A Dirty City

Paula Henriquez

rio-quibu-1HAVANA TIMES — Walking through there is almost impossible, not because something is blocking the way physically, but because breathing is an unbearable task. The riverbed is becoming narrower, not because of the plants that normally grow in its waters exactly, but because of the piles of garbage that build up on its shores everyday.

A lot has been said about the filth and irresponsibility that surrounds the Quibu river (a river whose source is in the Marianao municipality and which flows into the Nautico neighborhood in Havana’s Playa municipality), however, very little has been done in this regard; and I’m not only referring to national or municipal health authorities, but to the population as well.

The “mountain” of garbage bags can be seen from afar and not to mention the foul smell that is also rampant in surrounding areas. One might think that the local community doesn’t seem to care about this, because, in spite of everything, they continue to throw garbage into the riverbank. The excuse: garbage trucks don’t come to collect the garbage. And this is true, garbage trucks only come once or twice a week, and sometimes they don’t come at all. And the community is growing and so is their waste.

Celia Martinez lives near one of these neighborhoods where the Quibu river passes through. She says that sometimes from her house she can smell the foul odor of rotting and waste and that at times, she can’t see the river’s waters because it’s completely covered by the garbage that neighbors throw from the bridge near her house.

Is it because there aren’t enough garbage containers in the neighborhood? I ask her…

“Well, there are garbage containers in the neighborhood, however there aren’t as many as there should be, but we do have them. The thing is though that some of these people live further away and so they decide to walk a little less and throw their garbage into the river.”

And in fact, there are several garbage containers, jam-packed though, just a few blocks away from the aforementioned bridge, however like this neighbor in the Marianao municipality says, not everybody “feels” like walking that far.

“You also have to take into account the fact that the containers are almost always full to the top and that there isn’t any space to put another bag, so people have begun to throw them where they want, in the river, next to garbage containers, etc. Nobody can keep garbage in their house, which would be worse. So alternative dumps have sprung up all over the neighborhood, however, the one at the river is without a doubt the worst.” Celia adds.

The typical situation around the garbage bins.
The typical situation around the garbage bins.

And she’s right. If we stop along the bridge that is located in the Cocosolo neighborhood in Marianao, the only thing you can see is garbage. The bars that protect pedestrians were even cut so that garbage bags could be more easily “thrown”. The mountain of garbage almost touches the floor of this bridge and of course insects, rats, etc. thrive in this area and its surroundings.

I also went to have a look at the garbage bins. There were food scraps everywhere, not just inside these garbage containers. Other neighbors say that sometimes garbage trucks don’t come to take this away for up to five days. The reason: there isn’t enough fuel, they don’t have the spare parts they need to fix the trucks or quite simply there aren’t enough trucks to meet all of the city’s “demand”.

And that’s why garbage has flooded us. Not only in Marianao, you just have to walk through neighboring municipalities to confirm that this happens to the same extent or worse there too. Celia says that people complain about other people, claiming that its the neighbors themselves who are to blame, that they are the ones who are getting the surroundings dirty. However, others say that they can’t literally “swallow” this waste and so they have to leave it anywhere they can.

And they are also right. You can’t live with garbage inside your house but you shouldn’t have to live with it outside either. Who’s to blame? It’s a neverending story because on the one hand you have the authorities throwing you out of your house up to four times a week so that they can fumigate and kill the Aesdes Aegypti and this campaign is carried out nationwide, but on the other hand, they are breeding this mosquito… and other small animals that are dangerous to human health.

The subject has been spoken about to death. I’ve seen TV reports of “all stripes and colors”. Everybody criticizes but nobody is coming up with a way to resolve this problem. I don’t blame the authors of these reports. They’ve been told the same thing all of us have been told: things will get better; but nobody can find a solution anywhere.

Meanwhile, more and more streets are being filled with forgotten objects, food scraps and even dead animals, and days continue to roll on by… calmly…

Paula Henriquez

Paula Henriquez: Since childhood I have been told I should be careful what I say in public. "Think before you speak, especially in front of others," my mother would say, and it was more of a plea than a scolding. Even today I hear her and I obey her, just that I do not speak, I write. Letters and words are my escape, my exit and daily catharsis, which printed on paper, revive me. And this picture is my refuge.

10 thoughts on “A Dirty City

  • October 3, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    You are right. I know many Cubans who have been in the US. Most have no qualms with opening the window of their cars and throwing out a bottle.

  • October 3, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    Cubans litter from the day they’re born. It’s second nature. They don’t think or worry about it for one second, same as in almost any developing country in the world.

    It’s not unique in the slightest.

  • October 3, 2016 at 8:15 am

    The authoritarian socialist ideology imposed on Cuba by Castro is indeed to blame. The totalitarian state enforces codes of behaviour and punishes initiative and self-responsibility. The attitude is that the State will clean it up. Cubans are too busy trying to survive to waste their own time or money on cleaning up garbage.

    Meanwhile, the State doesn’t buy enough garbage trucks, or hire enough workers to look after the huge amount of trash, neither can they manage the logistics of such an operation. Why toss your trash in a bin if you know the bin won’t be collected for weeks and the trash piles up around it?

    Industrial pollution in Cuba is terrible. Sewage treatment facilities are inadequate & crumbling. Yes indeed, it is the fault of the Castro regime.

  • October 2, 2016 at 8:44 am

    Reminds me of life in NYC during the fifties and sixties. We had some serious problems with littering and the Gowanus River was a cesspool of trash and foul human excrements. All cleaned up now and the City of NY has changed for the better. Still, pretty sad in this day and age.

  • October 1, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    If what you say is true and Cuban people just do not care enough to dispose of their own litter then they deserve all they get! Being dirty and lazy is nothing to be proud of!

  • September 30, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    True true, I have witnessed this first hand. Cubanos don’t seem to give a rat’s behind regarding keeping garbage off the streets, even right in front of their very own homes, when a garbage can is very close by!!!!!!!

  • September 30, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    “… What is Mr Castro doing about this or is he pretending that this is all a capitalist plot…”

    What in the world are you talking about? Cubans litter. Period.

    This has nothing to do with Castro.

  • September 30, 2016 at 1:27 am

    This problem has been going on for ages.

    It’s a shame the river is such a mess, but to be honest the vast majority of Cubans don’t care enough to take any direct action. They’re happy to throw their garbage anywhere and walk away.

    It’s so much easier to simply shrug your shoulders and complain, but do nothing.

  • September 29, 2016 at 1:12 pm

    Enlist the help of the Army to help clean this up before it turns into an epidemic and endangers human life especially the very young and the elderly!

  • September 29, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    It is a downward spiral from here, next Rats then disease! What is Mr Castro doing about this or is he pretending that this is all a capitalist plot

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