Alberto N. Jones
HAVANA TIMES — This summer I stayed in Guantanamo longer than usual as my trip coincided with the National Rebelliousness Day celebration of July 26 being held there, plus there was the annual carnival festivities in that city.
Intense construction/restoration activity in the province (typical of the province hosting the commemoration) included the completion of an important stretch of the national highway, linking Guantanamo to the town of Belleza, a project halted over 20 years ago.
There was also the re-paving of the city’s main arteries, the termination and/or reconstruction of several public works projects, the completion of a beautiful boulevard that has now become the center of recreational activities in the city, and the painting of hundreds of houses and buildings. All of this gave the city a freshness that it had been lacking for decades and provided temporary relief for all of its citizens.
The July 26th celebration in any city in Cuba is a source of local pride and joy, which was widely expressed throughout Guantanamo and culminated in the conclusion of four days of festivities.
Beyond the surface
However, for those of us who love Guantanamo, for those who struggle day after day to make this region occupy the place it deserves in the country, for those who suffer in the face of the prevailing state of deterioration, the start-up of some kind of subsistence business of their own or their immigrating to another country has nothing to do with the 50 years of hard struggles and sacrifices we have made as a community.
What one finds now is a lack of development and sad prospects for thousands of youths without jobs or futures and whose only goal is to “inventar” (hustle), which pushes them that much closer towards the world of crime.
The socio-economic situation of southeast Cuba is serious, urgent, heartbreaking and debilitating. It encompasses communities, towns and cities in a stifling atmosphere of utter frustration and powerlessness, all of which ends up ripping apart the essential fiber and values of society.
Thousands of college graduates and technicians are jobless, wandering aimlessly and hopelessly, forgetting in minutes what they learned over years. Enrollment in the middle and upper levels has been significantly reduced and all services have degraded, adversely affecting the level of happiness and satisfaction of the whole community.
The impacts of disincentives and insufficient wages have been compounded by the layoffs of one or more family members in many homes, placing these social units on the brink of economic collapse. The need to provide “gifts” for access to all kinds of services has increased exceedingly, dehumanizing society and turning the majority — those without access — into machines focused on survival, ones that don’t care about the situations of others.
The embezzlement of funds, outright theft, the adulteration of products, “fines” by inspectors, the abusive costs of products sold in hard currency CUCs and the lack of a wholesale market are just some of the more obvious evils that reflect a lack of coordination between different government run companies. This has led to stagnation and even retrogression in relation to some of the plans set out in the “Guidelines” of the party.
Thousands of people responded to the call of the government to recover vacant agricultural land that had been devoured by overrunning marabou bushes. These people took to the fields to produce food for the population and reduce costly imports.
Despite the rigid bureaucracy and the resistance to change of the Ministry of Agriculture and their lack of tools and agricultural implements, huge areas of land have been cleared, planted and cultivated using archaic methods, such as yoked oxen and wooden plows.
The lack of fertilizers, pesticides and seeds, as well as the prohibitive cost of fuel that prevent the use of irrigation systems, the high cost of agricultural transportation and a significant decline in the purchasing power of the public threatens to derail this project of vital importance.
Notwithstanding all of this, if the problems outlined above seem serious, these pale when visiting any of the old Guantanamo province sugar refineries like those named Costa Rica, Honduras, Romelie, Tames, Paraguay, etc.
The mills in those places were demolished allegedly for being unproductive, but no approaches were found to replace those jobs with alternative employment. This resulted in those communities becoming human cemeteries full of impoverished, demoralized and alcoholic ex-sugar workers, unable to meet the obligations of their households.
As collateral damage, this tragedy has brought with it the losses of dozens of trades, crafts, love for the land and a sense of belonging, something which young people have no knowledge of and don’t seem interested in recapturing.
The extreme severity of the problem means that sentimentality, indecisiveness or half measures cannot be tolerated. Only an urgently needed radical surgery will be able to prevent the sea of death, rivers of blood and massive physical destruction that the concerted strategy of permanent foreign threat and deprivation has fostered.
This has created a siege mentality, one of citizen persecution and counterproductive reactions by the Cuban government, which has thereby laid the foundation for a social disaster such as those in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan.
All of this convincingly demonstrates that while the US soldiers stationed at the Guantanamo Naval Base enjoy the whole range of amenities that exist in that inhospitable location, for decades the city of Guantanamo has been deprived of the use of its beaches, rivers, valleys and mountains that have been declared a military zone.
Cuba remains one of the most desirable places in the world for its beauty, unique geographical location, climate, low crime, free quality education and health care, its ethnic composition, ecological diversity and its unique people.
Therefore nothing can explain, rationalize or justify the persistence of an acute economic and social crisis that is threatening to devour this now lethargic (even catatonic) country that has resulted from self-inflicted, necrotic, hyper-centralized decisions.