Isbel Diaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES — On Wednesday, Cuban ecologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola was sentenced to a year in prison during a summary trial which took place at Vinales Municipal Court, in the western province of Pinar del Rio, putting a key agro-ecological project and its future in jeopardy.
In a new display of Cuban officials’ arbitrary actions, the renowned researcher had to face charges of “contempt” for standing up to the constant harassment he and his family experience at an agro-ecological farm located on one of Vinales’ hills.
Neighbors and National Forest Rangers have trespassed onto Ariel’s farm on several occasions, vandalized his property and have filed false accusations against the environmentalist.
Ariel has spoken out against these violent acts to the authorities and has made his situation public knowledge on alternative media platforms, which doesn’t seem to have pleased Cuba’s political police.
With only three days to appeal his sentence, the biologist’s finds himself in a very uncertain situation. He went to his trial holding a hunger strike in protest of the abuse he has been victim to.
However, he and his family are not the only ones who will be affected, an extremely valuable project already in place is also on the line. This project is underway in his agroforestry farm where he produces fruit trees and hard woods which are genetically labeled precious, in order to reforest the Sierra de los Organos mountain range.
They are also working on creating a gene bank of livestock and small livestock in order to improve the composition of species found in Vinales.
Ariel and his family are also concentrating on restructuring pastures which already exist on the farm into more productive feed for animals, planting three varieties of King grass, Leucaena, corn and Moringa.
This space would also be transformed into a self-sufficient agroecological farm which uses renewable energy to produce electricity, biogas and organic and eco-friendly fertilizers; and they would have a small dairy farm so they can produce their own cheese too.
Plans also include restructuring a natural water reservoir inside the farm so as to set up a water network depending on what soil and crops need.
The project also involves creating a sophisticated plant nursery in order to preserve the region’s genetic diversity and to increase native populations.
They are also working on ecological restoration practices and reforesting recoverable areas with seedlings which meet genetic certification standards, as well as protecting the area from extensive pig raising in neighboring farms and random and illegal hunting of songbirds, hutias and snails.
So, all of this work means important benefits not just for Ariel, his family and friends who come to help him out from time to time, but it also means that the experience of a sustainable agroforestry farm will also spread to other farmers in the region.
Ariel wishes to create a Botanical Garden about the flora in Vinales National Park with guided trails, so as to teach locals, national and foreign tourists.
The project wants to give training to others about bioversity, sustainable management of renewable resources, as well as soil types and water sources, particularly to locals who can act as both producers and guides.
On the other hand, the project has approval from the La Palma Comprehensive Forestry Company (owner of this land) and Vinales National Park. Plus, the Communist Party Secretary at the University of Havana gave a certificate to Ariel which states that he can proceed with his work and research as a geneticist.
Nevertheless, all of this will come crashing down if Ariel, who is the legal beneficiary owner of these lands, is absent for more than 6 months. This explains why the punishment he has been subject to is so out of proportion for alleged charges of “contempt”.
While we wait for his appeal, Ariel’s work colleagues and students are looking for ways to create a solidarity network in order to make what is happening public knowledge, and for Cuba’s scientific community to discover what is happening, as they are normally oblivious to human rights violations of Cuban scientists.
Photos: Isbel Dias / guardabosquescuba.org