Is there freedom in Cuba? The famous island through the eyes of a vegetarian

The first thing that catches your eye is, of course, rich greenery, countless palm trees, shrubs and flowers. Dilapidated villas are reminiscent of their former beauty. Diverse Cubans seem to compete with each other in body decoration (in the form of tattoos and piercings) and colorful clothes. Images of outstanding revolutionaries look at us from painted portraits, sculptures, frescoes on the walls of houses, reminding us of past events and the cult of personality that still reigns here. And, of course, the sound of the Atlantic surf, which is interrupted by the sounds of Latin music from the speakers of passing old Russian and American cars. My journey began in Havana, followed by a string of other major tourist centers, small county towns and small villages, sometimes consisting of several houses.

Everywhere, wherever we were, we met horse carts – they transported people and various cargo. Huge oxen, harnessed in pairs, inseparably, like Siamese twins, throughout their lives plow the land with plows. Donkeys, cows and even goats are used by farmers to transport goods. It seems that more animals than people work on the island. And the owners themselves more than “reward” them with whips, abuse and beatings. While riding the bus, I witnessed a terrible scene, as an emaciated cow collapsed in the middle of the road, and the person leading it began to kick the poor animal. Street dogs, of which there are many on the streets of Cuban cities, also do not know human kindness: exhausted, they do not even give themselves up, frightened by any passerby and movement. Cages with songbirds are hung like garlands on the walls of houses and lampposts: birds doomed to slowly die under the rays of the scorching sun, “please” people with their singing. Unfortunately, there are many sad examples of animal exploitation in Cuba. There are more meat on the shelves of the bazaars than fruits and vegetables – the meager choice of the latter struck me (after all, the tropics!). Endless pastures for cattle – it seems that their territory has long exceeded the forest. And forests, in turn, are cut down on a huge scale and transported to Europe for furniture factories. I managed to visit two vegetarian restaurants. The first is located in the capital itself, but I would like to tell you more about the second. A quiet corner, located sixty kilometers west of Havana, in the village of Las Teraza. It is there, in the eco-restaurant “El Romero”, that you can try a variety of vegetarian dishes, the products for which are grown in the owner’s own garden and do not have any chemical supplements. 

The restaurant’s menu includes rice and black bean dishes, fried bananas, fruit salads and a variety of hot potato, eggplant and pumpkin dishes. Moreover, the chef necessarily makes a small gift for each of the guests: a non-alcoholic cocktail or sweets in the form of sherbet. By the way, last year “El Romero” entered the top ten best restaurants in Cuba, which the waiters do not forget to mention. Local prices are quite reasonable, as in all establishments designed for tourists (the local population cannot afford such a luxury). The institution does not use plastic, paper napkins and other disposable household items so as not to litter the environment (even straws for cocktails are presented in the form of reusable bamboo). Street cats and chickens with chickens calmly enter the restaurant – the staff does not even think to drive them away, since the policy of the restaurant states that every living creature has equal rights with a person. This restaurant was just a joy for me, because as such there is no Cuban cuisine on the island: pizza, pasta, hamburgers, and if you ask for something vegetarian, it will definitely be with cheese. Nature itself, full of its colors, reminded us that we were in the tropics: unusually beautiful waterfalls, sandy beaches, where the sand gives off a pink color, like a tear, transparent ocean water, which shines in the distance with all the colors of blue. Flamingos and herons, huge pelicans falling like a stone into the water while hunting for fish. Curious views of the provincial population, which, I must say, are very gifted and resourceful: street art did not leave me indifferent. So, to create various sculptures and street decorations, old car parts, hard garbage, household items and other rubbish are used. And to create souvenirs for tourists, aluminum cans are used – hats, toys and even ladies’ bags are made from them. Cuban youth, fans of graffiti, paint the entrances and walls of houses with multi-colored drawings, each of which has its own meaning and content. Each artist is trying to convey something of his own to us: for example, that it is necessary to behave decently and not litter the environment.

However, I did not see any large-scale actions either from the side of the population or from the side of the government regarding the disposal of garbage on the island. Koe Coco Island, the most expensive and famous for its beaches, generally seemed like a complete hoax … Everything that falls into the field of view of tourists is carefully cleaned and the impression of an ideal place, paradise, is created. But moving along the coast away from the hotel zone, it becomes clear that this is not so. Quite often, plastic, a real scourge of the entire ecology, has firmly taken root in the natural landscape and “captures the territory”, forcing the inhabitants of the ocean, mollusks, fish and sea birds to huddle next to it. And in the depths of the island, I came across a huge dump of construction rubbish. A truly sad picture, carefully hidden from foreigners. Only at the entrance to one of the beaches, I saw two tanks for separate collection of garbage and a poster where tourists are asked to take care of the flora and fauna of the island. The very atmosphere of Cuba is very ambiguous. For myself, I concluded that Cubans, tired of poverty, find solace in drinking and dancing. Their “dislike” for the animal world and disregard for nature is, most likely, the initial lack of elementary eco-education. The borders of the island, open to tourists, are tightly closed for the citizens themselves: 90% of the population sees abroad only from the screens of old tube TVs, and the Internet here is a luxury available to very wealthy people. There is no exchange of information with the outside world, no change in experience and knowledge, hence there is a stagnation not only in the field of eco-education, but also in the ethical attitude towards all living things. In an era when the whole world is gradually coming to the realization that “the Earth is our common home and it must be protected”, Cuba, as a separate planet among the islands of Latin America, and the whole world as a whole, is spinning on its axis, living with outdated concepts. In my opinion, there is no freedom on the island. I did not see proudly straightened shoulders and happy faces of people, and, unfortunately, I cannot say that Cubans love their great heritage in the form of nature itself. Although it is she who is the main attraction, for which it is worth visiting the island of “freedom”.

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