By Alberto N Jones
HAVANA TIMES — The US’ National League of Cities selects the best fifty cities in the US every year. The city of Palm Coast, located in Florida’s northeast, which became my adopted community ever since 1989, came in 39th place, which should be a reason for personal pride and rejoicing.
That isn’t the case. There is still a lack of belonging that continues to tie me to a dusty, impoverished and backward Guantanamo, which I left behind in the mid-’60s to go and study, work and serve my country without foreseeing the involuntary changes that were creeping up on us.
I don’t want to make comparisons between feelings of being an outsider and the deep emotional tie to my country, to its sun, its people, who might be the bitter wine that Jose Marti warned us about.
Weather in Palm Coast is a lot kinder than Guantanamo’s scorching heat and the artificial beauty that man has made here, transforming the town of 26,407 inhabitants that I knew in 1989.
At that time, there was one traffic light, one bank and one supermarket, transformed now into a vibrant town with dozens of street lights, banks and supermarkets, vast green areas, lakes, canals, nature trails, recreational, social and civic facilities, which have created an environment and quality of life that explains why its population has tripled over these past 20 years so that there are now 83,495 inhabitants.
A strong environmental law doesn’t allow polluting industries or businesses to be established that affect the morale and communal living of people in a 117 km2 radius, which is equal to the size of the land usurped by the Guantanamo Naval Base, without mountains, valleys, rivers and anything like a real beach.
I don’t want to give you the impression that this is an idyllic place, but the concept of a “planned town” which it was designed under and founded during its first 30 years of existence, developed 2 or 3 sections or neighborhoods at a time, limiting the options of people who wanted to move to this town.
Before these sections were completed, others were opened so that in spite of widespread prejudice and preconceptions in this country which could affect any of its residents, there are white, black, European, Hispanic, Asian, Muslim, Caribbean, Jewish and Australian people living together without losing their language, idiosyncrasies, culture and customs thanks to their social organizations, which have stopped a Balkanization or ghetto formation.
Unfortunately, like with anything made by man, greed led to the creation of dozens of exclusive neighborhoods, isolated from the rest of the community with gates, security guards, fences, alarms and spotlights, stratifying the town while the quality of education has fallen and youth crime is a good cause for concern today and drug addiction involves important groups, and so occasional acts of violence and vandalism take place.
The 2018 budget and wasted potential
How do we then explain that Palm Coast has a budget (US $133.4 million) equivalent to that of both the provinces of Guantanamo and Santiago de Cuba, when together these have a population 12 times greater than Palm Coast and where you can find a great reserve of professionals, technicians, scientists, raw materials, rich culture, history and sports never seen before in Palm Coast, without us stopping to analyze, assess and question these findings?
Cuba has to put an end to the massive loss of material resources and consumer goods. Millions of hectares of barren land produce nothing, while the population faces food shortages, leading the government to resort to imports. Exports that could bring in revenue are also way below potential.
Meanwhile, thousands of people are idle or involved in illegal activities, due to the strict restrictions on land possession and the proliferation of unproductive bodies such as the ANAP, UBPC, CCS, CSA which eat away at and corrupt them via its selective distribution process of the scarce resources it does hand out.
Similarly, thousands of Health, Education, Science and Technical professionals, who have never existed in Palm Coast, have emigrated in search of a better future which many have not achieved. Today, they survive working mediocre jobs, without a future, losing millions of years invested in their education, while our country hasn’t decided to adopt China’s brave position of calling upon its children abroad to come home and build a bright future for the nation together.
Regional damages caused by hurricanes Sandy, Matthew, Irma and Maria; the US government’s disastrous response to the victims of Katrina in New Orleans and now in Puerto Rico; and Donald Trump tightening the embargo, all prove that Cuba shouldn’t continue to worry about what the United States says or does amidst its great global crisis. Instead, it should assume its irreplaceable role of a leader and integrator within the Caribbean.
Cuba has to shake off its undecided, defensive attitude and take a proactive, brave stand by creating hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs, tackling its aging population problem, overcoming the obstacles that lead to its low birth rate, promoting orderly immigration, making centralized management more flexible and encouraging progress and the application of one’s intellect without any restrictions, until it takes its economy to the peak of the region by:
- Building a water bottling plant to recover millions of gallons of cristaline water from El Chorrito springs in Farola, Baracoa for national consumption and a thirsty Caribbean. The source has been spilling since 1962.
- Building a Solar Panels, cables, plugs, etc, in Guantanamo with the profits from El Chorrito, so as to put up solar panels on millions of square feet of concrete (slab) roofs that aren’t taken advantage of in Guantanamo, thereby reducing fossil fuel consumption significantly.
- Encouraging thousands of Cuban doctors who are not practicing their profession to come home, tripling the wages of all health professions by exponentially increasing self-financed medical care for millions of people who lack this service in the Caribbean and with neurological disorders and addictions in the United States, at a Caribbean Medical Center in Holguin and Santiago de Cuba.
- Damming up the Yateritas River at the pump house that used to supply water to the Guantanamo Naval Base, so as to convert the 20 caballerias of Banana trees in Yateritas into 500.
- Taking advantage of over 150 million gallons of water stored in the Yaya dam so as to plant 500 caballerias of mango, guayaba, papaya and tamarind trees in the lands of Niceto Perez municipality.
- Recovering the great production of Coffee, Cocoa and small fruits in Maisi, Yateras and Santiago de Cuba, by importing labor from the Caribbean.
- The largest salt mine in Cuba at Caimanera only produces 0.2% of global salt production. Increasing this production to 1% is an easy target to meet, so as to finance the construction of liquid waste treatment plants in Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo and Holguin.
These ideas wouldn’t seem like a pipe dream if the country opened itself up to the dozens of countries interested in investing in Cuba or if it got rid of the stigmatization of Cubans living abroad allowing the normalizing of their relationship with their country and in developing it.