Yenisel Rodriguez Perez

HAVANA TIMES, March 6 — The first time I saw the tree, from three blocks away, I felt that I needed to share such beauty with my friends. I was 14 years old and in high school. It had a hypnotic beauty, giant in its green innocence, yet a veteran of so many springs.

I brought my close friends Ivan and Amir halfway across Havana to witness such great splendor. They came willingly because our great mission back then was to discover beauty wherever it could be found – and if the sites were the most mundane, so much the better.

The tree that I told them about was on a corner in the Los Pocitos neighborhood. Its leafy branches spread out from inside the courtyard of the brand new community medical facility, which at that time was the newest element of the primary health care system in Cuba.

Neighborhood people would gather under its shade to talk or play dominoes and baseball. Later people would assemble there to sell things. All of them were drawn, perhaps unconsciously, by the magnetic torpor of this prodigious tree.

In the mid 90’s there came the fever for soccer, as well as the games on which adults gambled, lost drunks and squabbling over pennies. But still, the shadows of the tree continued to serve as the stage.

One day the fourth doctor that occupied the office insisted on putting up an iron fence on the wall around the yard under the tree, which was where people used to sit.

A few weeks later, the wall was almost completely knocked down at the anonymous hands of those who were reluctant to lose that place.

Then the electric company came and began the gradual cutting down of the tree’s huge branches. They said they had to prune it back because it was threatening the power lines, but I think that many of the nearby residents knew that this was part of the strategy of the new doctor.

A few days later the tree was cut down completely; only a grim wooden stub remained, but no one protested. The perpetrator of this misfortune was the caretaker par excellence of the community’s health: the neighborhood doctor.

Such things make me ask: What kinds of “social doctors” are being trained in our country, which is said to be a medical powerhouse? How can it be explained that a community a doctor chooses to kill a beautiful tree in an effort to “clean up” the environment around their office?

You figure it out!


Yenisel Rodriguez

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez: I have lived in Cuba my entire life, except for several months in 2013 when I was in Miami with my father. Despite the 90 miles that separate Havana and Miami, I find profound reasons in both for political and community activism. My encounter with socio-cultural anthropology eight years ago prepared me for a commitment of love for cultural diversity.

3 thoughts on “Cutting Down a 100-year-old Tree

  • For their actions against the protection order, Tesco Supermarket can and should be prosecuted. As I said earlier, there is accountability. On the other hand, public spaces, as I mentioned earlier, are indeed maintained by government but absent public support (for example using available trash bins and not walking through flower beds) no government can provide the adequate attention to keep these public spaces presentable. Cubans take very little personal pride in their public spaces. When was the last time you saw a neighborhood organized park cleanup or repair? How many residential apartment building exteriors get painted by the residents of the building. On the contrary, I know Cubans who intentionally ignore the exterior maintenance needs of their homes yet have fully restored the interiors so as to not draw attention to themselves in their neighborhood and raise interest as to how they were able to afford these repairs.

  • Moses that is rubbish. Tesco Supermarket recently chopped down a number of trees even though there was a preservation order on them. I guess they reckoned they could easily cover any fine they might get. In contrast there are thousands of buildings and parks restored and maintained by public bodies.

  • Yet another example of what happens when buildings, parks, trees and other potentially beautiful things that exist in the public domain and are not privately-owned. Indeed, this can also happen when it is private property as well but at least in that case there is accountability when it is destroyed or not maintained. Beautiful buildings and open spaces in Cuba have long suffered because everyone assumes it belongs to the State anyway so why maintain it or in this case why save it.

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