14ymedio, Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre, Camagüey | August 18, 2018 – The sun rises and dozens of bathers start to arrive at the beaches of the Bay of Nuevitas, on the north coast of the province of Camagüey. They are equipped as if for battle: food, water, sturdy shoes to deal with stones and even an improvised kit for the possibility of cuts on pieces of glass or cans. The poor conditions of the coast do not manage to cool the desire to take a dip.
The province of Camagüey has 25% of all the beaches in the archipelago but the state of the coast has been getting worse in recent years due to climate change, lack of maintenance and deterioration of infrastructure, to which is added the discharge of industrial or domestic waste. Some areas that were once a haven of peace and beauty today seem to come out of a post-war scene.
Among the extensive coastline, Nuevitas is the busiest resort because it is cheaper thanks to the “beach train” that runs in summer, from Friday to Sunday, from the city of Camagüey and arrives a few meters from the sea.
For low-income families this is one of the few possibilities of having a day sunbathing in front of the waves, because the most beautiful and well-kept areas, such as Santa Lucía beach, have been filled with hotels where mainly foreign visitors stay.
Getting there is expensive and complicated, so Nuevitas is a more accessible option. However, the most democratic of Camagüey’s beaches suffers from chronic neglect. The ruins of old buildings destroyed by hurricanes or abandonment dot part of the coastline and holiday makers are forced to bathe in the middle of concrete fragments, metal beams and other types of rubble (debris).
Among the beaches with the highest number of visitors Las Piedras, La Colonia and the others that extend close to the old railway line stand out, although some opt for the more distant ones such as Santa Rita and the one with better seabeds such as Varaderito, about three kilometers from the city, but which can only be accessed by a road in poor condition.
“Here it has been years that no repairs have been made nor the beach dredged,” laments Mily Marín, a local resident who takes her children to the beach. “These places do not look like the beaches I knew as a child, my children leave with wounds on their feet,” laments the mother, who recalls a childhood with a maintained coastline and denounces the institutional abandonment that the area has reached.
The industrial growth that the zone experienced during the years of Soviet subsidy made industries proliferate, among them some very polluting ones like the 10th of October Thermoelectric Company and a fertilizer factory. The damages left by strong hurricanes, such as Irma last September, have exacerbated the situation.
The rising waters have also taken space from vacationers. During the last century an increase in the average annual temperature of 0.6 ° was registered in Cuba and the average sea level has increased at a rate of 2.14 millimeters per year. At least 291 beaches in the country (84% of the total) have already been affected by these changes. The climate changes and industrial discharges are compounded by the problem of domestic waste carried to the sea by the waters of the Saramaguacán River and from places as far away as the north of the municipality of Camagüey and the plains of Sibanicú.
The neighbors of Nuevitas remember the beautiful beach before industrial waste and neglect appropriated their coastlines. This is the case of Juan, a retiree who makes a few pesos selling corn chips to holidaymakers and regrets that the bay is now invaded by a “fetid mud.” He only has one word to define the situation: “It’s a disaster.”
The authorities have been working on a project supported by the United Nations Development Program that seeks to alleviate the environmental impact in the area. “A series of results has already accrued that have repercussions not only on biodiversity, but also on the economic development and good social living of the territory,” assured the local newspaper Adelante.
The signature work of this collaboration is the so-called Malecón-Patana Rosa Naútica Complex, inaugurated at the end of last year, which includes a seawall on the coast with various recreational opportunities nearby. The work, 320 meters long, was erected partly over an old pier.
“It turned out very good, but the vacationers of Camagüey do not come to these places,” clarifies Pastor Yilber Durand. “They want to enjoy the beaches, which are in terrible conditions. I think it would have been better to invest all that money by improving them.”
The difference between “the beaches of the people,” as many call the coast where the Camagüeyans dip and “the beaches of the tourists” does not only lie in the quality of the maintenance they receive, in the cleanliness of their waters or in the number of houses that rent rooms for vacationers. The gastronomic offers also mark a great difference
While in Santa Lucia you can buy “almost anything […], in Nuevitas the offerings are poorer,” says Roxana, mother of two girls and resident in the city of Camagüey, who frequently visits the north coast. She has no doubt that “many sellers prefer to go to those places where customers can pay better for a sandwich, a soft drink or a fresh fruit.”
However, Roxana is happy that some private businesses remain in Nuevitas. If they were not here, “there would be very little left to enjoy, because between the dirty waters and the attention that you have to take with the garbage on the coast, at least drinking a cold juice in front of the sea is worth it.”
“We are the ones who guarantee food and drink to those who arrive from the main city, because the state offers are very scarce,” the owner of a restaurant that operates in a place leased to the State confirms to 14ymedio. The small businessman and some others plan to stay, waiting for good luck and care to return to the beaches of Nuevitas.
Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria
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