Discovering the other Siboney

Osmel Almaguer

Carlos Cuello Guerra. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, June 14 — We interviewed Carlos Cuello Guerra (28), son of Marlenys Guerra, a resident of the Siboney community in the Cacocun municipality of Holguin Province.

HT: Carlos, in Havana there exists a neighborhood that’s also called Siboney.  It’s known as one of the best areas and many of the country’s more important people live there.  Could you discuss how it is similar or different from the neighborhood where you were raised?

Carlos Cuello Guerra: To compare them would be very difficult, first because I’ve never been to the Siboney of the capital.  But it would be especially hard because, from what I’ve heard, it would be like placing Haiti beside Sweden.

I imagine that the residents of Havana’s Siboney don’t count on having only four hours of electricity a day; and a doubt if they ever go for a whole week without water.  They have paved streets that don’t become muddy bogs when it rains, and the exterior walls of their houses are masonry and the roofs made out of concrete.  On top of all that they have telephones at home, and they can go out to the theater, the cinema or the beach.  In short, they can lead a normal life.

On the other hand, the Siboney in Holguin is a town made up of some 300 houses that began to form in the 1980s.  It lies about six miles from Cacocun and 15 from Holguin City.

As I mentioned, we don’t have full electric service and we rarely have sufficient water. Only the main street is paved and it’s in an extended plain.  I could add that despite the poverty, it’s a beautiful place; however, this is only in the day because after 10:00 p.m. they shut down the electric plant and the darkness and mosquitos begin to take over.

My Siboney, where I lived until I was fourteen, is a neighborhood of youth who entertain themselves playing baseball or drinking bodega alcohol with guarapo (sugarcane juice). The children build their own toy tractors with pieces of cardboard that they find, and the old people take refuge in the shade out under their porches because there are no parks or public places to chat.  I imagine that it differs in many respects from the Siboney community here in Havana, so I don’t know in what respect they could be alike, perhaps in the fact that people live in both of them.

HT: You’ve highlighted the difficulties with water and electricity.  So what are those limitations due to?

CCG: It hasn’t been for a lack of demands.  There hasn’t been a meeting of the CDR (neighborhood-based Committees for the Defense of the Revolution) or with the local representative to the Peoples Power Assembly of the Province where local people haven’t raised these concerns.  We even had one area resident who went to Havana on one occasion to voice our problems with the appropriate authorities, but he returned without any concrete answers.

The most common justifications are the lack of resources and the US blockade.  I would like to see them lift the blockade if only to see what excuse they’d claim next.  The solution requires some resources, true, but it’s nothing impossible for the government of a province.  I can’t believe that a few hundred yards of cable and a transformer are so difficult to acquire.  In terms of water, the well is five miles away from the community, so it’s easily siphoned off by farmers.  What we need is to install a pump in the nearest well, which is just two miles from Siboney.

What gets the most laughs is that on both sides of our community are located two others that are already wired for electric service and have a stable supply of water.  Sure, this doesn’t mean that we’re the only losers, because I know three other villages that are in equal or worse shape than us.

HT: A neighborhood of 300 houses constitutes a population that requires attention.  As an urban structure it should include at least one school, a polyclinic, a social center (which can be a square, a park, a sports area, etc.), communal services, firefighters, police, a store and other entities that guarantee the operation and guarantee a certain quality of life for its residents, especially, keeping in mind the distance that separates them from Cacocun.  Which of these does Siboney possess?

CCG: We have a school, a video room for strictly educational uses, a medical clinic that goes for long stretches of time without a doctor, a small commercial center where there’s a telephone, a small bodega and a cooperative, which is the main source of the town’s income.

HT: I noticed that they lack, for example, a polyclinic, a pharmacy, a place where people can have a good time, a police station, a store, etc.  How do people deal with emergencies when some resident needs one of these services?

CCG: My mother suffers from asthma. When she goes into a crisis it’s necessary to call a tractor driver to take her to Cacocun.  On occasions she’s made it to the polyclinic with no more signs of asthma since it takes her so long to get there.  The same thing happens when someone needs an article or service that it’s offered far away from the neighborhood.  You have to go to the highway and pay 10 or 20 pesos to some driver passing by, even if only what you need is a needle, because the fact is that virtually nothing is sold in our Siboney.

No one sells snacks, sodas or anything.   The neighborhood is almost dead.  Youth my age have rotten teeth.  If you look closely, I have a little of that too.

There’s a police officer around from time to time.  But when he’s there he wants people to comply with the law almost too literally.  He forgets that the people who live there don’t have anything to do to pass the time.

Since we don’t have community services, when the sewers become blocked, it’s us area residents ourselves who have to unblock them – and they’re frequently obstructed due to the narrowness of the pipes.

In terms of recreation and amusement, there’s not a whole lot.  The last fiesta I remember was ten years ago, to mark the end of the harvest. There was beer and music.

HT: What could you add about Siboney?

CCG: People are hard working there.  They get up at 5:00 in the morning and don’t stop until it gets dark.  People go to bed early. They gossip a lot, like in all small towns.  Crime is almost nonexistent.  I grew up out there and I’m not sorry. It’s evident that the people of the town need help, and that’s why I granted you this interview.