By Monica Cisneros (Progreso Semanal)
HAVANA TIMES — San Antonio is the town where everybody longs for water. The story goes way back, so much so that Dany Rivera Pelaez, who has lived all of her 54 years in that small town, can’t remember a day that she didn’t collect it, treasuring it as if a part of her life rested in every drop.
Irony surrounds San Antonio. Located just over 30 km away from Florida, among the plains in the south of the Camaguey province, people in the municipal capital have always made a living off of rice cultivation, the most “humid” crop in Cuba. A lot of water is needed to cultivate it, as much as 14,500 m3 per hectare.
For that reason, several dams were built there about 40 years ago. They were built in order to ensure that the rice complex baptized “Ruta Invasora” had all the irrigation it needed in order to set up one of the largest plantantians in Cuba, the same plantation which has recently grown at a faster rate when it comes to planted areas and national production on the whole.
In a not-so-distant future, rice fields in San Antonio, Florida, Manantiales, El Chorro and La Lima, in the neighboring Vertientes municipality, will come together in a great sea of cultivated land that will generously nourish the nation with the region’s great reservoirs and the water that comes in through the Zaza-Camaguey Canal.
Maybe, when that day comes, almost all the rice consumed in Cuba will be cultivated here and there might even be a little extra for us to export. That’s what the Vietnamese experts who are giving advice to the National Rice Program hope for anyway; that’s what the Libertad rice mill testifies to, which was rebuilt almost from the ashes just a few years ago and is where the majority of locals who don’t work in farming are employed.
However, in the midst of so much water, residents in San Antonio suffer just to fill some containers in order to meet their most basic needs.
In mid-2016, a donation made by the Japanese government seemed to be the call for the end of such prolonged suffering. It was for a small aqueduct which would take advantage of two deepwater wells located in the town’s vicinity. Thanks to this aqueduct, the town’s nearly 2,000 inhabitants would have a water supply, answering one of the region’s oldest problems. Dany Rivera includes it among the “historic” demands, sharing prominence with those relating to the poor state of the highway and the lack of transport.
After 41 years, none of the representatives elected in San Antonio had been able to find a solution when it came to their water supply. Damaris Martinez Torres, the current local representative knows that it wasn’t because of a lack of trying.
A few days ago, in an interview for the provincial newspaper Adelante, she explained this with an unpleasant aftertaste which was backed up by her upset neighbors. “The Japanese came in 2012 and in 2016, fuel was provided to start the works. However, not a single hose has even been put in yet. I have argued this at every level, voters complain, many of whom are willing to cooperate; for example, we have builders but no cement or sand and gravel to make the pump houses for each well. They keep giving us completion dates which are then not met.”
Neither the Provincial Aqueduct and Sewage System Company, nor Florida’s municipal government have been able to agree on anything to do with this subject. Neither of these institutions have explained the reasons for these delays to locals either, nor have they given statements to international press. Up until now, the truth is that water is still in short supply in San Antonio, just as much as answers and solutions are, like what happened to the donated equipment?
Being able to make a decision between all of us
The main economic activity in another municipality in Camaguey, is livestock; its residents have always lived off of this. Nobody can command them to build industries or insist on them promoting tourism; they lack the conditions to do so. However, they do have more than enough cattle, water, tradition and knowledge passed down from one generation to the next.
They also have their own needs. Just like the influx of investment can’t be felt in so many other places on the island, the Special Period crisis of the ‘90s continues to show many of its less pleasant effects there. That’s why new irrigation channels are welcome, which can lead to the town’s prosperity.
In order to plan them, one of the most unobstructed options right now is the one being presented by Local Development Initiatives (IDL), a model of projects managed by local authorities themselves with initial funding from the central government. The stated intention is that these then become sources of direct taxes for the areas they are found in.
In theory, the system only has advantages; in practice, things are different. Proposals to start up these IDL can’t take into account production that is included in the “national balance sheet”. So, out of the picture are milk and other dairy derivates, fish, coffee, rice, sugar cane etc, in a long list of resources which are controlled by each of their respective State ministries.
“What we can propose then, if people only know about livestock, cheese and milk in this town?” asks Luis. Nobody, not even the President of the Cuban Government, nor legislators elected within the area, have been able to give an answer.
Many people share this concern. A few municipalities away, in a fishing town, a People’s Power representative puts the benefits and disadvantages for his fellow citizens into practical terms: “When the time of truth comes for our voters, it doesn’t matter if the [state company’s] mixed plan is carried out or not; if transport is still a pending subject, whether housing is the same, and if alcoholism and other social issues spread like wildfire in towns where factories have been closed down. The Local Contributions have come to give us a break, but that’s all they’ve been, a break.”
In the town’s park, nobody knows the names of the authorities that represent them, not even the name of the “mayor”. All of the people who were consulted found out from me, the reporter, that 1% of the utilities generated by the municipality’s companies should stay in the town as part of the Local Contribution; more than one of these people admitted to not paying attention to these matters. Practically noone knows that there will be elections for the municipal government, provincial government and national government next year.
Apart from these statements, the majority will probably go to vote without knowing who they are voting for and how this will influence their lives. Shelved in the archives of many governing bodies, laws and regulations which regulate how our municipalities should function are languishing and being eternally forgotten, without caring about the pressing needs of those they should be helping.
Meanwhile, the San Antonio aqueduct continues to be nothing more than a utopia and in the many “Cubas” here in this greater Cuba, people are waiting for decisions to be made which should rest in their hands and their hands alone.