Guantanamo: Cuba’s Cinderella (II)

Alberto N. Jones

Guantanamo’s Pedestrian Boulevard

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.

See Cinderella Guantanamo Part One 

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.

New cafeteria in Guantanamo.

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.

Country road in the province of Guantanamo.

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.


5 thoughts on “Guantanamo: Cuba’s Cinderella (II)

  • Cuba will muddle along with its black market helping cubans survive communism for the rest of our lifetime,
    at least. The US Government coldwar on Cuba will continue “hasta siempre”, like forever. It is just like the counter productive drug war and the religious wars with muslims. Modus operendi of the USA is find a plan that is a failure and institutionalize it. It is the most effective way to waste our tax money.

  • Thank-you Alberto for your reply. Knowing only a few things about you certainly gave me a limited perspective on who you are and what you have done. The US Navy website contains a press release noting the “42nd annual Cuban-American Friendship Day” on Jan. 28, 2011. First held in 1969, the purpose being “to honor the dedication of the local Cuban workforce and their role in the success of the base throughout its history.”

    The release states that “in 1961, there were roughly 3,600 Cuban commuters working on the naval station, ” and “after diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba were severed in the early 1960s, Cubans working on the base were given the option to continue commuting from mainland Cuba to work, or to move onto the base as permanent residents.” A Huffington Post article in January of this year contains, “In late 2009, only three of those Cuban workers were still employed at the base… The men were 75, 78 and 83 years old.” As of January, 2011, the Navy article says there were two left.

    The outrageous continued existence of the Guantanamo base, no longer called a “Naval Base’, but a “Detention Center” is a stark example of American duplicity. The Navy website has the audacity to state, “This naval base has and will always serve as a beacon of freedom, liberty and democracy, and will always symbolize our ongoing struggle to defend democracies throughout the world”. More accurately, for the rest of the world it represents American hypocrisyover a monstrous travesty of justice, both for Cuba and for its detainees.

    Your tireless work to bring relief to the Cuban people, as others are doing in Canada, the US – I just read in Granma about the annual relief caravan run by American pastors – and elsewhere is admirable. We mostly hear news about right-wing Cuban-American fanatics and not about the many Cuban-Americans who send remittances to family and friends with no intention of subverting the Cuban government or harming its citizens.

    When I learned that the overwhelming number of Cubans who emigrated to the US were white and that their remittances were partially responsible for a growing economic racial imbalance in Cuba, I decided my personal contribution would be sending remittances to an African-Cuban family I came to know whilst in Cuba. Since you once described yourself as “an old black man”, one of the few African-Cubans to emigrate, I know you will understand what I write.

    I stand by my reservations, however, about your report. It needs to be put in perspective. You are no longer Cuban, writing about a country you do not live in. For many years I lived outside Canada, thinking of myself as Canadian but when I moved back home, I realized in many ways I had become a stranger in my own land. When I was overseas, I spoke and wrote as if I knew Canada, to discover I was mistaken when I moved back home, despite regular visits back during my overseas residence.

    I also wrote to people back home about the countries I was living in from a Canadian perspective, writing about the good, the bad and the ugly I found. I felt I had something to offer as relatively few people have an opportunity to gain a perspective on a culture outside their own. The problem I have with what you write is you don’t do this, at least in the pages of Havana Times.

    I’ve spent a fair bit of time in north Florida, around the Jacksonville area. It is characterised by its large African-American population who live exclusively in segregated communities that resemble, many times, ghettoes. The unemployment rate in Florida as a whole is huge, and of course for African-Americans it is mammoth. Segregation and discrimination in the US South has never completely disappeared and is never far below the surface, at least from my Canadian perspective and experience.

    I associated mostly with working class people, black and white, when there. Their quality of life was decidedly below anything I see in working class areas in Canada. None had medical coverage, several were living with serious medical conditions – cancer – without treatment as they could not afford the medical costs, none had job security and they were all overworked, holding two or more jobs or working double shifts. Despite the hard work, they barely earn enough to get by.

    When I wrote about conditions in the US before on this website, one hostile commenter objected, stating the subject should be Cuba, not the US. I believe there are no fixed standards when it comes to understanding the human condition – it can only be comprehended from the perspective of other experiences.

    This is not an academic exercise. I sense there are many people who come to this website – including Havana Times writers as well – seeking a perspective on the Cuban condition, wading through the official propaganda on both sides and the disinformation the Americans foist on us to maintain/propagate their self-serving agenda – including that emanating from government sources and from self-appointed anonymous agents, both of which are likely represented in comments submitted to this website.

    If Cubans don’t gain an accurate perspective, impatience and unrest may result in citizens not acting wisely. If the overseas community doesn’t achieve an accurate perspective, it will weaken its resolve to stop the most powerful country in the world from doing what commenters regularly point out it is capable of doing – squashing Cuba like a fly in order to rid the world of an example of a legitimate alternative to capitalism.

    Alberto, all I would ask of you is to not forget when you write essays critical of Cuba, as a bicultural person, you have a special vision that gives you a perspective that you can offer. After living for 30 years in the US, that vision is going to be more accurate when focused on life in the US than in Cuba. Let’s let Cubans criticize their country. It is what all writing classes tell their students to do – write about what you know best. Like me, in many respects you’ve become a stranger in your own land, perhaps without realizing it – but with a special insight to offer on the land of your birth.

  • Hi Lawarence, in addition to appreciate your comments and conclusions, which I think enrich the flow and exchange of thoughts on this site, I am forced to do, what I have refused in the past, to engage others opinions about me, regardles of its content.

    This time I will, because you have asked me directly to respond.

    Firstly, I worked on the US Naval Base in Cuba (Gitmo), which at the time, was the largest and pretty much sole employer in the region, but on 10/22/62, when the world came to be brink of extintion, I choose to quit, be on the side of the weak and die with those in Cuba, not hide on the Base alongside the powerful, as others did.

    Living in Florida, Germany, Canada or elsewhere, have and will never be a factor in my personal decisions. I am not so easily influenced by outside forces. Thirty years in Florida have served me well and the people of Cuba, because it have enabled me to beg, plead, collect, package and to Guantanamo, Santiago de Cuba, Banes and Havana, millions of dollars in medical supplies, medicines, wheel chairs, handicapped scooters, hospital beds, environmental supplies, home care/nursing homes equipment/supplies, sport equipment, school buses and more.

    None of this was ever been done for public knowledge or personal promotion. Rather, it is my life greatest priviledge and joy, to have been able to do for my people, what I am sure, they would do for me and others.

    The right of every Cuban and others, to decry what is wrong, to plead for changes on behalf of the suffering, to suggest means of solving problems, is their right, should be encouraged and every attempt to silence, intimidate or discourage any constructive criticism, is false apology, complicity with what is wrong or worse.

    The only reason I have included in this public forum, my grain of rice on behalf of my people, is to invite you and everyone else concerned about the wellbeing of the people of Cuba, Haiti or the Dominican Republic, where we have tried to extend a helping hand, is to ask you to join with us and others. Just post here as you did before, that YES, you wish to become part of the solution, not the problem and let me know, how to get in touch with you and every other carining human being, who feels the pain of the downtrodden, the ignored, the abused. I look forward to hearing from you. A better world is still possible!

  • I second what Michael writes about the many rust belts and industry ghost towns that I have personally witnessed in the US and Canada, the result of a gigantic outsourcing of industry overseas. But I want to say something more. Alberto’s piece made me think hard about what I read. I feel there is something that seriously needs to be put in perspective.

    I read Havana Times for its news about life in Cuba but also to gain a perspective on the ‘other side of the coin’, the story we won’t see in Granma, for instance. If one cannot have access to objective, informed reporting – and at the best of times it is difficult or impossible to find – then we can access both sides, using one to fill in the blanks the other side leaves out.

    Havana Times, however, perhaps thinking outsiders have a better perspective or are somehow more objective, or what? are using writings critical of Cuba written by people living outside Cuba – this piece and the one by Pablo from Spain. This may suit HT’s purpose but it makes it less than useful for understanding what is taking place in Cuba from a Cuban perspective – what Cubans think and feel not foreigners or expats.

    In 2009, Alberto wrote he was previously a worker on the United States Naval Base in Guantanamo and was a thirty year resident in the US. He writes he returns to visit Guantanamo regularly but 30 years living in the US, in northern Florida in the St Augustine area, is not without significance, nor is who his previous employer was, nor is his choosing to live in a country that is responsible for much of his ex-countryman’s ills.

    In this piece, he writes graphically about what ‘Gitmo’ represents but does not tell us about the role he played in it, nor about how he is able to get to sleep at night knowing the role the country he has chosen to live in all these years has played in Cuba as a whole and specifically in Guantanamo.

    Alberto is a certified lefty in the opinions he regularly has expressed over the years, but sadly, he is also representative of too many lefties – quislings when it comes to selling out to the empire. I hope I’m not being too hard, and I welcome comments, both from Alberto and others.

  • Yikes! Your report sounds like “Apocalypse, Now,” Alberto! Still, I’m sure your observations are based on what you are seeing on the ground during your visits. In some ways, the decaying ex-sugar mill towns remind me of the post-industrial industrial towns here in our own East, not to mention the Mid-West “rust belt.” The lives of millions who once toiled in the steel mills and factories, have been similarly effected (and at this point, so have the lives of their children and grandchildren) by the unempoyment and lack of opportunities. The reforms in agriculture, and other forms of self-employment, could pave the way towards a better future; however, without increased purchasing power these efforts will die (as has been the case in my own area, a tourist destination, which has similarly seen a decline in the market.

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