The dead waters of Havana Club

Periodismo de Barrio, August 28, 2017

The dead waters of Havana Club

In the last decade, the Chipriona cove has become the outlet for the largest rum distillery in Cuba.

Everybody knows. No one prevents it.

By Julio Batista Rodríguez

The state protects the environment and natural resources of the country.

Article 27 of the Cuban Constitution

The Chipriona inlet is a place where no one goes, where no one fishes, that doesn’t need a fence because no one wants to swim in the boiling filth that flows into its waters every day.

The waters of what used to be a beach are now soupy and have the sour smell of decomposition. No studies about the marine life in the inlet are publicly available, but fishermen say there’s no fish there.

The distillery that makes Havana Club rum pumps 1,288 cubic meters of waste liquids into the inlet every day, mostly vinasse. It has been doing that since the 1990s, although the problems became more acute starting in 2007.

At the commercial fishing dock in Santa Cruz del Norte, workers don’t want to talk. They have already complained a lot to the local office of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA), but their complaints don’t seem to have been useful. Or even recorded.

In the last decade, Chipriona has become the drainage point for the Ronera Sana Cruz, the biggest distillery in the country and one of the four owned by Cuba Ron S.A. It’s the end point of the sewage of the only place where the white and 3-year-old brands are distilled by Havana Club International (HCI). And the dumping ground for a company that earned $118.5 million in profits in 2016 from the sale of 4.2 million boxes each with nine liters of rum.

The Cuban government stood to earn 59 percent of those profits.

Maybe that’s why the fishermen in Santa Cruz believe their battle is lost.

The fishermen believe their battle is lost. (Photo: Julio Batista)

The fishermen believe their battle is lost. (Photo: Julio Batista)

Andy is the skipper of the La niña, a small boat with a white and red hull anchored at the mouth of the Santa Cruz river. When he finished preparing his hooks and storing his supplies in a dilapidated hut near the dock, we went aboard his boat. “Look for yourself,” said Andy, one of the fishermen who got tired of complaining.

It takes five minutes by boat to get to Chipriona, an inlet about 400 meters long and 70 wide at its biggest point. The water is a brown puddle, very dirty and showing almost no surface movement. The rock walls around the inlet show a white stripe, almost one meter high above the sea level, where nothing grows. It is a white border the color of bleached bones. The scene is completed by the steaming wastes that flow like a river out of the distillery and into Chipriona.

Among the fishermen there’s talk about the “drunks” – the groggy sardines that reach the Santa Cruz del Norte bay, and the dead fish that float belly up into the bay.

In many ways, Chipriona smells of death.


Ronera Santa Cruz currently produces 60 million liters per year. More than half are Havana Club products. Photo: Julio Batista.

Ronera Santa Cruz currently produces 60 million liters per year. More than half are Havana Club products. Photo: Julio Batista.

Environmental damage: all significant loss, reduction, deterioration or erosion

of the environment or one of its components

that is produced in violation of legal regulations.

Law No. 81 on the Environment, Article 8

The Santa Cruz distillery was founded Sept. 30 1919 as a small factory that produced alcohol and aguardiente, a raw drink distilled from the juice of sugar cane. But months later, when the U.S. Prohibition started (Jan. 16 1920) its location on the northern coast of Cuba, flanked by Santa Cruz and Chipriona and far from Havana, it became a busy port for liquor smuggled to the United States.

The smuggling continued even after the end of Prohibition, and over the next 40 years the factory saw ownership changes, labor strikes, firings and political ploys. It was in fact closed for three months by the municipal government in 1948 “for failing to meet the most basic sanitation measures and especially environmental measures.”

The Ronera was nationalized by Fidel Castro’s government in August of 1960, and 11 years later the Cuban ruler told its employees that he planned to make it “the biggest rum factory in Cuba.” In 1973 he met his promise with a massive increase in its production capacity.

report by the factory to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the National Network for Cleaner Production noted that “the aggressiveness of the distillery’s wastes requires a treatment that is initially very costly.” Because of that, it was decided in 1985 “to use a formula commonly used around the world at the time in order to get a satisfactory discharge at a reasonable cost without significantly increasing the cost of production costs.

That formula was to dilute the wastes in the sea.

“For that reason, the solution adopted involved an underwater pipe that carries the wastes to a point in the sea, at a distance that guarantees that the area or cone of contamination that is produced does not impact the coastline,” the report noted. “The sector where the discharge is carried out was declared to have no relevant economic importance and there are no beach areas closer than 10 kilometers.”

The distillery’s report includes mistakes, specifically the claim that there are no beaches closer than 10 kms. Rotilla, a well known beach, is less than one km east of the factory. Jibacoa beach is less than 7 km away and right at the 10 km mark are several camping areas on the north coast of Mayabeque Province.

Problems with the discharge of the wastes were first noticed in the 1980s, because the materials used to build the underwater pipeline were not the proper ones. The acids in the waste liquids eroded the pipeline, filtered into the subsoil and weakened the rock underneath. Harsh proof came when a distillery on the northwest side of the factory began sinking in the early 1980s.

Although reports of gases emanating from the Ronera were common, it was the discovery of “collapsing cones in the subsoil due to the presence of karst cavities in the area, which have reached even a catastrophic level,” that led to a detailed study by experts from GEOCUBA and CUPET titled “Environmental Diagnoses of the Santa Cruz Rum Factoryfrom a Geospatial Analytical Viewpoint.

Although initially it was considered possible that the gases were linked to underground oil deposits, the expert analysis allowed the investigators to dismiss that hypothesis and declare that the “emanations of gases is the result of the accumulation of wastes in natural caves.” The origin of the gases was nothing other than the anaerobic decomposition of the vinasse that had leaked into the ground, dissolving the karst rock and the “impact of the (factory) installations on the structures,” according to the report.

Measurements at the factory showed high concentrations of hydrosulfuric acid (SH2) that reached “7.46 times the normal levels in the air.” But specialists from both of the groups in the study concluded that the problem could not be resolved “until the discharge of wastes has been definitively resolved.” And for that, they recommended “mayor repairs to the network for discharging the waste waters, which requires a work plan designed to eliminate the uncontrolled discharges that result from technological deficiencies in all the installations.”

In 1993, the factory was put under the control of the newly formed Corporacion Cuba Ron S.A. And after Pernod Ricard started to invest in rum production in Cuba in 1994, the factory stopped many of its other production lines and focused almost exclusively on production for Havana Club Internacional (HCI).

Yuslán Sánchez Viera, head of the distillery’s quality control department, explains that “within Cuba Ron and the Food Industry Ministry, the only enterprises that distill aguardiente are Santa Cruz and San Jose de las Lajas, and the latter has been closed since August of 2016. That’s why today, Santa Cruz provides all the aguardiente that the corporation uses in its distilleries in Cardenas, Villa Clara and Santiago de Cuba. It also provides this same precursor product to the Enterprise for Drinks and Sodas (EMBAR), and makes the broth … which is used to produce the rum sold in bulk and the rum that is sold in pesos.”

The Ronera Santa Cruz produced 60 million liters in about 310 working days in 2016. About 36 million of that went to HCI. Some of the rum is bottled in Santa Cruz, but the rest is shipped in containers to Manzanares in Spain, where Pernod Ricard – 50-50 partners with HCI and in charge of international sales – bottles it and distributes it in Europe.

Today, and as the CUPET and GEOCUBA report details, the wastes flow under the distillery’s eastern wall and into the sea without any controls and at temperatures as high as 96 degrees centigrade (205 Fahrenheit) – hot enough to burn the hooves of an adult sheep.

Although Cuban laws prohibit these kinds of practices, the distillery's untreated wastes wind up in the ocean. Photo Jullio Batista.

Although Cuban laws prohibit these kinds of practices, the distillery’s untreated wastes wind up in the ocean. Photo Jullio Batista.

As a result of its distillation of alcohol, from sugar cane products called final honeys, the rum factory generates liquid wastes that are 90 percent vinasse, a dense brown liquid considered to be the worst contaminant produced by the sugar industry because of its high acidity, Chemical Demand for Oxygen (CDO) and Biological Demand for Oxygen (BDO), according to Yaniris Lorenzo, who heads the National Environmental Center for the Sugar Industry and Derivatives.

The CDO and BDO are the quantities of oxygen required to oxidize the organic matter in the residuals. When they are high in a marine setting, the levels of oxygen dissolved in the water drop and the ecosystem that depends on that oxygen is affected.

A study titled “Exploiting the liquid residuals from distilleries for the production of biogas” confirms that “the disposal of the vinasses in water blocks the sun’s light because they are deeply colored, reducing the oxygenation generated by the photosynthesis of marine plants, killing the aquatic life because of the linkage between aquatic life and its metabolism and the consumption of oxygen dissolved in the water. Another factor that helps to reduce the oxygen dissolved in water is the high temperature of the vinasses when they are discharged, heating up the water and reducing the solubility of oxygen in the water.”

Chipriona receives more than 1.2 million liters of boiling vinasses each day, ensuring that the cycle described above continues.

The 2007 regulation titled Norma Cubana 521 and known as NC 521-2007 sets the parameters for discharging liquid wastes along the coast and into the ocean. About 30 organizations participated in the work of drafting the regulation, including the Environmental Directorate of CITMA and the Center for Environmental Inspection and Control (CICA), which is part of the Office for Environmental Regulation and Nuclear Security (ORACEN).

Cuba has nearly 4,500 regulations, but barely 7 percent are mandatory. According to National Director of Regulations René Fernández, “the features that define whether a regulation is approved as mandatory are defined in Decree Law 182. They are: impact on the health of people, the environment and safety.”

Although the drafters of NC 521-2007 consulted other regulations around the region, Fernandez explained, the document reflects “the patrimony of each country, based on adapting to environmental conditions.”

In fact, the Cuban document is notably strict when compared to its counterparts in Chile, Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. Yaniris Lorenzo shares that opinion, asserting that the parameters established in NC 521-2007 “are very difficult for national enterprises to comply with. They are designed for a first-world country, and Cuba needs major investments to guarantee those requirements are met, even as the industrial sector ages.”

Whatever the island’s situation may be, it is clear that the application of the regulation is not discretionary. “No one is authorized to violate it,” René Fernández affirms. He understands that Cuba has technological limitations but believes that while “we cannot turn our backs on the country’s reality … we also cannot turn our backs on protecting the environment.”

NC 521-2007 describes contamination sources as “any entity responsible for a discharge or spill that causes contamination higher than indicated (in at least one of the parameters), regardless of whether the contamination generated is reduced later through a system for treating the wastes.”

A report from the laboratory of Center for the Investigation and Environmental Management of Transportation in Transport, titled “Description of the liquid wastes and measurement of the contamination impact of the Ronera Santa Cruz classified the distillery as a contaminating source because it significantly violated most of the established daily limits.

A sampling of the wastes turned up alarming numbers. The regulations fix the Maximum Allowed Limit for DQO in waste at 300 mg/l, but the Ronera’s waste hit 123,400 mg/l – 411 times the level allowed. The same went for the DBO, the temperature, suspended solids, acidity and the levels of phosphorus and nitrogen. All above the established parameters.

With contamination so evident, how is it possible that the Ronera has never received a fine for the environmental damage in all these years, has not been forced to halt production until the problem is fixed and has not paid taxes on the dumping – even though all those sanctions exist in Cuba’s legal environmental framework.

The answer is simple. Because of the date when it was founded, Ronera Santa Cruz is not subject to direct regulation under current Cuban law. That’s why it has never needed an environmental permit to operate, because it already existed when CITMA was created in 1994. And it is not required to comply with NC 521:2007 because that document makes no direct reference to existing industries, or to a deadline by when those industries must meet its parameters. It also does not pay taxes under the Approved Dumping of Wastes in the Water Basins regulation – described in Articles 246 to 257 of Law 113, approved in 2013 – because from the beginning this type of tax has been limited to the basins identified as “Tadeo, Martín Pérez, Luyanó and the bay of Havana according to resolutions 132/2014 and 21/2015 approved by the Ministry of Finances and Prices.

Cuba has an unofficial classification for such “outside the law” industries. The are known as “environmental liabilities,” an island adaptation of a term used around Latin America for 20 years, almost always in cases related to mining.

Peru’s law No. 28271, for example, defines the term in mining as “all those installations, discharges, emissions, remains or waste deposits produced during mining operations, currently abandoned or inactive, which constitute a permanent and potential danger to the health of people, the surrounding ecosystem and property.”

They are understood as a debt that must be paid, either economically or through rehabilitation projects. Although the term is associated – in Cuba and abroad – with inactive contamination sources, it is used by some CITMA officials to designate those industries that are functioning but do not obey Cuban laws because they were started before the laws were approved, and whose environmental impact is therefore not regulated by CITMA. That also goes for all the sugar mills in the country.

If we consider that the majority of national industries started operating before the collapse of the Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe, we can imagine the magnitude of the problem.

In fact, we can only imagine it, because the country’s environmental officials have been unable to take an inventory of all the places that qualify as environmental liabilities under the Cuban description. In the mining industry alone, in 2013 Cuba had “areas where not even 50 percent of the abandoned mines have been identified, and where that’s been done, there’s been no evaluation,” according to the book titled Methodological Guide for the Environmental Evaluation of Degraded Areas in Abandoned Mines and edited in 2013 by the Institute for Tropical Geography and the National Office for Mineral Resources.

In coastal areas, it is forbidden, regardless of other specific prohibitions,

to dispose of solid and liquid wastes from any activity

if they don’t meet the established dumping regulations.

Decree Law 212, Article 16.

There’s no lack of environmental regulation in Cuba. Law 81 on the Environment is the principal regulating mechanism, essentially complemented by Laws 76 on Mining, 85 on Forestry, 62 on the Criminal Code, as well as Decree Law 138 on fresh water, 200 on the environment and 212 on coastal area management. Then there are regulations on dumping and emissions, as well as other CITMA resolutions and directives. Those and other documents form a complex, widely scattered and for now chaotic legal framework.

Nevertheless, some legal experts agree the country has notorious gaps in its environmental legislation.

In their article, “Cuba’s Environmental Justice, Challenges for the 21stCentury,” university professors Alcides Antúnez, Carlos Justo Bruzón and Armando Guillermo Antúnez argue that although Law 81 does not limit the sanctions that can result from damages to the environment (penal, administrative, civil and economic), Cuban legislation “does not include Environmental Crime. It is not organized under a specific name, and its reach … is far from the key job of prevention.”

Daimar Cánovas, deputy science director of the Tropical Geography Institute and a professor at the Havana University’s law school, argued in his article “A look at the principles of the environmental process” that the definition of environmental damage used in Cuban laws “subordinates the right to demand an accounting to the fact that it happens in contravention of a regulation or legal disposition. But in the Civil Code, the illegality is due to the damage. In the Law on the Environment, the illegality is the result of violating a pre-existing legal regulation. The existence of damage to the environment or some of its elements will not be enough to determine responsibility. It will be required, in addition, that the damage is produced, aside from illegally, in an illegal way.”

That legal position has created Cuba’s black hole of environmental liabilities, based on the legal limbo of enterprises whose practices are very damaging to the environment yet cannot be regulated under the existing legal framework.

Both texts note that the country does not have a specialized court (Environmental Tribunal) that can hear cases described by Cánovas as “cross disciplinary, innovative, broad and with a technical scientific under layer. Instead, legal disputes on the environment are heard in Economic Tribunals as required by Decree Law 241 from 2006. That reduces the vision of the problem merely to the search for compensation after the damage has taken place, leaving aside the issues of prevention and environmental management.

The 2013 article by Antunez et al also argues that national institutions such as CITMA and the national prosecutor’s and comptroller’s agencies have failed in their responsibility to monitor the protection of the island’s environment.

“We can talk about a lack of action by the responsible agencies to resolve environmental disputes,” the article noted, “because during the entire period when Decree 223 from 2001, ‘The Jurisdiction and Competency of the Economic Tribunals,’ has been in effect, no complaint has been submitted to the court by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment or the National Prosecutor’s Office , even though many infractions of Law 81 and other related laws, which have been affecting the economy as well as the health of the environment, are known. It is known that those agencies issue measures, impose fines or issue findings as administrative solutions, which don’t always materialize because of the projected costs of resolving the problem, which leads to the continuation of the damages to the environment and natural resources.”

Those words point to something important. The lack of action by Cuban institutions is not the result of a lack of knowledge. And that’s perfectly true of the Ronera Santa Cruz.

In 2013, ORASEN officials visited the site because of repeated complaints by residents of Mantenimiento Constructivo, a neighborhood that adjoins the Ronera and Chipriona. Yuslán Sánchez Viera confirms it: “We have received complaints from residents, the government and CITMA for years. Even the visitors from CITMA municipal and provincial offices know we have problems with this, and that this is not a new problem.” More recently, in March of 2017, the director of CICA – the agency in charge of controlling the sources of contamination in the country – visited the site as part of a delegation from the Group to Fight Contamination in Priority Bays.

When Periodismo de Barrio asked to interview specialists at ORACEN and CICA, the CITMA Communication and Information Office asked for “guidance” from the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party – even though the party technically does not have the power to make decisions for central government agencies. Two months later, and after several visits to CITMA’s national office, an official named Raisa Rodríguez said the requests had been denied.

The Mayabeque Office of the Environment did not allow access to the documentation of the the Evaluation of the Environmental Impact of the Ronera, even though it’s a public document under Articles 84, 85 and 66 of Resolution 132/2009 issued by CITMA.

Since 2007, when the system for discharging the wastes stopped working and the vinasses started flowing directly into the Chipriona inlet, the complaints have never stopped. During that time, based on figures from the Ronera, about 3,392 million liters of liquid waste were discharged into the inlet. Enough to cover 986 soccer fields with a one-meter layer of waste.

Although Cuban laws make no direct reference to this type of enterprise, there is a legal way to demand an accounting. Little used, it’s based on Article 29(b) of Law 81 and Article 16 of Law 621, the Criminal Code.

Law 81 on the Environment says that an Environmental Impact Evaluation – which can lead to an approval or a halt in the work – can be required for “work or activities under way that [unless they are not an expansion or modification of existing activities] need to be submitted for this process because they generate a significant negative impact.”

The Criminal Code, for its part, only allows criminal charges against non-state entities – blocking the possibility of filing criminal charges against state enterprises, which in Cuba are the immense majority. But when a state enterprise registers as an Anonymous Society (S.A.) – similar to a Limited Liability Company, LLC – it technically moves into the non-state sector. That’s how Cuba Ron S.A. Might be forced to answer for the environmental damage caused by its largest distillery over the past decade.

Although that mechanism may be useful in the search for a solution to the discharges by Ronera Santa Cruz, and Article 71 of the Law on the Environment acknowledges that CITMA and the national prosecutor’s office “can act in defense of social interests for protecting the environment,” none of the two entities have exercised those powers in the case of Chipriona.

Since the 1980s, liquid wastes have been a major problem for the Ronera. Photo Julio Batista.

Since the 1980s, liquid wastes have been a major problem for the Ronera. Photo Julio Batista.

Cuba pays special attention to the protection of the environment…

“It is necessary to enshrine, as an elemental right of society and citizens, the right to a healthy environment …”

                                                                                                                                     Law 81 on the Environment

After 1985, the Ronera had only one way to get rid of its wastes – an underwater pipeline.

The pipeline, 184 meters long and 7.5 meters deep, worked until the 1990s, when its problems became known. Despite those problems – already well known, according to Yuslán Sánchez and Pedro Manuel Pérez Rodríguez, Principal Investor in the Ronera Santa Cruz – it continued in use until 2007, when studies showed that it was useless. The factory’s wastes were not flowing out through the pipeline. The vinasses were finding their way through the rock and flowing into the Chipriona area.

Seven years later, two efforts to properly dispose of the wastes were started. One involved a 1 km pipeline within the Ronera, to a vinasse treatment and biogas generating plant, then an underwater pipeline to the sea. The second did not include the biogas plant. A budget was approved for the second option.

But in a 2002 report to the ONUDI and the National Network for Cleaner Production, the Ronera noted that “vinasse in general could be used as fertilizer, animal feed or for anaerobic fermentation to produce biogas and generate electricity.”

The document added that the lack of money was the decisive factor “for not disposing, in a different way, of the liquid wastes (vinasses). For example, anaerobic fermentation to produce biogas and treat the solids generated, for their use as fertilizer in agriculture.” That, it added, would have increased “the possibilities of economic improvements.”

According to Perez Rodriguez, who started to work at the factory 16 years ago, despite all the reports on the dangers of the waste discharges to the Ronera itself, the problem always “has been the budget.”

The Ronera has been assigned a $20 million budget since 2016 for “improving the capacity for aging and warehousing, improving the distillery’s ability to rectify the alcohols, repair the administrative building, renovate the bottling facility and the laboratory. And within that budget, there’s the construction of the waste evacuation system,” according to Yuslán Sánchez.

The new system would be like the old one but built with the right materials: a 250 mm pipeline that will extend 680 meters into the sea at a depth of 42 meters. According to Perez Rodriguez, studies by GEOCUBA (which belongs to the business branch of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces) confirm that under those conditions, the currents will disperse and dissolve the wastes. It would mean less impact, but the vinasses would continue to flow into the sea without any treatment to reduce their basic impact on oxygen, acidity and suspended solids.

It is a bet that the sea will purify itself. But it is also an investment with no economic benefits.

Construction of the new system was well underway by the end of 2016. The raw materials had arrived in Cuba in April, and the only part missing was the underwater pipeline. But the labor requirements caused delays, according to Perez Rodriguez.

The enterprise Obras Maritimas, owned by the Ministry of Construction, had started to work on the underwater pipeline in September of 2016 but stopped Oct. 1 because of bad weather. One month later, Perez Rodriguez asserted that the project would be finished by September of 2017. Everything depended on the weather. The work resumed in June of 2017. Today, the goal is to finish before the end of the year.

The approved plans do not mention it, but Perez Rodriguez explains that the new system includes a bypass in case there’s a decision later to add a biogas plant. But neither he nor Yuslán are optimists that the plant could be built in the short term.

“To comply with CITMA, the underwater pipeline is enough. That’s why we don’t see the biogas plant as a solution, but as an extra, a contribution of energy for the country and a way to recover the wastes. For us, the system and pipeline would resolve the problem of the wastes and the environmental impact,” the head of the Quality Control Department asserted.

The Mayabeque provincial branch of CITMA agrees and has issued licenses for the construction at the Ronera. And the provincial CITMA’s Environmental Regulation and Evaluation Department has expressed its satisfaction with the Ronera’s gradual efforts over the past seven years to build a new waste disposal system. CITMA regards those extremely slow steps – which up to now have changed nothing at all with the wastes discharged – reason enough to be patient with the Ronera.

But recent research in Cuba on the disposal of the vinasses generated by the distillation of alcohol show that underwater discharge is not the best way to handle those wastes.

In an article titled “Alternatives for treating distillery vinasses.National and international experiences,” Yaniris Lorenzo, who has a doctorate in environmental science, wrote that “among the industrial alternatives for treating distillery vinasses, the best solution from the technical and economic point of view is a system made up of the anaerobic digestion of the organic matter that creates a renewable source of energy (biogas) and the final disposition of liquid and solid wastes (muds) generated by the process as irrigation water and organic fertilizer, respectively, for the cultivation of sugar cane, thereby closing the waste cycle.”

The same document notes that a biogas plant would cost about $3,800 for every cubic meter of vinasse it treats daily. That would mean that a plant to process the Ronera’s 1,300 cubic meters per day production would cost about $5 million – nearly one quarter of the total budget approved in 2016 to improve the factory.

The calculations for the first improvement plan that was not approved showed that a biogas plant would also have the capacity to generate 60 megawatts per hour and that the Ronera needed only 40 to work, according to Pérez Rodríguez. That would mean the factory could supply up to 20 Mw/h to the national grid.

Lorenzo acknowledges that these kinds of industries are no utopia.

A vinasse biogas plant in Villa Clara province, part of the Heriberto Duquezne agroindustrial complex, is the the only one of its type in Cuba, according to Lorenzo. Using three anaerobic reactors of 1,300 m3 each, “they remove 70 percent of the DQO.” But that same process would still leave the DQO levels in the Ronera Santa Cruz’ waste at 37,020 mg/l, far higher than the 300 mg/l set by the Maximum Allowed Limits in Cuba.

In other words, that waste could not be discharged into the sea without violating Cuban environmental rules. But it would be a significant improvement.

“Any person or legal entity that by action or omission causes damage to the environment will be forced to stop the conduct and repair the damages and harms caused.”

Law 81 on the Environment, Article 70.

Santa Cruz is not the isolated story of a contaminating factory. It is just the start of a story badly told until now, the story of Cuba’s environmental liabilities. What is happening in Chipriona is, first of all, the direct responsibility of the Ronera, but it would not be possible without the leniency shown by Cuban officials.

That a factory is polluting a bay is, sadly, common news around the world. That the national authorities in charge of protecting a country’s environment do nothing about it is worrisome.

To blame Santa Cruz for the contamination would be very easy. And as useless as blaming the messenger for the bad news.

The Ronera and Cuba Ron S.A. have violated, and violate, many legal dispositions on the environment. But what’s worse is that the institutions in charge of the interests of the citizens, and with the legal authority to do so, turn a blind eye when it comes to enforcing the law. Paradoxically, the same laws they drafted and approved.

Yes, the Ronera is violating articles 70, 93, 95 and 104 of Law 81 on the Environment; sections h) and l) of Artícle 9 of Decree Law 200 on the environment; section g) of Article 16 of Decree Law 212 on the management of coastal areas; and the waste discharge parameters established in NC 521:2007.

But CITMA failed in two key tasks set for the agency in Law 81: “demand compliance with the regulations established for the protection of the environment” and “demand that the damages be fixed or that indemnification be paid.”

Article 27 of the Cuban constitution notes that the state “protects the environment and natural resources of the country.” In its Web page, CITMA lists in 15th place its duty to “supervise and demand from the proper agencies and organisms, compliance with the regulations established to protect and preserve the environment.” The Web page of the Office for Environmental Regulation and Nuclear Security posted the same responsibility, almost word for word, as part of its institutional mission.

Chipriona raises doubts about the government’s capacity or will to fulfill those words.

*Claudia González Corrales participated in the reporting of this investigation.