October 14, 2011
Isbel Diaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 14 — It's already public that the Cuba government
plans to allow foreigners to acquire properties in perpetuity in
ultra-modern golf course communities. The ultimate goal seems to be the
development of enormous residential-hotel-golf course enclaves for
tourists and the future Cuban bourgeoisie.
ON YOUR MARK…GET SET…GO!
"They told us that this incursion has the highest priority for
investment," said Graham Cooke, a Canadian golf course architect and the
designer of a project for the Guardalavaca Beach area, along the
island's north-eastern coast. The project, with an estimated value of
more than $455 million, is being promoted by a consortium of Canadian
Indian tribes whose officers supposedly entered into contract with the
Cuban government this past August.
According to Cuba's tourism minister, Manuel Marrero, the government
negotiated with several foreign companies to set up the first
joint-ventures that will construct these golf courses on the island, in
addition to other "real estate developments" related to tourism.
The company Standing Feather International (SFI) signed a memorandum of
understanding with the Cuban government in late April, and on this past
July 6 agreed to create — together with the Cuban state-owned company
Palmares Grupo — the "Cuba-Kanata Golf Ltd" company. This joint-venture
will be the first to begin construction activity, with work set to begin
in September of next year. Despite the magnitude of this project, no
information concerning it has appeared in the island's broadcast media
or written press.
It's also known that the executive director of London's Essence Group,
who has helped sponsor international golf tournaments in Varadero, plans
to develop a $300 million country club on the most famous beach in Cuba.
In late July, the British ambassador on the island, Dianna Melrose,
announced at the Cuban Foreign Ministry that her country's business
community wants to invest in Cuba's tourism sector, particularly in new
hotel and golf course projects being started.
Mexico is another one of the countries that wants to "share" experiences
with Cuba in the development of golf tourism, said Gloria Guevara Manzo,
the head of the that country's Federal Tourism Secretariat during the
FITCUBA 2011 tourism fair this past May. Consultants with the Mexican
firm "Piza: arquitectura de golf" are serving as advisors on the design
and construction of the tourist complexes for Palmares, the company
responsible for the development of golf facilities in terms of tourism.
According to statements by Mexican officials, their country is among the
top ten trading partners with Cuba, citing commercial exchange for $325
million in 2010. They went on to state that Mexican investment in the
island is approximately $730 million, adding that, "This positions us as
one of the ranking Latin American investors on the island."
In total, the four largest development projects total over $1.5 billion,
while the New York Times says that the amount of profits coming into the
Cuban government coffers will be about half.
Cuba now has three 18-hole golf courses: the Campo de Golf Capdevila and
the Havana Golf Club (both in Havana), and the Varadero Golf Club,
located at the popular tourist resort in Matanzas Province. This latter
curse was built before 1959 by the Dupont family. The current
perspective is to develop sixteen short and medium-term real estate
projects that will include courses for this sport.
During the first parliamentary session of 2011, Cuba's tourism minister
claimed that the agreement had the approval of the Council of Ministers.
The official noted that the four initial projects will be developed in
the provinces of Holguin, Pinar del Rio, Havana and Matanzas.
In its eagerness for Cuba to become an exemplary and upscale destination
in the Caribbean, the island's government has decided to promote an
elite sport like golf, apparently seeing it as a means of revitalizing
To this end, the government has shown no reservations about offering
life leases on structures and land usufruct for 99 years. As the
Canadian consortium disclosed to the El Universal newspaper, "We're
proud to announce that the titles on the luxury properties that buyers
purchase aren't the standard 99-year leases. Instead, residential
properties are being sold with the owners having the right to own them
Such exceptions draw attention to how Cuban farmers, in accordance with
Decree-Law 259, are given land in usufruct for a limited period of just
ten years. Only recently did the government authorize the construction
of houses on land rented to small farmers, but they didn't allow the
import into the country of machinery (such as tractors) donated from abroad.
Orlando Lugo Fonte, president of the National Association of Small
Farmers, says the term of ten years of use "is a restriction and a
contradiction." The official defends the idea of ??permanent and
inheritable land rights for agricultural workers.
On the other hand, the criticisms that have historically been made by
Cuban leaders of golf courses are well known. Most of these facilities
were converted to other uses after the 1959 revolution. Known as "the
sport of the rich," golf was discouraged in Cuba by Fidel Castro and Che
Guevara, who both publicly ridiculed the sport as "bourgeois."
More recently this notion was echoed by Venezuelan president Hugo
Chavez, who has also made explicit criticisms of other excesses of the
upper and upper-middle classes in his country. With the lack of housing
that Venezuela is suffering, the South American president doesn't see
why these courses should be created on valuable land "so that only a
small group of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois can go play golf."
Among the news items that have appeared on this issue, none points to
any priority being given by any of the ALBA countries to this type of
tourism-related investment. Regional integration apparently must be
developed in isolation from economic development priorities that the
largest island in the Caribbean has designed for itself.
Nor does it seem that the possibility for participating in this sport
will be open to average Cubans on the island. There are no known public
statements by sports officials concerning this. In addition, the
proposed designs are clearly focused on upmarket international tourism,
not to mention the fact that access to such places, and the purchase of
golf sports equipment itself, is well beyond the reach of most residents
of the island.
In the margin of ideological debates, the Canadian Standing Feather
International is committed to a standard of five or six-star facilities
to compete with destinations such as the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas
or Cancun. As a bonus, residents and homeowners in SFI's "Loma Linda"
golf resort community be allowed to import their vehicles and will be
offered imported food products "exclusively" for purchase and delivery
to their homes.
The area occupied by the complex will be declared a "Special Economic
Development Zone," according to statements by El Universal, and the
Cuban government will issue the purchasers visas as "Resident Real
Estate Owners" (Spanish: Residente Inmobiliario) that will allow these
foreigners long-term residence.
All this movement of land and prospects for future prosperity entail the
redevelopment of the land and the construction of communities associated
with golf courses. Internationally, golf courses depend on real estate
activities, which lead to increasing property values.
The real profit center is precisely in these housing developments
associated with golf courses, which typically increase the value of
these units by 50 percent. Usually these homes aren't primary
residences but are bought by wealthy investors in golf courses and by
upper-middle class families who use them as second homes in "exotic
places" such as this Caribbean island.
WATER DEMAND VS. CHRONIC DROUGHT
Golf courses are traditionally suspected of having negative
environmental impacts. Each golf course uses the volume of water
equivalent to the consumption of a town of 12,000 inhabitants, with
their average daily consumption of one of these courses being close to
400,000 gallons. In addition, an average 18-holes golf course covers
100 to 150 acres.
It's easy to predict the impact of these on Cuban life, as much of the
country suffers from a drought that has no end in sight. In addition to
the watering of their fairways, another requirement is that of small
artificial lakes that are included in the designs of these courses.
These surface waters have a bearing on water lost through evaporation
and consequently result in increased water consumption.
The traditional misuse of chemical fertilizers causes major alterations
in the quality of groundwater due to increased nitrogen and phosphorus
compounds used in the revitalization of the roots of grass (these
promote their growth and give them more color). Commonly used
pesticides also cause a sharp deterioration in aquifers due to excessive
use or use in irrigated areas with rapid absorption.
Negative impacts on ecosystems are also considerable during the
construction phase of golf courses and accompanying housing
developments. The need for irrigation, drainage, slope remodeling and
design, require the moving of native soils and the use of heavy
machinery that transform the substrate for the installation of series of
irrigation channels. These are finally filled with gravel, sand and
plant mulch, and grass is planted.
Moreover, the aesthetics of golf courses represent alien kinds of
landscapes, as they were originally from other countries with different
social and environmental conditions. The implementation of this sport
involves radical transformations in native landscapes. From a visual
point of view these may represent subjective aesthetic beauty, but they
will always be foreign to the original environment.
As stated, golf courses need large areas, making their construction
impossible in urban areas. This is why developers traditionally turn to
undeveloped land and areas near natural settings. This is a means to
externalize the impact.
Of course such costs don't disappear, rather they take an infinite toll
on ecosystems that lose in a few decades what it took centuries to build
and accumulate. Of course since the consequences are not visible — as
in the cases of earthquakes, landslides, spectacular collapses or with
huge chimneys dumping toxic gases into the atmosphere — to the general
public their impact is as if nothing has occurred.
After extinguishing the natural sources of freshwater and destroying
aquifers, it's necessary to redirect water from distant basins. Such
management also externalizes the impact, exporting the "drought" problem
to distant communities.
Of course obtaining environmental permits for such transformations isn't
difficult if the government wishes to substantiate the need for foreign
currency entering the country. In extensive reports they can make
promises to minimize the impacts; otherwise some paltry fine levied on
millionaires can be paid to "correct" the situation.
It wouldn't be a surprise if these properties served to foster the
return of casinos, with card games and hard betting, slot machines and
other more repugnant forms of "leisure travel," as it has been called.
For now, such upscale tourism in Cuba has failed to be developed in all
these years. Together with the extensive cultivation of transgenic soy
and corn, and export of medical services, this now appears to be an
important part of the government's commitment to Cuba's economic opening
to global capitalism.