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Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

Troubled Tree Planting in Havana

April 15, 2014 | Print Print |

Isbel Diaz Torres

Silk Cotton (ceiba) Tree seedlings.

HAVANA TIMES – None of the silk cotton (ceiba) trees I’ve planted as part of the Guardabosques (“Forest Ranger”) initiative I created in 2007 with a group of people concerned about the city’s trees have survived to date.

I admit I no longer know what to do about this, as I’ve tried every strategy I’ve deemed appropriate.

I should clarify that it’s not that the seedlings aren’t surviving the stress involved in the transplantation process. These are strong, resistant and healthy sprouts with enough roots, and we are planting them systematically, in fertile soil.

The reason they don’t survive is that other people have quite simply ripped them from the ground.

This has been painful for us in every case. To think about the beauty of this small plant, the time and love invested in it, and that an unscrupulous person should kill it in the blink of an eye makes me deeply sad and I am overcome by a terrible feeling of helplessness.

I planted a silk cotton (ceiba) tree at a primary school in Marianao, Havana, involving the principal, teachers and students in the process. I planted another at a primary school in San Agustin, along with my nephews, brother and kids from the neighborhood. I planted a third tree at my old high school, in the company of my older nephew and his teacher. All were gone after two or three weeks.

An adult sild cotton tree.

The last incident involved a silk cotton seedling that was more than two years old and two meters high, which my partner Jimmy, two friends and I had sown on the 1st of March this year, my birthday.

The spot we’d chosen for the tree is the large park located between Havana’s National Library and main bus terminal, an area without any nearby buildings that could be damaged by the tree’s roots and without any electrical cabling that could thwart the tree’s growth.

The space used to transplant the tree was not being used by any other plant or people. We nevertheless set up a rustic little fence around the tree, so as to protect it from the stray soccer balls of nearby games organized by children and teenagers.

Every day, Jimmy and I went to water the tree, which looked healthy and strong and showed no signs of withering – and had even grown a light green leaf after three days. A week later, it had disappeared.

Perhaps our mistake was announcing that we had planted the tree on Facebook. That may have alarmed the State Security agents “assigned” to me, who clamp down on all of our initiatives with ill will.

The suspicion that this may be deliberate hostile actions is not gratuitous. It is based on the fact I can’t think of any other person, a common citizen, who would rip out a tree seedling from a school garden or a park area where no people tend to stroll.

I can’t, however, be certain this is what happened. Does anyone have any recommendation for me?


What's your opinion?

  • Griffin

    That is a truly sad story. A small group of ordinary Cubans try to plant a seed, water it carefully, protect & nourish it, hoping something big and beautiful will grow. In the end your dreams are crushed by same people who have crushed the dreams of all Cubans.

  • Dan

    In the United States I have encountered people who believe that they are being spied on by the FBI through their toaster, or some such other absurdity. Isbel is either the same type of chiflado or is blinded by his visceral hate of his government.

    • Griffin

      Your comment is insulting and dishonest. You know perfectly well that the Castro regime maintains a large and very effective state security apparatus. MININT agents keep a close watch on dissidents and anybody else suspected of disloyalty to the regime. Isbel has written previously of his difficulties with the authorities.

      • Dan

        Sorry Griffen, try telling that to someone who hasn’t spent the last twenty years travelling to Cuba. They’ll certainly believe it. They’ve been trained to. Not me. I’ve lost count of the number of Cubans I’ve met who have openly and hostilely criticized the government, in living rooms, bus stations, on the street in full view of the cops. They have jobs, they’re not in jail and their kids haven’t been “disappeared”. Criticism is ubiquitous, and you know it. So yes, if this guy thinks that MINIT has the time and inclination to go around ripping out saplings, then he is crazy, or a liar. BTW Griffin, how many members of Patriotic Pole in Colombia have been assassinated thus far this year in Colombia ? I trust you’re on that case as well, right ?

        • Griffin

          You accuse me of Colombian assassinations?

          Now who’s delusional?