Guardians of Urban Green Space in Cuba


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By Elaine Diaz at Global Voices

In December 2006 a century-old Ceiba tree was cut down in the San Agustín neighborhood of Havana, the Cuban capital. But this was more than a tree. It was the symbol of the city and of the cultural heritage of this Caribbean nation.

This sad event inspired a group of young Cubans to found El Guardabosques (The Guardian of the Forest or Forest Ranger) in January 2007 with the mission to “contribute to a better management of green spaces.”

El Guardabosques reported the death of the Ceiba tree by email to hundreds of recipients, including government institutions.

“The response was incredible,” says Isbel Díaz, founder of the environmental group, “and it prompted us to perform the first action: edit a digital newsletter.” The group now publishes a free digital newsletter “to denounce anti-ecological depredations in the urban environment.”

The members of this project recognize the role of technology and virtual networks in the creation of a community. According to Isbel Díaz, networks allow you to build “your own communication channels to denounce the actions of private or state institutions that violate the law, or that hidden in the lagoons of the law, damage the environment.”

Thus El Guardabosques was born, a non-institutionalized network of people passionate about nature:

From an initial core of five people, all residents of San Augustín, more people and groups have been joining. Some people only participated in the planting of a tree, never to be seen again, and there are others who have participated in almost everything we do. – Isbel Díaz, founder of El Guardabosques

The most significant aspect of this project is its focus on inclusion and participative democracy. There are no exclusions based on age, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, political affiliation or economic status to participate in El Guardabosques.

For over five years, the distribution of the newsletter on the Internet has been complemented with hundreds of actions such as cleaning rivers, oceans and landfills. In addition, community projects have focused on planting and caring for trees.

Currently, El Guardabosques’ newsletter is sent to nearly 1,000 email addresses. Seventy-eight percent belong to residents in Cuba who access the Internet from the internal network, mainly from universities, research institutes, cultural and artistic institutions. The group has also participated in events like the panel “We think Cuba,” which is coordinated by the Hermanos Saiz Association.

In June 2009, El Guardabosques joined the Red Protagónica Observatorio Crítico [es], a network which includes a dozen projects that work on issues related to childhood, sexual diversity, race, information, cultural promotion, among others. Participants inaugurated their fourth meeting in 2010 by planting an Anacagüita tree in a nursery.

According to the newsletter:

People who work at the center, led by its friendly director, children in the community, members of Red Protagónica Observatorio Crítico, and guests, collectively decided the best place to plant the little tree. We dug the hole, planted the tree, and watered the plant.

The death of the Ceiba tree in San Agustín has inspired the creation of a wonderful network of people who support each other and believe in environmental causes. El Guardabosque has also expanded its network of environmentalists and has created a space for exchange with other projects.

Images courtesy of oztega_1 on flickr and Isbel Díaz