Cuba’s Ornamental Gardens are Dying Again

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

HAVANA TIMES – In the ‘90s, we experienced the toughest crisis in our modern history, which Fidel Castro baptized the “Special Period”. In reality, it was anything but special. It was awful or dreadful… criminal even. Countries like China and Vietnam powered through the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, creating wealth instead of going hungrier, like we were forced to.

Back then, any leafy or root vegetable was a treasure, like cumin seeds or cinnamon back in medieval Europe. Ornamental grass and gardens were the first to fall: when food became an odyssey, beauty became secondary.

Roses and lilies were replaced by rows of sweet potatoes. Poppies stopped growing and withered in the shade of banana trees. Potted plants could no longer be occupied by cacti or orchids because the space was needed to grow leeks or coriander.

This situation gradually improved towards the end of that decade and these spaces were given some TLC again. Basic survival becoming a thing of the past. But we never really left the Special Period behind us. We reinvented ourselves and opening up the economy in some aspects led to improvement in most families’ purchasing power. As a result, gardens took over seeded plots again, and we had flowers once again.

History repeates itslef

However, history is repeating itself again, improvements weren’t founded upon a solid foundation. The system is afraid to relax the reins that hinder our political and economic development. The crisis returned with the same force as the one in the ‘90s, threatening to be worse this time around. But it’s not a new crisis like we’re being told it is. It’s the same one that is getting critical again. This whole “temporary” business is just a cover-up because it’s systemic.

It’s our national policy even. Spy/hero Gerardo Hernandez, cast aside with the mediocre position of National CDR Coordinator, (he seemed to have greater potential within the political nomenclature) went viral and became the butt of jokes on social media. He recommended Cubans plant squash and pineapples in their backyards and on balconies, as part of his organization’s great strategy. He also came up with the idea of giving the most exceptional CDR members a 10-liter watering can for their vegetable plots.

So, it’s clear that the death of Cuban gardens has been decreed yet again. We are seeing more backyards with root vegetables growing, balconies with plant pots of coriander or lettuce, and houses on the verge of losing themselves behind banana trees. Not because Gerardo Hernandez says so though mind you, but because necessity forces people too.

Truth be told, it would even be a beautiful social or lifestyle project of it weren’t being conditioned by hunger and desperation. There’s no doubt that we are being forced to replace beauty and the tenderness of a flower, children’s soft steps on grass or the night-time aroma of jasmine plants, for the hope of having a root vegetable on our plates.

Read more from Osmel Ramirez diary here.