Cuba and the Environment: We Are the Ones Who Lose

Kabir Vega Castellanos

HAVANA TIMES — One of the things that worries me most about Cuba today is the damage being done to the environment.

When I take a stroll down Alamar, if I have to cut across a green area, I find it hard to choose a path: absolutely all of them are covered with garbage, and the abominable smell (of rotting food, dead animals and stagnant water) makes it difficult to breathe. Most of them are shortcuts, outside urban farms that are in pretty much the same condition.

I used to ask myself why there was so much garbage lying around everywhere.

I had my answer when I saw a woman throw away her garbage on the ground, a few steps away from the bin. Many had apparently had the same idea, for there was more garbage outside than inside the bin, which wasn’t even full.

At CDR meetings, people complain about those who throw out their garbage from the higher floors of buildings. I’ve seen bags full of garbage in the most incredible places, and I can’t help but ask myself why people don’t realize this is the place they live in – they’re not even sending their garbage off to a different planet (which would also be disastrous, of course).

In the city, I have also come across the smell of dead animals (religious sacrifices), rotting garbage or excrement. Some places constantly reek of urine.

Where is this neglect coming from? Many of the people who throw out greasy pizza wrappers or empty pop cans on the street are well-dressed and, in all likelihood, live in very clean homes. I also don’t understand why, in Cuba, garbage isn’t classified and separated as it is in the rest of the world.

The only time green areas are cleaned is during voluntary work sessions organized by the CDRs. People participate because they have to; most of them seem to be doing something but, ultimately, one doesn’t notice much improvement.

No matter how much fumigators torment people every day, not only has dengue not disappeared, now we have cholera and even malaria.

I once came to the conclusion that if the government announced it would apply steep fines on people who damaged the environment that people would start to be less careless, but, not long ago, they announced they would demolish annexes that had been illegally constructed around buildings, and people continue to build them. For some reason, they don’t take such threats seriously.

I believe that, if clean-up work that had nothing to do with politics were organized, that people would become more aware and begin to take more and more interest in caring for their environment. I don’t think it’s that hard to understand that we are the ones who stand to lose from our own behavior.

6 thoughts on “Cuba and the Environment: We Are the Ones Who Lose

  • kabir es la tia de tu mama Edith.lei algunas cosas que has escrito,estan muy buenas y haria falta que las personas tomaran conciencia de ello.

  • Excellent article Kabir!

  • Kabir
    Kabir, one thing you might consider that could help, is putting captions on the photos, giving the date and exact location. That way the community or those responsible for garbage pickup in that area could be alerted and maybe prompted to do better!.

  • I live in Canada , here we have laws and signs that say you will be fined for littering. Laws are only good if enforced and here we have a number of people who dont care and know they wont be persecuted anyway . But mostly we have a clean country and have good recycle systems that most people follow.
    I have been to Cuba 12 times and believe Ive been in almost every city , town,or village from Baracoa to Pinar del Rio on bicycle with my wife .I would say most smaller towns are quite clean . Along the highways and roads is also clean. The worst are the bigger cites like Havana , Santiago de Cuba, and others.
    It takes a lot of work and constant reminders to keep people from littering ,some people will never care .
    As Cubans become more affluent , and it is happening, they buy more packaged materials and throw more stuff away . Its going to get worse before it gets better .

  • Complaining is good, combine it with some voluntary action is even better. Telling your buddy to pick up the soda can is good and setting a good example if they don’t pick it up, by doing it yourself in front of them is even better. Poverty and poor social services are contagious. Courteous organizing instead of angry shaming works better overtime. Waiting for someone else to do it is the worst prescription. Having to turn your anger Into action may seem unfair, but it works better then just being bitter and disgusting.

  • Anyone who has been to Singapore will agree with me how extraordinarily clean the streets and buildings are. One reason for that is that the government vigorously enforces the laws regarding littering and graffiti. My city, San Francisco has areas that sound like the Alamar neighborhood in the article. On the other hand, the neighborhood that I live in is VERY clean. My neighbors have chased me down when they thought my dog pooped in front of their house and I didn’t clean it up. I see other neighbors picking up random trash when out for a stroll. Havana suffers from indifference. Habaneros simply don’t care. I see people in Havana walking while drinking a can of soda or beer and when they are finished drinking they toss the can in the street in stride. Wthout shame! My buddy did this once and when I chastised him about it, he felt he reassured me by saying there are people in Cuba who will pick the can up later to recycle it. He justified it! I also think that if you live in a rundown building on a street full of ruts and potholes, its not so much worse for Cubans to have a dumpster on the corner overflowing with garbage. If the Castros repaired the buildings and streets, I believe the Cuban people would be prideful enough to stop throwing garbage everywhere.

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