The Greening of Cuba?!

[tweetmeme source=”connergo” only_single=false]

My knickers are in a bit of a twist over here and it’s not due to the chronic butter shortage or colossal heat (both of which are cause for loud complaint, believe me). What’s got me riled up these days is more macro. Regular readers know that I (try to) let most of what Cuba hands down roll off my back. But I could go to the mat on this one.


Cuba recently confirmed what rumor had held for a couple of years already: moving forward, the cornerstone of the country’s tourism strategy will be to develop 10 golf courses across the island. This grand plan was revealed by tourism Minister Manuel Marrero at FIT – Cuba’s international tourism fair (see note 1). I had hoped it wasn’t true. (I also hope to win the Pulitzer and earn the Cuban Medal of Friendship someday. Don’t mean it’s gonna happen). But this golf scheme seems particularly hair brained to me.

Let’s review the facts, shall we?

A conventional 18-hole golf course requires 312,000 gallons of water a day (that’s 1,181,048 liters for my more advanced readers) to keep it green. I knew they were resource-suckers these playgrounds for the rich, but 312,000 gallons a day?!

Meanwhile, back on our little island…

“a [Cuban] government report released in mid-April said large areas of Cuba have been suffering the effects of a prolonged drought that began in November 2008. The shortage of rain has led to a significant drop in water levels in the country’s reservoirs and has hurt the availability of groundwater, affecting water supplies for more than 500,000 people…The Meteorology Institute’s Climate Centre, said that the overall scarcity of rainfall from April 2009 to March 2010 ‘has affected 68 percent of the national territory’…while 2009 had the fourth lowest rainfall total in 109 years, according to official sources” (see note 2).

An 18-hole course requires between 140 and 200 acres (57 to 80 hectares) of land – half of this is maintained turf. Multiply that by 10 courses and you’ve got a healthy chunk of Cuba’s territory. Maybe it’s just me, but wouldn’t that land be put to better use raising cattle or homes?

Keeping those greens green requires about 30 different types of pesticides. These poisons have the potential to contaminate ground water while destroying wetlands, mangroves, and other habitat. And they’re seriously bad for us bipeds too: a scientific study found golf groundskeepers have higher mortality rates than the general population for lung, prostate, large intestine, and brain cancers, with some non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma thrown in for good measure (see note 3). Meanwhile, a study has yet to be conducted on golfers, who are also regularly exposed to these toxins.

The pesticide question scares me – have you ever seen them fumigate for mosquitoes here? Clouds of chemicals shot from a “bazooka” into each room of a closed home without a scrap of protective clothing or gear in sight. Worrisome, this pesticide-dependent “sport” called golf.

From the Bahamas to the Philippines, environmentalists and land reformers are saying NO! to golf courses (sometimes violently). Given global trends, Cuba is appearing pretty backwards with this golf strategy (see note 4). I’m a golf dissident, I admit, but given the few facts I’ve presented here, shouldn’t we all be? Maybe if there was more information available about this strategy, it would temper my position: where will these courses be located? Who’s designing them? Will alternative methods be employed?

Alas and alack.

Golf is a multi-billion dollar business and Cuba needs revenue. I get it. But so that we might be as forward thinking in our backwardness, I’d like to offer you, Mr. Minister, the following policy recommendations:

– Employ alternative designs that use fewer chemicals
– Consider going organic – Cuba wouldn’t be the first
– Use only drought-tolerant grasses and native plants
– Irrigate with grey water
– Conduct independent feasibility and environmental impact studies for each proposed site (and be prepared to follow recommendations, including scrapping plans for sites that threaten habitat, migratory flyways, etc)

I repeat: I think the Cuban golf strategy is folly. Who’s going to play Pinar del Río when there’s Pebble Beach? Or Holguín instead of Augusta? Some, I’m sure (including those people of color and Jewish-ness denied access to US links). But enough to sustain and make profitable ten courses?

And is this what we really want? Throngs of sorta sporty men in pastel plaids and unfortunate loafers laying claim to thousands of Cuba’s green acres for their individual pleasure? The whole plan just seems too extreme, too contradictory.

Leading up to the Cuban tourism fair, Spanish golfer Álvaro Quiros gushed: “golf could become a new attraction for tourists visiting Cuba because of…the magnificent climatic conditions on the island all year round” (see note 5). Excuse me, Álvaro? Have you heard of a hurricane? How about drought?

Extreme, contradictory and…hair brained.

And while I’ve got your ear, Mr. Minister, would you please consider putting an end to the capture and use of dolphins for those swim with dolphin programs? Or haven’t you seen The Cove?


1. The week-long affair was themed ‘Authentic Cuba,’ which is hilarious for so many reasons. And ironic: how, exactly, is golf (and yacht clubs which also figure in the grand plan) ‘authentically Cuban?’ But as always, truth is stranger than fiction and the irony of the ‘Cuba auténtica’ press junket/dog and pony show was summed up by a Colombian journalist who whispered dramatically to a reporter friend of mine: ‘do you want to sit in on this interview? I’ve got a guy who’ll talk about the bad things in Cuba for 10 bucks. You pay five and I’ll pay five.’ On second thought, this is probably the most authentic Cuban thing that happened during this journalist’s island jaunt.

2. For full article, see Drought Looming again in Cuba

3. For more see

4. Ditto the blind acceptance of Styrofoam. Until a handful of years ago, I never saw one piece of Styrofoam here. Now it’s everywhere and will be for generations to come. There are advantages to a one-party system. You can integrate health and education efforts for example and you can ban bad shit like Styrofoam with the stroke of a pen. Whatever criticisms you may have of Cuba, who can argue with the wisdom of keeping this evil out of our midst – especially on an island? What, after all, has Styrofoam ever done to improve our lives?

5. This, along with the golfer’s other assertion, that “golf helps to improve the health of practitioners, encourages personal relationships and caring for the environment” qualifies, in my opinion, as some of the stupidest shit ever uttered by a professional athlete. No small feat.


Filed under environment, Uncategorized

29 responses to “The Greening of Cuba?!

  1. samantha

    Interesting, considering Yoani S’s last blog entry concerning water shortages in Havana. I’ll past it here since you can’t access her site:
    (deleted because I can access Y’s writings, it’s that I choose not to. As can all others here with internet access: Yoani, financed by many, has her blog translated into 18 different languages and is re-posted all over the Web. And I’m definitely not going to give her more publicity on my blog, small and insignificant as it may be!!)

    And something else – what she writes about is SO passé. To wit: nearly ten years ago, the strategic plan for Habana Vieja was published. It’s entitled Desafío de una utopia (challenge of a utopia – Im sure cuba-o-philes can read between the lines on that title!). It’s a coffee table book with lots of wonderful photos, exquisitely printed, and heaps of pretty dull technical blah blah blah about the restoration of Old Havana.

    on page 52 we find this:
    – 44% of housing in old havana has structural faults in the roof
    – 42% have cracked or crumbling walls
    – 51% have leaks in the roofs
    – 1/3 of homes have to carry water by hand
    – 1/3 of homes have water tanks not connected to mains (read: hauling water in buckets to tank)
    – 39% of the population does not have running water

    When Yoani starts telling me something I don’t know, maybe then I’ll start reading her….

  2. Ole

    Jeez, Conner- just tell us what you Really think. I think you must have never had a beautiful day playing golf, surrounded by well manicured Nature. And that’s a pity. You are correct that they are water thieves, these courses, but you can’t deny their beauty. You should go play Xanadu the next time you have a spare $150 CUC laying around. Probably not right for Cuba at present given their “un dia si, un dia no” system of water delivery, fer sure!
    The $10 Interview offer is classically Cubano. LOL!
    The dolphin captures(Cuba is the largest provider in The World of captured dolphins) should be Stopped 100%, and immediately!
    And a Huge attagirl for your on the mark criticism of styrofoam, and a Good suggestion to Cuba- just Outlaw the vicious stuff and protect the Island. Styrofoam, with its 1000 year half life, is virtually indestructible- it just breaks down smaller and smaller. It causes tremendous damage to many forms of sea life, and is pollution at it’s most Ugly. Cuba should ban the stuff, and head the fight to ban it Internationally, forever. Good call on this, Conner.
    Sorry to hear you think Y is totally irrelevant.
    No post card from you as of yet, but am now understanding better your excitement at what the days mail will bring. I will keep you posted.(pun most certainly intended)

  3. Ole

    And concerning the “moskitero Brigades” who fog out all the houses in Cuba periodically- they use a petroleum based fog, which is marginally better than a pesticide based delivery. I used to ride my bicycle around in the fog behind the truck in my fearless youth- that may explain some things,Huh!? I just Love the smell! But it can’t be Good for you , I know. And Conner- if you never read Y, then how can you know she is off base? Don’t be a Hater, dear.

    • 1. I don’t access her site, that doesn’t mean I don’t know what she’s writing about. It’s the web. Things circulate. It’s Cuba, even more circulates. Other people read her. They pass things on. After reading three (infinity, don’t you know!) posts which sounded EXACTLY like me and my neighbors kvetching over coffee, I thought – I’m going to spend my time reading about all the things Julia and I bitch about? uh uh. There are better things to read in my limited time. What really, but really, turned me off about her though is a) she almost never says anything positive about the cuban reality. uh, biased much? b) she lived in europe for several years and CHOSE to return. The government LET her return (they didn’t have to). Now she makes her living bitching about the reality she chooses to live in and c) her husband is a svengali with a long history of pulling other peoples’ strings. Him + Her = bad taste in my mouth.

      2, Me a hater? Hardly!!

      PS – postcard sent on saturday

  4. Ole

    Well, what you have to say about Y is true- I never realized that. I guess I just hunger for the chisme, and miss hablando la mierda on the corner of my suegro’s house, of which there was no short supply, te lo Juro! If you would post more maybe I could give her up. She is a wee bit Whiny, Heh? But she’s the flavor of the moment, and Fidel’s utopia is on the hot seat for it’s ham fisted (but Very successful) retention of power for 51 years without a true election. Could there be a better spokesperson? Without a doubt ( I like Claudia) but those who do not agree as wholeheartedly as yourself with the Two brothers will
    take what they can get- a failed ex-pat.
    I really get a charge out of your posts, Conner- it takes me back, and you are a wonderful writer. Please post more. Why don’t you just be a complete jinetera and put out the tip jar? I would chip in to help give you more time to post(and pay the atrocious hourly internet charges-but you probably are a la izquierda when you post) . As long as you have no chulo.LOL! Just kidding ‘ya- somethings must remain cubano solamente. Write more.

    • Post more. write more. Where’s the book?

      You guys are insufferable (and I love it! keep it coming!).

      As I mentioned to another reader – I would love to post more, write more, get heard/read more but who’s going to put plantains on the table while I do that? Not my dear husband with his peso cubano salary! Tip jar – yeah, it’s a good idea, though I get the feeling we’re 4 gatos here (when something is 4 cats in cuba, it means it’s a very, very small club) so volume might be a problem!

      For now, it’s the day job, the blog, some other little things (I have a short story cooking) – which is basically volunteer work. Feels very cuban! I’ll scheme something this summer, which is always a good time for me to plot next moves. Welcoming all ideas~

      failed ex pat? whats that?

  5. samantha

    I figured I was pushing it posting Yoani on your blog 🙂 She *is* endlessly negative which is annoying, and you have to wonder where she gets the resources to run such an extensive blog. But every once in a while she publishes something that resonates with me personally.

    More on topic, it is sad that Cuba is pushing for expanding Golf courses when one of the biggest issues facing the country is how to restructure the agricultural system into something reasonably functional. The allocation of such significant and sparse resources towards tourism that could be better used for feeding and housing the population is very disappointing.

    • yes. food. housing. they’re working on it but it is s-l-o-w. Too slow for some. We’re hemorrhaging young, talented people (as you know!).

      I spent the day in centro habana yesterday. I thought of all those dewey eyed golfers sipping watery mojitos and nursing ganas for a mulatta as I watched moms hang holey sheets out the window and smelled shit in too many stairways. Isn’t there a better, less contradictory solution?

      It’s Cuba – we’ll just have to wait and see what happens I guess.

  6. Ole

    Conner- a failed ex-pat would be Y, who left but couldn’t hack it so she came back to Cuba. That is a not uncommon story when emigrants find out that they have to work two jobs in the US to pay the rent, car payment, insurance, etc., etc.. It is not the Paradise they envisioned. And you deliver another bon mot- the club de cuatro gatos. Very cubano!

  7. johnabbotsford

    Nice article Conner. And you shamed me into sending you a post card (sent today from Oz!).
    Yoani also gives me the shits particularly re her NEVER saying anything positive. There is so much about the USA as personified by her Miami mafia acolytes that surely (hopefully) she would rather not see arrive in Cuba.

    ps An expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person’s upbringing or legal residence. The word comes from the Latin term expatriātus from ex (“out of”) and patriā the ablative case of patria (“country, fatherland”).

  8. The list of proposed golf courses:

    Bellomonte ,Ciudad de La Habana , 25 Km from Havana

    Carbonera , Matanzas , 125 Km from Havana

    Guadalavaca , Holguin , 850 Km from Havana

    El Salado , Havana Province ,30 Km from Havana,

    Las Coloradas , Pinar del Rio , 300 km from Havana ,

    La Altura, Bahia Honda ,Pinar del Rio: 75 Km from Havana,

    Caimito , Havana Province , 40 km from Havana

    Camarioca , Matanzas , 130 Km far Havana ,

    Playa Ingles , Cienfuegos , 300 km from Havana

    Playa Ancon , Trinidad , 340 Km from Havana ,

    Las Coloradas , Cayo Coco , 550 Km from Havana

    Rancho Luna, Cienfuegos, 280km from Havana,

    Palma Real , Cayo Coco , 560 Km from Havana


    Jibacoa, Habana Campo

    Bacunayagua, Habana Campo/Matanzas

    (thanks to BeardoUK on LP Thorn Tree)

  9. Pingback: Wild Camping in Cuba Part II « Here is Havana

  10. Oh boy, how happy I am to have found a kindered spirit. I also cannot stand Y and her half truths and her sense of her own importance. In the wake of all the media onslaught and pressure to glorify Y, I was begining to feel like an outcast. Then I found your blog. Thank you.

    My husband is Cuban too, I am weighing options of leaving my life in London and living in Havana.

    Looking forward to reading some more of your blogs.

    • Hi there!! You know, you’re the second Brit who has written in thinking of moving to Cuba. Do I sense a movement??

      No comment on Ms Sanchez. You get it. To those who don’t: my advice when reading anything about Cuba, including my musings is: BIG grain of salt.

      In this interview with me, the host suggest reading yoani’s blog for “the other side of the story.” The thing is, with cuba, there are like 2,000 sides to the story, it just depends who you ask. But being married to a Cuban, you probably already know that!

      Happy Monday and thanks for reading

      PS – feel free to tell your friends about Here is Havana!

  11. Even Hugo agrees with me. See Chavez on golf:

  12. And this just in (April 14, 2011)

    Cuba faces its worst drought for 50 years

    The BBC’s Michael Voss asked people in Havana how they were coping

    Cuba is facing its worst drought in half a century, with tens of thousands of families almost entirely reliant on water trucks for essential supplies.

    The drought started two years ago, and reservoirs are now down to a fifth of their normal levels.

    The government is providing road deliveries of water to more than 100,000 people in the worst affected areas of the capital, Havana.

    The situation in Havana is compounded by a pipe network in poor condition.

    The state-run newspaper Granma says up to 70% of water pipes supplying the capital are leaking and in urgent need of repair, the BBC’s Michael Voss in Havana says.

    Residents are having to use buckets and bottles to fill up with water from the road deliveries.

    “It’s completely out of control,” one resident, Ana Gomez, said. “Just imagine that you can’t wash when you want to, you have to wash when you are able to.”

    Another, Enrique Olivera Gonzalez, said: “As there is no water, you can’t wash your clothes, cook, or clean your house.”

    Cubans are hoping the rainy season in May and June will bring some respite.

    But even a normal rainfall will not be enough to fill up the reservoirs, our correspondent says.

  13. This just in (on Earth Day) no less. Tragic, if true. Dedicated readers will remember I took my honeymoon at Guanahacabibes and spent a week on the beach as part of the turtle monitoring project. Ah, Cuba!
    Spanish company announces mega golf resort project

    A Spanish company announced it is negotiating with the Cuban government construction of a large golf and marina resort on the Guanahacabibes peninsula, the western tip of the island, Caribbean News Digital first reported.

    La Playa Golf & Resorts S.L. is planning to build a resort centered around seven golf courses. At buildout, the 4,000-hectare mixed project would include apartments, villas and townhouses, three boutique hotels, a golf academy, marina, sport fishing club, and a horseback riding center. According to Executive Director Roger Jordana, the Guanahacabibes Golf & Marina Resort would be the biggest on the island.

    Jordana made the remarks on the sidelines of the Montecristo Cup golf tournament in Varadero.

    The resort would be near the Guanahacabibes National Park, a world biosphere reserve, and the tobacco-growing Vi€ ¦ñales Valley. It is conveniently located across the Strait of Yucatan from Canc€ ¦ún, but it is a half-day’s drive from Havana.

    The Council of Ministers has approved 16 golf course projects throughout the island; developers believe the government will give green light for four golf condominium resorts in May. The Guanahacabibes golf resort had not been expected to be among the first four. According to close observers, the most advanced projects are those of a Canadian investor group in Guardalavaca, in the eastern province of Holgu€ ¦ín; one by a Spanish group at Bah€ ¦ía Honda in Pinar del R€ ¦ío province west of Havana, one at Jibacoa just east of Havana by a Canadian company, and one near the beach resort of Varadero by a British group.

    In an effort to boost foreign investment in tourism, the Council of State in August published a decree that provides a legal framework for residential construction by foreign investors, granting leases on state land for up to 99 years. A body of regulations surrounding foreign condo communities has yet to be published.

  14. Maddi

    You nailed it! Thk you, great read.

  15. Pingback: Cuban Tourism 2.0 | Here is Havana

  16. This just in, Oct 18, 2011:

    Anti-corruption campaign hits golf developer

    Directly affecting a core player in Cuba’s ambitious golf development plans and a major port expansion, the top executive of a British investment fund was arrested in Havana amid an investigation into alleged corruption.

    The Cuban government has not made any announcement regarding the arrest last week in Havana of Amado Fakhre, of Coral Capital Group Ltd.


    The arrest, first reported by Reuters, is part of a broadening anti-corruption sweep against Cuban state company executives and the foreign investors they interact with. The move against Coral Capital comes after long prison terms, in absence, for the Chilean owners of Alimentos Río Zaza and a shut-downs of Canadian trading companies Tokmakjian Group and Tri-Star Caribbean.

    Cuban company executives receive tiny salaries, while often handling millions of dollars worth of transactions.

    According to Reuters, the investigation of Coral Capital apparently centers on the company’s import business in Cuba, not on its plans to build a $120 million golf resort just east of Havana and a $43 million logistics zone at the port of Mariel.

    Set up in 1999 and incorporated on the British Virgin Islands, the London-based company has slowly become a strategic player in the Cuban economy. Coral offers trade financing, manages the Laroc Trading Fund, provides brand representation in Cuba, and has invested in plastics bottle manufacturing, as well as film production and other cultural ventures in Cuba. It also spent $28 million on the Saratoga boutique hotel in the historic center of Havana and led the 2006 buyout of the foreign side of the El Senador joint venture hotel on Cayo Coco; that hotel, managed by Iberostar, is undergoing renovation and expected to reopen in winter 2011.

    However, Coral may have the biggest impact yet with its plans to build a 1,200-home golf resort at Bellomonte, just 15 miles from the center of the capital. The 628-acre site at Playas del Este, within the city limits of Havana, is anchored by two 18-hole golf courses; plans include a country club, spa, and 323,000 square feet of commercial space. On a separate 20-acre property, Coral plans to build a 160-room beach hotel and beach club.

    Bellomonte is one of four golf projects the Cuban government is expected to approve soon, and Coral was planning a construction start of the $120 million first phase for the end of 2012.

    In another key project for Cuban economic development, Coral is a partner in a planned $43 million investment in the Mariel logistics zone just west of Havana. Over five years, Coral has produced a master plan with Dubai-based Economic Zones World. The first phase includes 540,000 square feet of warehousing, light industrial plants and offices.

    Coral’s Bellomonte project

    This entry was posted on Monday, October 17th, 2011 at 1:18 pm

  17. Leonel Morejon Almagro

    Hello friends of Havana, I think the construction of this golf courses are not only unwise for the actual development of Cuba, but also illegal in many cases like those projected for Guanacabibes, and Cayo Coco, and I mean illegal by Cuba’s laws standars. I will like to introduce myself. My name is Leonel Morejon Almagro, I am a Cuban lawyer, and I sued the Cuban’s goverment back in 1999 over its plan to build an International Airport at Cayo Coco on behalf of NATURPAZ that is the first independent enviromental and peace group created in Cuba on february 9th, 1986. Actually I am working in the translation of my legal demand from its original language (spanish) to english, and as soon I am done with it I will send it to you. I hope after you read it, and if you consider that its arguments are fair you will supportive of a ban of such unfortunate plans.

    • Hola Leonel,
      Thanks for writing in – I haven’t heard of NATURPAZ but find it interesting that it’s a environment AND peace group since in my experience, Cuba is one of the more/most peaceful places on earth. What happened to your demanda (lawsuit) in the end?

      Ive been called an environmental fascist (by friends and family!) due to my hardcore “green” stance, but it’s not such a black and white (or green?) issue when you consider the Cuban context – geo-political/economic/historic. There are few economic options for ANY island, but especially this one for “determinadas razones” which start with 50 years of bellicose policies by our neighbors to the north. So, like I say in my Lonely Planet guide to Hawaii: being green is like being a communist – works great on paper, gets complicated in practice.

      I am anti-golf course/swim with dolphins/development in protected areas – all of which have happened in Cuba. However, Im not anti-tourism, I think it just has to be done in a measured, sustainable way while still earning sorely needed money for the country. So, how would you propose making up the $2.3 billion (or at least some of it) Cuba earned in tourism?

  18. Kathy

    Only been to Cuba twice. Last month and a year prior. The year prior, I did not experience hotel fogging around hotel grounds; however, this year, twice a day, a the fogger would cover the grounds in clouds of “whatever pesticides” are being used in the tourism area. Sitting in the lobby, the heavy fog would take over the lobby, it smelled horrible, you could taste it, etc. How can I found out what chemicals are being used? I can’t imagine how it is for residents who are around this every day. I was reading that it might be petroleum based but this doesn’t give the exact make up of what is being used. Anyone know?

    • My apartment is fumigated regularly in an effort at mosquito control. In over a decade, Ive never been able to verify exactly what it is they’re spraying, though there are at least a couple of different substances. And not only the residents, how about the guys doing the fumigating, day in, day out, with no protective gear?

  19. William

    Hi Connor, maybe I can set your mind at has been in decline worldwide for years now, there simply are not enough old golfers to go around and they are fewer every year.Its an expensive ,time comsuming sport which has not caught on with young people. The idea that anyone would invest enough money to build 10 golf courses in Cuba is really a pipe dream.

    • Phew!! That’s the best news I’ve had all week. thanks for reading and writing in. Now if only the designers of Cuba’s tourism strategy read this….

  20. Pingback: Cuba Travel from US – Legal and with RESPECT | Here is Havana

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s