Interview: Part 2
By Erasmo Calzadilla
HAVANA TIMES, June 19 – In part one of this interview I concluded by asking Dagoberto about the new law being implemented that gives land to those who want to cultivate it, in the country’s effort to increase production and reduce food imports.
Do you know anyone who has received land through this law?
Yes, I know some, and they have not done badly.
Do they own the land? Do they hold title to it?
No, they hold it in usufruct.
Are they required to join a cooperative or are they independent producers.
They are independent producers.
Do you know if they receive government assistance such as seeds, fertilizers, tools?
Those who have tobacco contracts, yes. They receive everything they need for optimal quality production. But I don’t know about other crops.
And you don’t think that this could a good option for you, instead of continuing with your illegal activities, which could cause problems for you? What’s more, you could support your country’s food needs and provide food for your son.
I am no longer involved in illegal activities, because now I work as the night custodian at the school where I receive the classes.
How much do you get paid?
But is that enough to maintain a family home and son? How many days does 270 pesos last?
It doesn’t even last me a week. But I also sell fruit from the trees around my house. I sell mamey cherimoya, bananas, and mangos.
Dago, now I’d like you to answer some questions about tourism…
In the last period, let’s say 20 years, Viñales has been promoted as a tourist destination for foreign visitors, and facilities have been built for people who visit this town. Comparing the past to now, have you noticed any improvement in the standard of living of people since the increase in tourism?
Of course, the standard of life has improved quite a bit, mainly because most tourists stay in rooms that are rented out by families (home stays), and a lot of people have gone into that business.
About what percent of the homes of the town are available for rent?
It’s a lot. One can see that those families who rent are doing better; their properties are painted, being added on to and repaired, they buy brand name sound systems and televisions, and so on. They also make improvements to the rented rooms to make them more comfortable to attract more tourists, but the rest of the house also benefits.
I’ve visited a number of other towns in Pinar del Rio, and it’s remarkable that while the other villages have remained more or less in the same condition, or have worsened since the hurricanes, you see the prosperity in Viñales. There is a glow and a lifestyle that is not customary in the region, and on any given street there are people building. Could you tell us a little about the difference between Viñales and the neighboring towns that are not tourist destinations?
The difference is huge, whoof! And you can notice it in many things, from the character of the people here who are becoming more commercialized to the pots they cook with. Well, you – who’ve visited Pons, just a few miles from here – you know that there are hamlets there that haven’t even gotten their electricity back yet from last year’s hurricanes, and a lot of people whose roofs blew off are still sleeping like in the Tropicana cabaret: under the stars.
Let’s clarify this Dago, for those unfamiliar, that in many of these towns people live in rustic wood homes, generally pine, and with roofs made from guano (palm leaves) or zinc sheeting.
Right, the difference between them and people in Viñales is enormous.
Regarding the prosperity, I learned here that it was common for trips to be organized in Viñales for people who can pay $75 CUCs (US $94) to go to the beaches in Varadero [Cuba’s premiere resort, 175 miles away]. I believe that the residents of Viñales belong to that small group of Cubans who have the luxury to participate in that type of tourism here in their own country.
But don’t generalize about all Viñales population, because in my case I can’t pay and I don’t rent. I couldn’t pay a fourth of that much to go to Varadero or to send my son there.
So why don’t you rent?
It’s that you need money to get your house in a condition to rent it, because a tourist won’t stay just anywhere, and I’ve never had those funds. I’ve never had that kind of money and have never even dreamed of having that much.
Apart from generating differences between those who do and those who don’t benefit from tourism, what other negative effects do you believe have been come with tourism over the last several years.
Mainly prostitution, which is not so widespread either, but before it didn’t exist at all. In any case, the police have it under control and aren’t letting it spread.
Are we talking about women?
There are men too, but less so.
And those people, who prostitute, are they from the town?
No, they’re generally young women who come from other places where things are worse, people from Viñales don’t do that.
But tourism has also brought good things; for example, there have been exchanges with many cultures. People converse and discuss things with the tourists who stay in their homes. You don’t see the closed-minded mentality common to country people.
You told me that with those same exchanges, and with the circulation of such large quantities of money, people are losing their way of seeing the world in a way that’s simple, good natured and honest. From my point of view, that’s more important and more enjoyable than the area’s renowned limestone outcrops, but also much more fragile. What do you think?
It is very normal for tourism to cause a splintering of customs, of traditions, but even these they’ve tried to conserve.
Who has tried to conserve them and why?
Well, for the campesinos themselves, who haven’t stopped playing the guitar, who continue riding around on horses, those who still love cock fights… for people who continue to love that way of life and continue living it – although now they might have a Sony TV at home. It’s true that there are things that have gotten lost, there’s no doubt about it, mainly because of the conflict between “you have a tourist and I don’t” and all that goes along with that.
Does the sharp difference between those who do and don’t rent to tourists makes people begin to forget their morals in order to obtain what they don’t have?
Yeah. Though, like I said, it’s not so serious, because in one way or another we all benefit from tourism. I don’t rent, for example, but I sell fruit to people who do, and in that way those who have more and those who have less all continue to do better. We don’t have the same things, but there’s a balance, and as long as it stays that way, people’s thinking won’t change so much.
But in addition to this, the government has done everything possible so that these differences are not so serious and that things are more or less distributed. For example, less than a year ago, a hurricane razed Viñales. There are no words to describe that experience or the condition that the town was left in. I thought that it would never recover, but after a few months you can see that it’s already almost like it was before, and that helped the renters a lot.
The government showed a great deal of concern, and in a short time one could buy roofing for a moderate price. Almost none of the houses here have sturdier cement slab roofs, so about half of the homes lost their roofs. Added to this was the damage wrought to agriculture and the question of the drought, between the hurricanes. All the viandas [generally root vegetables] in Viñales were gone. There were no bananas, no malanga and no yucca – nothing. And food prices were sky-high, but the government brought in viandas from other provinces and you could buy them in the markets at an affordable price – not all that was needed, but it helped.
Dago – in conclusion, could you tell us about the issue of youth emigrating from the town. You’ve told me stories about people who aren’t here anymore, friends who ended up emigrating, through marriage and other means. For example, in the times I’ve visited here I’ve met three young women who have all left for good. Why do youth from the town emigrate?
Look, everybody wants to experience the First World. People meet foreigners because they rent rooms to them. Then there might appear someone who produces a desire and feelings, and they wind up leaving with them – although there are also those who seek foreigners out of pure self-interest.
But with this town being so beautiful, does it ever happen that married couples stay here to live?
It happens, but it’s much less frequent.
Do you feel that this is something serious? Is there a shortage of young people to work in the field or in town?
Well guy, a lot of people have left, but more always show up. It’s true that there’s a labor shortage, especially for work in the fields, but it’s because youth don’t want to do that kind of work anymore, not so much because of emigration.
On that note, I concluded the interview with Dagoberto Mojena, an old friend from my university days. As I left, he was reclining out on his patio with the imposing view of the Viñales Mountain behind him.
First part of this interview: Dago’s Life in Viñales, Cuba