News Alert for Climbers

2013 to be Quiet, Happy and Prosperous Year for Climbing in Cuba

The winter climbing season has commenced with less talk about the closure announced by the government last year. The year-old ban on all access to the backcountry for all activities has probably scared off some foreign climbers. The result is that this year the Viñales Valley is quiet, but as active as ever.
About the only place that climbers can’t go to climb is Cueva Cabeza la Vaca. A guard seems to be there most weekday mornings, and even local farmers who use the tunnel through la Cueva to reach their farmlands on the other side of Mogote del Valle are denied entry. But the Cueva is avoided only in the morning. Folks climb there every day after 3pm. Guards have chased off climbers at Cuba Libre Wall a few times as well. That’s about it for enforcement of the closure.
Climbers are able to climb whenever they want at the many popular walls in between the two sites, such as Campismo, Cueva Larga, Guajiro Ecologico, Costanera, and Los Hoyos.
In sum, the closure remains in place. Everyone is still climbing, having a great time, and putting up new routes. No one has been cited or detained. Merely asked to stop climbing, usually with an apology. Even this minimal enforcement is easily avoided. The two chosen “sentry posts” may not be accidental. La Cueva is the most accessible spot for climbers, hikers, and guards. Cuba Libre is at El Palenque, a bar-cabarnet set in natural grotto of limestone. Perhaps the guards know that the closure is only for show, so there is no need to make make themselves uncomfortable.
This seems a very Cuban resolution. Declare something illegal, then let it continue, until or if ever officials want to do something. That’s probably why no climber nor journalist has been able to get a Cuba official to explain, let alone justify the ban. At first officials at Viñales National Park announced orally that the closure applied to all Western Cuba and to all activities, from climbing to hiking to caving to birding. No one, however, has been allowed to see any documentation of the closure. We really don’t know what’s closed or what’s prohibited nor with what sanction.
The pattern is a familiar one to Cubans. Officials can crack down if ever they wish, and arrest which ever Cuban climber they wish. The Hammer is always available to them. Foreigner climbers would only be made to stop climbing. Or the half-hearted enforcement may simply melt away. Officials will never announce that the closure has been lifted. In time, they could say, “What closure?”