Efforts to Clean Rivers Reach Havana Suburbs

The El Guardabosques environmental project made a call to volunteers to come and clean a stretch of the Luyano River and to keep the #trashtagchallenge going in Cuba.

By IPS Cuba

Isbel Diaz, founder of the Guardabosques project (left), and Jimmy Roque work together to get rid of the foul waste that accumulates in the Luyano River.  Photo: IPS Cuba Archive

HAVANA TIMES – Members of the independent Guardabosques group came together and cleaned up a part of the polluted Luyano River with the limited and uncertain means at their disposal, but with a great deal of ingenuity and perseverance, as part of the #RioLuyanoLimpio project. The Luyano River is one of the rivers that meets the sea in Havana Bay.

Known for their continuous volunteer efforts, especially in the suburbs, Guardabosques joined the global movement “#trashtagchallenge” on April 20th, which invites people from all over the world to clean a natural setting and to post photos of the before and after.

Plastic containers, many plastic bags, old brooms, truck tyres, fan bases, bicycle frames and decaying fabrics were some of the objects that volunteers removed from the river, located in Havana’s Diez de Octubre municipality.

After several failed attempts to get rid of the petulant waste islands that accumulate, environmentalist Jimmy Roque’s ingenious maneuvers and dangerous incursions into the river allowed for collecting suffient debris to leave this stretch of the river looking completely different.

Founded in 2007, El Guardabosque group carries out reforestation projects across the Cuban capital and neighboring areas. Photo: IPS Cuba Archive

“Anything we do for the environment, no matter how small and even when we know that we won’t be able to clean, repopulate or reforest 100%, helps the surroundings in some way and raises people’s awareness,” said Arliz Plasencia, who has been working with Guardabosques for three years.

Six-year-old Lena, Arliz and Mario’s daughter (Mario is another activist), also put on a pair of gloves, collected garbage and saw that in spite of how bad the river and its riverbeds are, life always finds a way in the form of pumpkins, bitter melons and bluebells.

“I always bring her and I see how easy it is for children to become motivated in these efforts, take part and an environmental awareness grows with them,” Plascencia pointed out.

Ahmed Toledo, a 25-year-old Philosophy student, says Cuba and especially Havana, are facing an environmental crisis.

Cleaning a river “at least helps raise awareness so people throw away less garbage,” the young man weighed in, who has been promoting these kinds of events on social media and hands out flyers within the community.


An Inside Look at Guardabosques

This project is made up of approximately 20 activists, not only in Havana but also in the country’s interior and eastern provinces.

Connected to cleaning efforts, Guardabosques edits the digital and printed newsletter that shares the same name, which is available nationwide, denouncing environmental situations in Cuba and the public, private or international institutions involved.

Meanwhile, it suggests alternatives on a wide range of subjects, including food production and permaculture, which they are currently offering a course on.

According to Arliz Plascencia, the group is opening up a new branch called “Argumento Ambiental”, so as to introduce a series of news features and interviews with experts about Cuba’s environmental problems (for example, solid waste, the giant African snail and mining), presenting solutions and opinions about each of them.


Activism without Borders

Founded in 2007, El Guardabosque group carries out reforestation projects across the Cuban capital and neighboring areas, as well as environmental sanitation. Another aspect of their work involves reporting environmental violations in its newsletter and taking their complaints directly to the corresponding authorities.

Young Lena, the daughter of two environmental activisits, also helped clean the Luyano River. Photo: IPS Cuba Archive

“We are doing what we’ve been doing for a while now. We have done cleanup campaigns in the Quibu, Ariguanabo (in the Artemisa province) and Almendares rivers, and we have also worked on Havana’s Malecon. Generally-speaking, we clean up and reforest,” biologist Isbel Diaz explained, the independent project’s coordinator.

Diaz notes that a movement has been created in Cuba linked to the global #trashtagchallenge call to collect garbage and clean rivers. “Even though this isn’t anything new to us, it really does encourage us, we think it’s great that new people are signing up and this is our contribution,” he continued.

In spite of having handed out printed information in the neighborhood to get people together during the first event at the Luyano River, they were unable to get the community involved.

Diaz wasn’t discouraged by this setback: “it isn’t the most polluted river, pollution levels aren’t that severe in this stretch at least, and I think that we can change this if we manage to get the community involved and have greater manpower and resources.”

Some of the comments made by passers-by were: “they’re just doing this for fun, the government should be doing it,” “whoever throws garbage into the river should receive a 50,000 peso fine, then they won’t ever do it again,” “they’re crazy… it’s going to be the same again tomorrow.”

The proximity of the ABRA Social Center and Libertarian Library was the reason this place was chosen, as “identifying the problem is that right next to you, that you see every day, and something you can do something about and change, is the most important thing,” Diaz pointed out.

“We didn’t ask for any authorization to do what we are doing because we feel like we have every right to do it, but we would like to get everyone who wants to and can join us to help, and if they are institutions, then that’s even better,” he stressed.

4 thoughts on “Efforts to Clean Rivers Reach Havana Suburbs

  • April 30, 2019 at 6:53 pm

    Vivian. el Editor ha solicitado previamente a los colaboradores du esta paginas en la edicion en ingles de Havana Times que escrben en ingles !
    You may consider that pollution is not a political subject, but I do not know of any environmental group or organization that would agree with that view. It is very much a political subject about which a wide variety of political organizations would agree. I write as one who spends the majority of my time at home in Cuba with my wife and family. When next in Cuba, pay a visit to the Baracoa Playa which lies west of Havana. Having parked in the huge empty car park, take a look at the swimming pool and then walk a couple of kilometers west to Playa Salada passing through the original camping ground. If you have time, continue on west for a further kilometer. You will see garbage half fills the swimming pool, and lies all along the route I have described in huge volumes. The camping ground has been closed as a consequence. In the woods beyond the shop at Playa Salado, the volume of garbage is almost beyond belief.
    So who Vivian do you think should be responsible for a massive clean-up if not government at municipal, provincial or national level.
    Only today, the HT published a photograph I took of chess players on a street in Artemisa when visiting – I had been to Soroa. That same street was littered with rubbish.
    Not all municipalities are similar,but that of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada has small holders for cigarette butts attached to lamp-posts and a $200 fine for those caught throwing butts down in the streets. The UK introduced its litter act over forty years ago with fines. However, as you wish to defend the Government of Cuba, do you know of any legislation passed by the Poder Popular regarding litter. Do you deny that the Castro regime holds responsibility for those smoke stacks? Please do give any example of the regime taking any action? Should my wife as a loyal Cuban cease her concerns about litter in Cuba as compared with what she has seen in Europe and North America? Can you name any river in Europe that contains the volume of garbage that can be seen in those of Havana.
    If it was not for those admirable citizens who are endeavoring to clean up the mess, nothing would be done, because as i previously commented the Cuban communist regime cares naught, having a similar attitude to domestic animals. That Vivian is the unfortunate reality.

  • April 30, 2019 at 11:14 am

    Bueno yo creo que los comentarios deben ser constructivos sin politizarlos Carlyle, en otros paices tambien hay rios y afluentes olvidados y llenos de basura. Y hay mas pollution en Europa q en Cuba. Viva para esta buena idea.Compartanla con los pueblitos que bordean los rios . Igual que se cuida la costa que cuiden las riveras.

  • April 29, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    The Cuban communist regime has no concerns about litter and garbage, the accumulation of which increases annually. Unlike many governments at national, regional and municipal level but not all, in the capitalist world, they care naught and take no action. The Poder Popular could introduce anti-litter legislation and the MININT goons could be used to enforce it, rather than persecuting citizens for expressing opinions. Garbage in Cuba is a national disgrace.
    I recall Fidel Castro writing in his daily column (two pages) of Granma, that Cuba controlled pollution and was an example for the world, he criticized Canada’s mining internationally, ignoring that at Moa in Cuba. That was because Fidel was out of touch, with his horizon’s limited to his surroundings at Siboney and those seen from his yacht when visiting Cayo Piedra. Fidel did not observe the ancient lorries belching out dense black diesel smoke, or those chimneys at Santa Cruz del Norte and Matanzas filling the skies with pollution or the garbage littering the streets of Alamar. He existed in an imaginary world of communist perfection. But Raul too obviously has tunnel vision and Diaz-Canel would be fearful of endeavoring to correct that.
    One can only express admiration for those of the citizenry volunteer to try to clear up part of the mess. But where is the concern of the regime itself?

  • April 29, 2019 at 2:33 pm

    Yo me gusta mucho lo que ustedes estas haciendo,hace falta que todo el mundo que prestan un ayudo a cuba. Pedro

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