/** ips.english: 458.0 **/
** Topic: ENVIRONMENT-CUBA: Forest Protection Law a National First **
** Written 4:10 PM Jul 25, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1998 InterPress Service, all rights reserved. Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
Forest Protection Law a National First
By Dalia Acosta, IPS, 22 July 1998
HAVANA, Jul 22 (IPS) - Cuba's Parliament broke new ground this week, passing its first ever forestry law to conserve and increase the amount of tree cover on the island, guaranteeing more rational use of these resources.
The new legislation was approved Tuesday following arduous debate in the first ordinary session of the National Assembly of People's Power (the parliament) this year, in the presence of President Fidel Castro.
This new document will replace a forestry act imposed during the island's 400 years as a Spanish colony up until the beginning of this century. For decades the forests were hacked down to supply timber and to make way for sugar cane plantations and cattle ranches.
Estimates state when Christopher Columbus arrived on the island in 1492, 90 percent of the island was under tree cover. By 1900 this figure had dropped to 53 percent, and a mere 13.5 percent by 1960.
After coming to power in 1959, Castro started an intensive reforestation campaign, increasing tree cover to around 21.3 percent of the island by 1997.
But this forestry policy was implemented without any underlying forestry legislation to enforce the conservation and protection of the forest areas, along with the rational use of these resources.
This contradiction led to "negative repercussions and the loss of forest areas" due to the lack of regulations, State control or any form of sanctions to prevent indiscriminate use, stated the bill presented to Parliament.
These new guidelines "bring our legislation into line with the actual and future situation of the country and will contribute to the fulfilment of the environmental law," said Cuba's agriculture minister, Alfredo Jordan.
But the law will not do this alone, warned Castro, calling for an educational campaign to include explanation in lay terms of the legal jargon of the most applicable of the documents.
He said the legislation would not be able to tackle the lack of forestry and social culture, or indeed, crime, reported official Communist Party daily Granma, Wednesday.
"I hope our 'red' Communist Party will be the one to head the battle for the conservation of the environment" leaving no need to create 'green' parties in Cuba, said Castro in coverage of the session on State television.
Forestry law departs from the constitutional principle that forests "are socialist state property of all the people," while recognising these can be found on State, co-operative or private- owned land.
Its objectives include "establishing the principles and general regulations for the protection, increase and sustainable development of forestry heritage," and "the management of these resources" through competent entities.
These regulations lay the foundations with which to promote and stimulate afforestation, conserving biodiveristy resources, protecting the forests against indiscriminate felling and regulating their multiple and sustainable use.
According to article 63, the felling of forests is banned, only being permitted with direct authorisation from the Council of Ministers or its executive committee, under the auspices of the Agriculture Ministry.
The Ministry of Agriculture will be in charge of directing, executing and monitoring all aspects of State and government policy on the protection, increase and sustainable development of the forestry heritage resources, while handling all the forestry harvests, profits and industry.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment will maintain its role in managing forestry heritage by participating, evaluating and supervising any action or project involving the forest cover.
According to the law, sustainable forestry development will be stimulated by paying subsidies to any individual or legal entity carrying out forestry plantation or management.
The nation is also contemplating reducing or removing tariffs on imports of technology, equipment or spare parts, and supplies to be used in forestry development, offering similar cuts of taxes on companies, cooperatives, small landowners or holders undertaking such projects.
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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