The Contaminated Flag / Henry Constantín

In the back, the Cuban flag waves high above the world. Far ahead, the Hicacos peninsula stretches across the horizon. Varadero, the only town on the island that has been spared the rust, grows right there. Just don’t look down, at where we stand. Cardenas, the neighboring city, is just a mishmash of oil, industrial waste, and urban trash. And all the patriotism inspired from that highest flag and the shining glory of the nearby Varadero beach cannot change the picture.

Cardenas, Ciudad Bandera — Flagship City — was not splashed by one drop from the Gulf of Mexico’s disaster created by BP. The contamination that saturates this stretch of land is caused by human activity in the ocean, the waste from Varadero beach, and the industrial presence along the shore including none other than the emblematic and prosperous distillery. Yet, the real disaster is the complete lack of concern of those who are supposed to respect and revere the place where our flag was first raised. All this in a country where there are laws to punish the flag itself.

Under these circumstances, the idea of attaining sustainable growth is more like the uncertainty of walking endlessly towards under-development without a sign of relief.

Cubans have not been taught to honor Cardenas as is the case with La Demajagua or Dos Rios. What happened in Cardenas in 1860, although of little influence on immediate political changes, was extremely relevant for the history of the island and at least two other countries: Spain and the USA. Yet, we, as people, are afraid to learn our history, the real one not the convenient heroic one that exists only in books and in the heads of some who benefit from their own version.

That year, the Spanish-Venezuelan Narciso Lopez entered the city of Cardenas. He waved in his hands the flag that has become our symbol to the human race and so it will be as long as we think the concept of nation is bigger than humanity itself. Back then, that idea did not call for too many emotions. The flag was just a rag designed by Teurbe-Tolon and it was meant to be carried by Lopez during his invasion of Cuba. It also provoked complex political associations for it resembled the one used by independent Texans years earlier to separate from Mexico and join the Union. The profuse blood shed of 1868 and the cautious American foreign policy turned a flag with northern flare into the flagship of an army of independent republicans.

In Cardenas, the population, Spaniards and Cubans alike, calmly allowed Narciso Lopez to land. People were not willing to change their world. Life was about getting by, as it is today, while the city grows thanks to tourism and the seashore rots under their nose. Maybe the citizens and officials of Cardenas think the city or the coastline do not belong to them. Perhaps they believe their space ends at the front door of their houses and offices. They are not yet convinced that the city, like the country, belongs to all of us.

Meanwhile, the flag in front of which we should kneel stands tall, two hundred meters away from a swamp of waste. A small swamp that pushes itself beyond the horizon all over the island.

Translated by: Wilfredo Dominguez

November 24, 2010