14ymedio/Mario J. Pentón, Havana/Miami, 23 September 2019 — Getting access to potable water in a big city like Santa Clara is no easy matter, but even more difficult still is getting purified water, which is highly beneficial for patients diagnosed with cancer or other diseases that weaken the immune system.
EcoFinca, a project headed by Ana Rosa Cardoso Gomez, began to pruduce purified water by means of reverse osmosis technology and market it to the general public. The resulting revenue allowed them to distribute this product, free of charge, to around 70 patients “with liver or oncological conditions.” Nevertheless, they did not foresee that a mess of regulations would derail the business.
A source close to the family, who wishes to maintain their anonymity for fear of the authorities, recounts that EcoFinca spent three years battling with the state to allow them to continue carrying out their mission.
“We made an ecological farm from a sun-beaten wasteland. We teach farmers how to cultivate the land, we research solutions for blights, and turn the wasteland into a productive garden. Fruits, vegetables, leafy greens. We produce everything that is scarce in this country. We even implemented a ’Green Sunday’ to educate new generations on how to protect the environment,” the source commented.
Problems with authorities began in 2017 when EcoFinca began to sell purified water with a food vendor’s license. “Through reverse osmosis, with the help of imported equipment, we produce a product that is 100% free of bacteria, viruses, salts and dozens of other harmful agents,” the source explained.
The Ministry of Public Health granted the organization a sanitary license for the consumption of purified water, which they sold for 60 Cuban pesos from their doorstep, while the state sells it at a price of 2.75 CUC (69 Cuban pesos) in state stores. With the money produced from the sale of purified water to the public the organization was able to give the same product free of charge to a group of patients at the Jose Luis Miranda pediatric hospital and the Mariana Grajales gynecological-obstetric hospital.
However, the law prohibits the sale of water bottled by self-employed individuals as it considers “the access to potable water [to be] a human right that is the responsibility of the State.”
Ines Maria Chapman Waugh, then the president of the National institute of Hydraulic Resources and the current vice president of the Cuban Government, wrote a letter to the authorities of Villa Clara, cited by the weekly paper Vanguardia, where she noted that “the sale of water cannot become a medium for profit.”
According to officials, the business violates measure No. 58 of 2017, issued by the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources, which prohibits the sale of bottled water by native persons.
“In our country water is sold at subsidized prices, in such a manner that everyone can afford it,” the official explained.
A water vendor’s license exists in Cuba, though it does not include purification and bottling, only transport from one place to another. EcoFinca attempted to obtain a license to sell water but was unable to, even though they have their own well. When the State prohibited them from bottling they continued to deliver in bulk, but in the last months the authorities of Villa Clara have pressured them to stop their distribution completely.
“It is free for all patients and customers with an illness, small children and senior citizens with disabilities, but they have to come pick it up here at EcoFinca,” the source reiterated.
“The equipment that we use to purify water is imported from the United States. They have threatened to confiscate it. Filters, turbines, replacement parts…we bought all of this through a lot of sacrifice,” they added.
For Felicia, one of the beneficiaries of the purified water produced by EcoFinca, the regulations “don’t make sense.”
“The president [Miguel] Diaz-Canel has spent his life talking about replacing imports and producing more. Here in Santa Clara there is a family that is producing, that is thinking as the country does. What do the leaders do? They suffocate them. This is why we make no progress, because we are hindering ourselves,” she said indignantly in a telephone call.
Felicia says that the water that comes from the taps of Santa Clara sometimes looks like chocolate because of the amount of dirt in it. “A sick person cannot drink that water. There are times when I don’t even know if I am washing myself or getting myself dirty when I shower,” she adds with irony.
For Erick Perez Tadeo, subdelegate of the State Inspector of Hydraulic Resources in Villa Clara, in contrast, the problem is clearer than water. “They [the workers of EcoFinca] consider water as a foodstuff as they say that they process it. I could say that this water could be considered a foodstuff when they are preparing a refreshment or another kind of sustenance. The water they provide from the Aqueduct Network is a natural resource,” he said to the weekly newspaper Vanguardia.
“If you want to give water to someone with health issues, there is no problem; what you cannot do is market a single liter, you cannot profit from goods of the State,” he concluded with all the authority granted by his post.
Translated by: Geoffrey Ballinger
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