Cubans, tourists bemoan trashing of island's beaches
Published August 19, 2016 Associated Press
HAVANA – Hayde Lanza, her sister-in-law and their children left home in
their swimsuits after breakfast, loaded with food, juice and bottled
water. A 40-minute bus ride later they were staring at a turquoise sea
riffled by a gentle Caribbean breeze — and a powdery white beach
littered with food wrappers and aluminum cans.
"There are cardboard boxes and broken bottles," Lanza said. "In the
water there's cracker packages, plastic, everything. There's no respect
for the people who show up after you. Even right next to the trash cans
there's piles of trash on the ground."
Litter is a problem virtually everywhere in the world. But the trashing
of Cuba's world-class beaches by beachgoers themselves has become so
extreme that tourists are complaining and Cubans bemoan it as a symptom
of something amiss in a nation that's long cherished cleanliness, order
and mutual respect.
"No one has a sense of ownership, not of the environment, or of the
beach or anything. People think, 'This isn't mine so it doesn't matter
if it's dirty,'" said Yanelis Silva, who was selling snacks, drinks and
fried chicken at a beachfront stand on the eastern outskirts of Havana.
"It was really disappointing to get to one of the most beautiful beaches
in the world and find mountains of trash," one tourist wrote on
TripAdvisor about her time in Varadero, one of Cuba's best-known resorts.
Particularly extreme during summer vacations, the beach trash problem
fuels a widely shared Cuban belief that national values disintegrated
during the post-Soviet economic collapse known here as the Special
Period. For many Cubans who remember the Cold War decades of subsidized
plenty, the economic deprivation that began in the 1990s caused
permanent damage to standards of personal behavior in one of the world's
last communist-run societies.
"There's no justification, but at one point the situation in our country
was so hard that people stopped worrying about public resources because
they had to take of their personal needs," Silva said.
Government advertising campaigns, billboards in the dunes, new trash
cans on the beaches and tractor-driving public cleanup crews have failed
to ease the problem.
At the height of the summer beach season, it's common to see beachgoers
spend a day eating, drinking and playing in the water, then leave all
their trash in a mound on the sand.
"It's like your house is your sanctuary and anywhere outside it, you
don't care what's happening," said Angela Corvea, an environmental
activist and marine biologist.
Cuba played host to 3.5 million tourists last year and expects 3.8
million in 2016, part of a boom set off by the declaration of detente
with the United States in December 2014. Numbers are expected to surge
even higher when commercial flights to and from the United States start
again this month after a 54-year hiatus.
"This is bad for business. When they see the beach trashed they'll go
somewhere else," said Armando Rodriguez, a souvenir vendor with a stand
on a beach outside Havana. "We arrive and clean up our area and by
midday it's full of cans."
Many Cubans remember a time when they could be fined for littering, but
enforcement has virtually disappeared in recent years. Cuban
environmentalists say public awareness campaigns needs to be accompanied
by officials again imposing the legally required fines of $9 to $90 for
leaving garbage in public areas — a heavy burden in a country where
take-home pay averages about $25 a month.
"We have to be aware that if we hope for economic development through
tourism, we have to take care of the beaches," said Osmel Francis, a
musician and environmentalist. "I lot of people these days don't even
want to swim because there's so much trash."
Associated Press writer Michael Weissenstein contributed to this report.
Andrea Rodríguez on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ARrodriguezAP
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