Celebration for Cuba's Caibarién Coast
By Patricia Grogg*
are working to clean up a bay in northern Cuba, and convincing residents
to change their polluting habits. In May they will celebrate all
that the ocean gives their community.
SANTA CLARA, Cuba - Caibarién Bay, in northern
Cuba, until recently looked like a big dump, full of floating garbage.
Now, a lovely path follows the coast and the water looks clean,
thanks to the efforts of local residents -- who in the past were
themselves responsible for the pollution.
''The house patios faced the sea, and it was considered normal to
throw all kinds of garbage into the water, instead of using the
community truck services,'' Aleida Duque, an environmental education
expert with the coastal monitoring station in Caibarién, a coastal
town in Villa Clara province.
The 'malecón', as Cubans refer to coastal avenues, was completed
three years ago, but it was not enough to leave behind the unhealthy
tradition of dumping waste in nearby waters. So a group of children
took the matter into their own hands, knocking on doors and convincing
their neighbors that cleaning up the bay was the responsibility
The project, ''Caimale'' (from Caibarién-malecón), calls for ''appropriate
environmental conduct'', and came to being with 12 girls and boys
organized by María Inés Domínguez, director of the governmental
educational information agency, CDIP, in this city of 40,000 people.
''We began with 'operation knock-knock', house by house. At first
there was resistance. They would tell us that they have always been
dumping garbage in the sea and that they never saw any fish die
from it. But little by little, the families were convinced,'' said
Together with the community the children decided to carry out activities
that include dances, singing, writing and painting workshops, clean-up
days, and a festival of the sea every May 21.
''The sea is our source of life. We have to protect it,'' said 14-year-old
In the first collection effort, the garbage more than filled a truck.
A year later, the waste only reached the half-way mark of the truckbed.
But domestic garbage is not the only source of pollution in the
bay, which has been hurt by insufficient sewage treatment in Caibarién
and the harmful waste from a sugar mill in the neighboring city
of Remedios, just to mention the worst.
Runoff from the sugar mill, where alcohol is also manufactured,
reaches the sea by the Guaní River, but when the flow is lower the
pollutants are not flushed out.
''The dissolved oxygen is used up, causing the fish to die,'' explains
Joan Hernández, head of the coastal monitoring station, part of
the government Environmental Services and Research Center, in Villa
The problem was resolved in part by a biogas plant that consumes
70 percent of the sugar mill waste, but the environmental impact
of the remaining 30 percent is still considered high.
Now, the harvest season coincides with the drought, which keeps
the river flow volume at a minimum. This means that waste accumulates
and, with the first major rainfall, it will all reach the sea at
Meanwhile, the technological renovation of the larger of two tanneries
in the city eliminated the chemical products in treating the leather
and considerably reduced the runoff of highly toxic waste into the
''The municipal government has alternatives for resolving this environmental
situation, but they are complicated and costly,'' said Ernesto Nieto,
coordinator of the development project for the Sabana-Camagüey archipelago.
This vast plan has been under way since 1995 with the backing of
the United Nations Development Program throughout north and central
Cuba, extending from Matanzas to Camagüey, from 100 to 533 km from
Community education about the responsible use of the land and its
resources for the conservation of nature is among the objectives
of the program, which involves numerous institutions in Cuba.
The people of Caibarién live mostly from fishing, farming and small
industry, and in recent years have expanded to tourism, based on
development of the keys to the northeast of the city.
* Patricia Grogg is an IPS correspondent.