Photo Feature by Isbel Diaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 2 — On a recent trip to the tourist town of Viñales, I learned how the locals understand ecological tourism there.
Viñales and its surrounding valley is one of the most beautiful places in Pinar del Rio province, which is why it’s chosen as a tourist destination by nature lovers. It was to be expected then that the tourism workers there would promote the special care of plants and animals.
Nevertheless, after entering by boat into what’s known as Indian Cave, there appeared before my eyes a depressing spectacle. An otherwise awe-inspiring water buffalo, brought here from Vietnam, posed sadly for the spectators. The animal was outfitted with a harness and saddle to invite people to mount the gigantic-horned beast, which almost always received its riders with a bad attitude.
Then appeared countless tables with the most useless objects on display. All showed the very visible word “CUBA” as a stamp of quality. Surprisingly, the immense majority of the objects were products of the exploitation of animals.
Scorpions were the favorite. Their inert bodies adorned hundreds of key rings and paperweights. I asked the vendor about the origin of the animals, and this young guy explained that they came from a scientific institution in Matanzas that extracts scorpion venom for therapeutic purposes.
It didn’t seem to me that the extraction of venom would necessarily lead to the death of those arachnids. What’s more, many of the specimens on display there were young, which would have made it difficult for them to have been used for obtaining venom.
Neither did the hundreds of tiny crabs and snails on sale there produce any venom useful for humans. Where did those come from? – From our rivers and coasts. No population studies have been conducted to learn how to farm these without endangering those species, yet this indiscriminate exploitation is tolerated by the local officials.
The same can be said of the objects made based on beautiful wood, bull horns, tortoiseshells, and other parts of once living beings. The tortoiseshell objects, at least in the handicraft markets in Havana, are not displayed in plain view. You have to ask the vendors for these; then, as if they were so many grams of cocaine, they’ll discreetly walk you to some safe place where they can show you the goods.
The end of the journey of the trinket displays is reserved for kitsch “revolutionary art bazaars,” where the images of political figures like Fidel, Che and Camilo adorn T-shirts, berets and key rings. Books by these leaders, along with the “Constitution of the Republic of Cuba,” are sold to tourists.
I don’t think that it’s necessary to point out that all the sales of these wares are all carried out in Cuba’s hard currency, the CUC. This being the case, a “Guevarian” beret represents forty percent of my monthly wage.
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