Climate Changers



Illegal pruning of trees in urban areas continues unabated in Cuba.


There is excessive illegal urban pruning on in Cuba, a process that experts are terming a ‘silent and progressive deforestation of the city’

Nowadays, climate change is having a serious effect on the entire world. Recurrent hurricanes have hit the Caribbean in recent years leaving behind fewer trees.

That which yesterday was a natural and healthy cycle is today a symptom of imbalance. A vicious circle repeats itself as global warming takes advantage of deforestation.

Long ago, Cuban lands were covered by forests. However, conquest and colonization brought about an indiscriminate felling which seemed unstoppable. The face of our landscapes changed dramatically, as deforestation spread.

Is this the real story?

As a result of reforestation plans in the last few years, statistics show a slight increase in the percentages of wooded areas. Official media have reported on it. In Havana, there are 13m2 of green areas per inhabitant declared by authorities, surpassing the 10m2 recommended by the World Health Organization.

Progressive deforestation

But there is a discordant note. The Forester, a digital bulletin, is discovering the missing side of the story. Each edition includes news of illegal or excessive urban pruning. It exposes local examples of what it has been called by experts “a silent and progressive deforestation of the city”.

Young biologist Isbel Díaz is the creator and editor of The Forester.

“If anyone walking around our streets looks for a branch to hide from the burning sun, they will find it hard”.

He set the main goal of the publication: “to encourage conscious participation of citizens in the protection of their natural environment, especially urban woodland in Havana”.

Indiscriminate felling

“She was more than 600 years old and they were killing her!” Díaz is still upset because of the pruning of a legendary ceiba back in December 2006.

He was walking out of his house when across the street he saw how every branch of the huge ceiba was being cut down. “I felt restless, I didn’t know what to do but I had to do something”.

A cultural icon

A ceiba, for Cubans, is not only a strong leafy tree, but is also a cultural and religious icon. African slaves introduced their beliefs to Cuban culture and ceiba became a sacred tree. It is also a symbol of Havana.

Settlers planted a ceiba when the colonial village was first founded.

Díaz researched legislations and procedures for urban pruning. He realized that although policies are established, their implementation is vague and rarely is anyone prosecuted.

He decided to send a letter in protest of this practice to institutions and personalities concerned. Responses arrived in support. He even thought something would be done when he received an official visit from the subdivision of the Forest State Service –SEF in Spanish.

Making use of the web

There is an established procedure for urban pruning. It starts when specialists evaluate trees and describe in guides how pruning must be carried out. The director of the subdivision of SEF has to sign all guides.

But the process become corrupt, as the entity in charge of putting those guides into practice is an entirely different institution. The workers who eventually complete the job are generally prisoners who are not well trained in this activity.

In January 2007 there was still no answer from the authorities. Instead of becoming discouraged, Díaz came up with an idea: he could use his abilities as a web editor to create an alternative publication.

The Forester was born. “People should be informed about both the good and the bad that happens to trees in the city and in the country”.

The Forester began as just a bulletin, but is currently engaged in a more ambitious project. It found allies among networks with common goals.

Together they can easier overcome the obstacles coming from bureaucracy.

Simple, practical solutions

Simple practical actions required institutional permits which are often denied. A reforestation of a public place, a protest against an illegal pruning or a meeting among students and activists could seem a hard goal.

On top of this, financial sources don’t exist.

Isbel Díaz thinks his fight goes beyond environmental protection. It is politically important as well.

“Cuban people have been driven to think that the State is responsible for all public actions, whereas the State must perform as coordinator, or should do so theoretically. To attain continuity for a process, people must feel a part of it. Processes should emerge from the real needs of communities. If not, these communities will turn their backs. People must see power as coming from their own actions. This is one way to fight the general lack of commitment which burdens our society”.

Jennifer Roighas a BA inSocial Communication and Journalism from University of Havana, and a Screenwriting degree from the International Filming School of San Antonio de los Baños, both in Cuba. She has worked as a freelance journalist,and as a member of the reporter staff of Alma Mater Magazine, a Cuban publication aimed at university students. She travelled to Mexico as part of an international screenwriting workshop,taught by Nobel Prize Gabriel García Márquez.Sheisnow in Aarhus, Denmark, aspart of the Erasmus Mundus Master Program Journalism within Globalization, European Perspective. Afterwards she will follow studies in the Netherlands and specialize in Citizenship and Public Spheres in Hamburg.Investigations andacademia are among her future interests.

2009 Erasmus Mundus Masters - Journalism and Media within Globalisation. Learn more at