Maria Aguilar Beach: Symbol of Beauty or Exclusion

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez

Cuban beach. Photo: Eduardo Soñora

The van dropped us off on the edge of the beach, the part reserved for parking cars. We were near the town of Trinidad, maybe about 12 miles out.

But it was that closeness that increased the summer enjoyment, because on the horizon we could see that beautiful central Cuban city appearing to us like a stunning 18th century watercolor of colonial facades.

We were on Maria Aguilar Beach, an alluring coastal sandbank of the island’s southern coast. Local Trinidadians appreciate it for its abundant sand and the absence of thick coral reefs off its shores.

Taking a dip in its waters is therefore safer and more pleasant than on other beaches in the area, which is why it has won such great popularity among swimmers, despite being one of the beaches farthest from the city.

This is also why after being on the beach for a few minutes, I was surprised by the few swimmers who were actually there enjoying it. There couldn’t have been more than 15 people total. All of them had come in private or government cars, along with a couple in a horse-drawn wagon, but nowhere did I see the typical hoards of kids and families condemned to reach the beach on foot or packed into overcrowded public buses. That population generally represents more than 50 percent of the swimmers who visit our public beaches.

I investigated the issue with one of my Trinidadian friends.

“Why do you think there are so few people on this beach,” I asked.

“The thing is that this place is way outside the city. There aren’t any public buses that come out this far out,” he responded.

The answer was easy to anticipate. Maria Aguilar Beach is a remote place in the central Cuban region, and we know by experience that exotic natural places are only within reach of locals and visitors with the necessary resources to afford trips to those destinations.

Nonetheless I sensed that another reason existed for this beach being so barren.

It was a while later, and thanks to the meditative attitude demanded for my digestion of lunch, but my persistent confusion began to clear up.

“Brother, what happened to the fishing village that used to be near this beach! A few years ago I bought some fish at a house close by to cook them here on this very spot. I also remember that lots of people would come from town to swim and sell things,” I blurted out.

Trinidad street.

My memory seemed to surprise the Trinidadian; he thought that the issue of a desolate Maria Aguilar Beach had been settled several minutes earlier.

“Havanan, the government moved those people out of here nearly two years ago. They wanted to build a hotel here…uh…and they also wanted people to move back away from the sea for public safety reasons, given the hurricanes and all,” responded the Trinidadian.  It was a well-known story for the locals.

Then after a few seconds he added, “They say that those people who didn’t want to leave were removed by force. Some folks even committed suicide out of nostalgia for this place. They relocated the other folks in a suburb of with all these ugly apartment buildings.”

“So where’s the hotel.” I didn’t remember having seen anything resembling one when we arrived at the beach.

“There isn’t one. That project went under. I don’t know if it was some con or if the numbers of tourists fell too much. What’s undeniable now, though, is that it’s not going to be built.

After having clarified everything, Maria Aguilar Beach takes on a different impression for me. Its sublime peace has turned into the silence of a cemetery. Likewise, its beautiful view — distant from the city of Trinidad — then appeared like warped privilege, because two years ago the roofs of that fishing village had blocked the sight.

Maria Aguilar Beach is now in many of those travelogues that feature such bits of paradise that have lost their original residents. It’s true that now the place offers a much more intimate and discreet atmosphere than it did two years ago, but at the cost of the authenticity that all nature attains when co-existing with those human communities that take care of it and respect it like part of their own family.

Before leaving, and as an act of magic, I imagined an incursion of spirited and adventurous kids and families, and among them I sensed popular intransigence. Nevertheless, that image was no more than a naive illusion.

It was a group of tourists pulling up in a late-model, air-conditioned SUV’s interrupting the paradisiac peace of that beautiful and simple Maria Aguilar Beach.

Yenisel Rodriguez

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez: I have lived in Cuba my entire life, except for several months in 2013 when I was in Miami with my father. Despite the 90 miles that separate Havana and Miami, I find profound reasons in both for political and community activism. My encounter with socio-cultural anthropology eight years ago prepared me for a commitment of love for cultural diversity.

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