Supporting local development in Cuba

Environment Rehabilitation and Community Development in the Rio Cauto area

Tuesday 27 January 2004

Background

The Cuenca del Rio Cauto area is in the east side of Cuba, historical area, where the first people of the Island settled. The area, directly concerned by the project, where there are the people’s councils of Palmarito and Bungo-La Venta, has however experienced a slower development, from the point of view of the population’s growth and the economic one as well, if we compare its development with the one of other areas in the east side of the country. It can be explained by its geographic position, it means in the centre of tropical forests, making really hard the way to access to harbour areas. Thus, no economic activities (mining and stock-rearing), that have characterized the first decades of the Conquest, are really developed in this area.

In brief, we can consider that this area has always been among the most underprivileged areas in the country. Its settlement is characterized by a lack of resources and by the isolation of its communities, which finished to grow up just at the time of the boost of the sugar industry.

People’s councils in Palmarito de Cauto and in Bungo-La Venta are located in the east centre part in Cuanca del Cauto area.

Palmarito de Cauto owes its population to the settlement of a colony of Swedish immigrants attracted by the sugar industry, who come in this area by the beginning of the 20th century. From 1910, the activity goes from Palmarito de Cauto towards Centrale Miranda, located near Palmarito. In 1959, when Centrale goes under the administration of Cuba, and following the politico-administrative Division (PAD) in 1975, the municipality of Julio Antonio Mella, new name of the old Centrale Miranda, is created. The new municipality starts from here and includes Palmarito, which becomes a part of this one.

People’s council of Bungo-La Venta is inside the municipality of Contramaestre, and it is composed by a group of communities, which importance and historical value are varied. From the culture of citrus fruits the people started to focus till to create a network of communities.

The community of Venta Casanovas composes the centre of the area of La Venta, where we found an overnight hotel for travellers who were taking the Royal way at the colonial time. The economic activity of this area was based on the production of corn and little fruits. It must be also noticed that during the neo-colonial republican period, the land ownership was the subject of several quarrels: taking advantage of many judicial ambiguities, landlords were fighting against each other for having these lands. Farmers suffering from the consequences of this situation began to occupy these lands with violence, fighting to defend their conquests. If in 1934 we could count about thirty families, who occupied plots of land, they were over 1000 families in 1946, only in this area.

The decision of building a central road without passing by La Venta ended by isolating this area, which lost all opportunity to become an important marketing centre connected with the rest of the world. On the other hand, the corn production began to decrease from the1950s, because of the degradation of lands, used by the intensive monoculture. The stowing of a part of this area to the citrus fruits culture has substantially modified its economic development. Finally, the moving of the main installations towards other places in the region prevented La Venta from finding again the relative leading role played in the old decades.

In the beginning of the 1990s, when the socialist bloc collapsed, Cuba lost its main market and economic partner. The crisis, that occurred at that time, had an important effect on territories, which had already environment degradation problems, what led to the loss of conditions of living, acquired after 1959 by local people.

Project

The major elements of the Alternatives’ project of environment rehabilitation and community development in Rio Canto area, are the reinforcement of the civil society, through the support to the community’s participation, the improvement in the administrative management of local governments and the taking advantage of the capability of human and material resources that these communities have. To initiate the development of a particular territory from these concepts means the opportunity to show the efficiency and the viability of such a vision of the sustainable development. In a particular way, this could even contribute to the economic decentralization and the public sector management process that Cuba is experiencing today. In that way, the local government is linked with a national strategy, thus helping to reduce bad effects of big disproportions between the regions.

Consequently, we have conceived a development program for Cuenca Del Rio Cauto area, chosen for its economic and social importance, its natural wealth and its cultural and historic values. This program aims at the local development, from a logic of environmental recycling, intending to boost the local economy, and in this way, to take part to the improvement of its population’s quality of life. This project is based on the people’s council, which, even if it does not represent a government structure inside the municipality, is still the first management authority at the local level.

People’s councils in question represent different territories in this area, as for the kind of cultures they have, as for people’s features who are settled here. From a geographic point of view, municipalities of this area are very close, what can make easy the work to realize simultaneously in many of them. In total a population of 11,000 people is concerned.

Municipal and provincial governments involved, took part to the elaboration of the project and to the choice of territories. The articulation of the project has been realized from interests expressed by the people of the concerned territories. However, this project could become a pilot project, where concepts, tools, methods and solutions would fit together, to allow the reproduction of the experience in other Cuban areas or in other countries of the Caribbean area.

Partners of Alternatives in this project are the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Centro de investigaciones psicologicas y sociolgicas (CIPS), the department of foreign Affairs and International Collaboration (MINVEC), and the provincial delegation of the Ministry of Sciences, of Technology and Environment in Cuba (CITMA).

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