in future articles, especially where they highlight water resources in Cuba.

According to Cuban government sources, 30% of water (about 240 million liters) which the country needs per year comes from underground sources.

These same experts agree on the fact that because Cuba is a long and narrow archipelago, its basins are open to the sea, and when aquifer levels decrease, a phenomenon known as saltwater intrusion occurs. In this way, salt water, which is heavier, comes from the sea and enters the aquifers under solid ground, polluting drinking water sources which were available beforehand.

Every year, this phenomenon affects Cuba more seriously, which is experiencing chronic drought, worsened by a severely collapsed storage and distribution system.  The great breakage in one of the main water lines in the capital a few weeks ago, is just an example.

But, in this article I want to focus not on water distribution, but on how it is collected and stored.

And that terrible experience that Fidel Castro began in 1962, is trying to be picked up on today. I say terrible, not because of intentions to supply the population, agriculture and industry with enough water so they could develop; but with outlooks being limited to the short-term which the Cuban president used to have back then.

“To build water retention projects,” he said in 1963, “until the day that not a single drop of water returns to the sea. The Sea will not be able to have a single drop of fresh water that falls on Cuban soil. We have to see the day when we don’t lose a single drop!” And in 1964, he continued:

“And let’s hope that when this happens, there is at least one river that has been cut, one less river to flood our land and take away our fellow compatriots lives; and that you dam more and more rivers every year, until there isn’t even a brook that hasn’t been dammed, until we meet the target of not a single drop of water returning to the sea, as this is this organization’s greatest objective, its final objective.”

And he then went on to say: “because here we are talking about when we have finished damming all of Cuba’s rivers and using all of our water table, we will have reached 20% of the land; then we can find a way to also irrigate the remaining 80%.”

That developmental mentality was mind-bending, and as a consequence, countless dams were built which stopped rivers reaching the sea, with the subsequent effects of this on plant life and fauna caught beneath the dam, on coastal aquifers and their salinization, and also on sea plants and animals in our platform.

One of the most disastrous cases was what happened with the Cauto river basin, the most fast-flowing in the country. Fidel said in 1964: “I believe that we shouldn’t stop until we haven’t put a little dam in the last brook within that region,” referring to the Cauto basin.

What they achieved much later was “strongly polluted and saline water, deforestation on riverbanks, soil erosion and vast saline waste land. Deforestation in this region led to an increase in the evaporation level and accelerated riverbed erosion. Waters became saline 62 km before reaching the estuary, and “to top that all of, along the final stretch, the river flows upstream, as the natural output must be 5 m2 per second, and water impoundment is just 2 m2,” Eudel Cepero tells us.

Excessive impoundment at the basin because of dams such as the Cauto-El Paso dam, are recognized to be among the main causes of this situation. Nevertheless, nor experience nor scientific evidence can override our bureaucrats’ willpower.

On May 19th, the current CITMA minister once again repeated the old slogan to officials in Sancti Spiritus: “In this case, our priority is to recover basins, recover dams, and recover salty water wherever it is: not to let water go out to the sea.”

Water, general characteristics. Excessive exploitation of aquifers: saline intrusion.

The Land Water Law project, which should have been approved last December, and mysteriously disappeared from Parliament’s agenda, is also a threat to our ecosystems, as it puts “environmental flow” in seventh place in the order of priorities for the use of land water. Environmental flow is vital, as it entails the water below dams and diversions, needed to sustain ecosystems in terms of  water flow and conditions needed for biodiversity.

The effect of dams is such that critics claim that its benefits are worth less than the social, environmental and financial costs which they imply. These effects have a direct impact on soil, plants, fauna, the climate, and, especially, human populations within the area. By damming a river, you are changing the hydrology and limnology of the river system deeply. Dramatic changes take place in flow, quality, quantity and the use of this water, biotic organisms and sedimentation in the river basin, and include variations in the phreatic level under reservoirs, and salinization problems.

In 1968, Fidel Castro said during the inauguration of a dam: “Nature maintains its physical or biological laws, it doesn’t follow the laws of human willpower. Man must fight against Nature to impose his will, to impose his laws.”

This logic of imposing and failing to recognize natural cycles and their mechanisms, seems to be one of the defining features of the ironically named “Tarea Vida” project, which is more interested in Party guidelines and economic progress in the short-term than in mitigating the impact of Climate Change.

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.

6 thoughts on “The Ghost of Hydraulic Willpower returns to Cuba

  • July 4, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    It will take many generations for Cuba to recover from the concepts of Fidel Castro. Although tall of stature his mind was narrow being constricted by Marxist/Leninist beliefs. With a dominating arrogance which would brook no form of contradiction, Fidel Castro promoted half baked concepts which duly failed – one after another and Cubans pay the price. Isbel Diaz Torres describes but one of them.

  • July 1, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    Great idea. Bad execution.

    It’s a very, very complicated situation.

  • July 1, 2017 at 8:37 am

    Danny, estoy totalmente de acuerdo contigo: las experiencias en esos que tú llamas países capitalistas han sido hasta peores que la cubana. De las luchas de esos ambientalistas allá he aprendido mucho, sobre todo, su posición crítica al desarrollismo. Si te fijas, yo no dije “desastrosa experiencia del Comunismo”, sino “una de las experiencias más nefastas del voluntarismo ¿comunista? del siglo XX”. Como ves, lo de comunista está entre comillas, pues pienso que en realidad no considero la experiencia cubana como comunista, sino también capitalista; solo que fue “capitalismo de estado”, y que poco a poco ha ido pasando a un capitalismo estilo China.
    Sobre intenciones, poco puedo decirte. De parcialidad, por completo: totalmente en contra de tales aberraciones estatistas, depredadoras del medio ambiente, y cortoplacistas. No soy parcial, ni pretendo serlo. Tengo mi posicionamiento político, y lo reflejo en mis escritos. También en ellos incluyo la crítica al capitalismo global (en el que Cuba quiere insertarse). En este texto no lo hice pues ya era muy alrgo para los requerimientos del sitio, y quería aportar algunos elementos técnicos para que se comprendiera el tema. Además, las citas de Fidel son por lo general bastante largas, pero imprescindibles para comprender el voluntarismo del líder cubano.
    Muchas gracias por comentar. Sería bueno que lo hicieras en el portal en castellano, para que otras personas puedan dar su opinión.

  • June 30, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    Es solo el pan de cada dia para HT.

  • June 30, 2017 at 9:42 am

    Dany, favor poner su comentario en el mismo post en Havana Times en español.

  • June 30, 2017 at 8:30 am

    En todos los países del mundo capitalista se han hecho presas y embalses que han acabado con la ecología de zonas enteras. Esto no excluye a nadie, ni a EEUU ni a Europa. Entonces ¿A que viene eso de que “desastrosa experiencia del Comunismo”?¿Por que no dicen que es desastrosa experiencia del capitalismo también? La voluntad hidráulica con todos los defectos que pueda tener beneficio mucho más del daño que pueda haber causado porque evitó que miles de personas murieran por las crecidas de los rías en los ciclones tal como pasó en el Flora.
    La mala intención y parcialidad de este artículo es extraordinaria

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