Cleaning the Havana ‘Malecon’ Seawall

Photo Feature by Isbel Diaz Torres & Jimmy Roque Martinez

HAVANA TIMES — This past Sunday the annual Havana carnival culminated with parades alongside the malecon (seawall).  The following day, though, the coastline was left in sad shape, as large amounts of litter had accumulated from the merrymakers casually tossing litter into the sea over the last ten nights.

In order to clean up this beautiful area of the capital, a small group of friends and I, who are all nature lovers, responded to the call of the  “Guardabosques” (Forest Rangers) initiative, a project that is a part of the new left Critical Observatory Network.

Like we did two years ago, the members of this environmentalist group reconvened for our own environmental day.

Under the stern and vigilant gaze of the State Security (undercover?) agents, but also with the cheerful involvement of children and adults alike, our small brigade went to work.

We collected about eight sacks of garbage, consisting mainly of broken bottles, plastic bags, all types of paper and cardboard, beer and soda cans, Styrofoam containers and other materials.

Some objects were debris from the religious offerings that are traditionally placed in the sea, but most of the items were from the everyday practices of city dwellers who had come to the malecon in their spare time to drink and have fun, though they generate all sorts of waste – much of which is not biodegradable.

Plastic bags are very dangerous for marine life creatures that mistake them for jellyfish or fish, eat them, and then die of asphyxiation.

This may have been all that a little group like ours could manage to do, but the impact on people around us was invaluable. On several occasions, adults and children expressed their admiration for our efforts.

One father who was out with his little girl said, with obvious feelings of approval, “People really don’t understand what you all are doing here.” Meanwhile another girl, after asking who we were, said — to our great surprise — “If you guys are going to make a revolution, I’m voting for you.”

One kid who couldn’t have been more than a first grader, and who was playing in a pool on the side of the seawall with his friends, ran around looking for empty beer cans and brought them to me. The child was missing one of his little arms, yet he still plunged into the salty and polluted waters to search for more cans, while encouraging his friends to do the same.

“Things like this should be done more often,” a few people said, though others made comments like “It’s all for nothing, because everything is going to be a mess again come morning”; they were more skeptical about the effectiveness of our work. In any case, most people thought it was the government that should deal with such matters.

Though we were able to only cover a small area, compared to the entire length of the capital city’s malecon, the truth remains that people saw us and spoke to us. We talked their same language.

They saw that we weren’t asking anything from them or teaching them to how to care for the environment. They saw how we arrived and got busy working alongside them.

Returning beauty to the landscape or saving the life of an animal can be as revolutionary as combating transnational corporations. But there are many people here who don’t do one thing or the other, though they still claim that title of “revolutionary” with full fervor. What do they want it for?

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5 thoughts on “Cleaning the Havana ‘Malecon’ Seawall

  • One of the things I enjoy so much about the posts at Havana Times is the continual connection with what goes on around me here in NYC. Often I see the same kinds of situations and behavior. People have got to organize and make government more effective! The people who took it upon themselves to get together and clean up the discarded material are the kind of people I want to work with!

  • Graham, las personas jóvenes en Cuba están saturadas de actividades como esa. Porque están cansados de trabajo voluntario que no es tan voluntario y tiene serias repercusiones. Más bien están faltos de recreación y enajenados por la falta de oportunidades de participación activa donde puedan desarrollar su creatividad. Quizá conviene mejor a las autoridades una juventud que no se preocupe por temas ecológicos, políticos o de ninguna índole, es mejor para las autoridades que solo se interesen en vacilar. Por cierto yo estoy por las dos cosas llevadas de la mano. Si estás en Cuba para la misma fecha el año que viene, seguro puedes ayudar con la basura del malecón. Nos vemos cuando regreses a la Habana. Un abrazo.

  • This is great! I remember around the lake where my parents live we used to have similar trash pick ups. Obviously such acts are not political, because I did them in the United States just as you all do them in Cuba…although I can’t be sure we had any state security watching over us…anyway, we picked up trash and cleaned up our lake just the same. I hope I’m in Cuba the next time so I can join. I think more international students benefiting from the government programs need to participate in activities such as this. I remember we once had a “clean up day” at the med school (ELAM) and about 6 of us showed up…out of 4,000 students….of course hundreds show up if there is a free concert.

  • Kudos for doing something positive! Encouraging, also, to see the positive comments of many of the onlookers, some of whom even joined in your efforts. Too bad the folks from State Security didn’t join you in the clean-up; also, there will always be those “nattering nabobs of negativity” (to quote a former, infamous, vice-president), but their attitude just winds up poisoning themselves rather than affecting others. I did something like this in my own town a few weeks ago, and I felt much more energized afterwards.

  • This is heartwarming. Good post! Great job for the Malecon!

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