Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Guantanamo: Cuba's Cinderella City (part I)

“Guantanamo: Cuba’s Cinderella City” (part I)
by Alberto N Jones

HAVANA TIMES — We learned through the Cuban media that the upcoming July 26 celebrations of “National Rebellion Day” (commemorating the guerilla attacks in 1953 that sparked the Cuban Revolution) would take place here in Guantanamo: Cuba’s “Cinderella City.”

This filled us with local pride and joy for our being recognized as a community that, while suffering and neglected, is also unshakeable.

Shortly after, I recalled that this honor had been conferred upon this city twice before in the past, though a little later — shortly after the celebrations — everything returned to the same old thing: apathy, a lack of creativity and no accountability for what’s poorly done.

Unfortunately, all of this has come to characterize Guantanamo Province in particular and southeastern Cuba in general.


The history of Guantanamo is cruel, sinister and associated with tragedy and misfortune. Before the revolution this was the most neglected and backward area of the country, one where education, health care, communications, sports, industry and culture were noted for their low levels.

During every election campaign people politicians, opportunists and political operatives would appear promising schools, water and sewage systems, hospitals and jobs – though these individuals would only deceive everyone once the election was over.

It was not until the election of President Ramon Grau San Martin into office (1944-48) that large public works projects were implemented that provided 80-85 percent of the current drinking water and sewage services and paved streets of Guantanamo City.

Prior to his election, all municipalities and the city of Santiago de Cuba were connected to Guantanamo City by dirt roads, which became impassable during the rainy season.

A Curse Disguised As Stability

As spoils of the Cuban-Spanish-American War of 1898, in 1903 the United States occupied 45 square miles of land surrounding Guantanamo Bay, one of the best natural, deep water bays in the world. This was later turned into the Guantanamo Naval Base — “Gitmo” — which remains in existence up through today.

The presence of this military base on Cuban soil was a curse disguised as economic stability for the area. This was because it provided some 2,500 full and part-time jobs during peace time and many more during times of international conflict, thus turning the facility into the backbone of the local economy.

Every week, hundreds of US soldiers and officers who would take their regular passes from the base fostering the largest red-light districts in Cuba. This was in Guantanamo City and Caimanera (the town just north of the base), with hundreds of women from across the country, famous pimps, sexual perversion, drug addiction and trafficking, violence, venereal diseases, blackmail, gambling and bribery coexisting. In some instances these activities were even admired by the leading citizens of our community.

Guantanamo’s underdevelopment and absolute dependency on the legal and illicit economic resources coming from the base conferred absolute impunity on the US military, making all crimes — no matter what their severity — outside the legal reach of Cuban authorities.

For that reason, the 1953 assault on the Moncada Barracks resonated powerfully among youth, who had been humiliated and frustrated by the society imposed on them. This is what led them to join the movement en masse, shed their blood, give their lives and turn Guantanamo into one of the most important anti-Batista bastions during the insurrection.

Immediately after the triumph of the revolution, the sailors stationed at Guantanamo Bay were prohibited from taking their leaves off base, the red-light district was shut down, and prostitutes were sent to schools.

The hiring of new Cuban civil servants for work on the naval base was barred and the naval base rapidly became transformed into a dangerous beachhead and center for conspiracy on the island.

Thousands of common criminals and counterrevolutionaries found refuge in this enclave and hundreds went on to receive military training in Central America and Miami – some of whom returned to the naval base and were then infiltrated back onto Cuban soil to commit all sorts of criminal activities.

Tens of millions of useless Cuban pesos were overtly laundered for dollars on its premises, and the formerly English-only local naval base radio station, WGBY, became bi-lingual, allowing it to openly incite Cubans to leave their country.

A number of Cuban workers were detained, tortured and murdered on the naval base.  Other Cuban border guards suffered gunshot wounds and three were murdered by shots coming from the base, which led the Cuban government to shut off the source of its water supply.

The commanding officer of the naval base then summarily dismissed 700 Cuban employees, which was supposed to have caused the collapse of Guantanamo’s economy with its 100,000 inhabitants.

Serious Collateral Damage 

This partial summary is an attempt to describe the level of hostility, danger and threat that surrounds Guantanamo. All of this turned the area into the second largest minefield in the world and into a place where its perennial fuse could set off an unprecedented military firestorm on our continent.

This forces the Cuban government to allocate large amounts of financial resources in defensive fortifications, which in turn leads to the stagnation of the social, agriculture, industrial, cultural and scientific development of that area. The collateral damage has been serious and irreversible in some cases.

Over half a century, Guantanamo has ceased to be the most diverse community in Cuba, with a unique mixture of customs and cultures derived from the presence of immigrants from Spain, all of the Caribbean islands, Italians, Germans, Americans, British, Swiss, Lebanese, French, Poles, Pakistanis, Chinese, Hindus, Syrians, Mexicans, Canadians, etc.

Yet today its residents are described pejoratively as homeless “Palestinians” in their own country (when in western Cuba) and they have one of the highest rates of migration abroad.

Guantanamo, the region of Cuba that produced the most physicians per capita in the country in the first five graduating classes after the triumph of the revolution, has lost its radiance and incentive. 

Guantanamo, the region with the highest level of rainfall and water reserves, the largest producer of coffee, cocoa and salt in the country, has lost most of its productive capacity, while a large section of the country is dry and thirsty.

Guantanamo, with its once famous Samy’s Ice Cream, Tudela’s Candy, India Chocolate, Coconut Pie, 13/13 Laundry Soap, the Ideal Bus Company, the America Movie Theater, the Monte Carlo Cabaret, the Modelo Bakery and “Frio/Caliente” (a popular beach area along the Bano River), has not been able to preserve these for our children, while they become dehydrated in this the warmest part of the country.

Guantanamo, the birthplace of the first human of African ancestry to travel into outer space; the home of the Ecological Processing Center for Solid Urban Waste (CEPRU in Spanish), where a descendent of Mariana Grajales placed Cuba on the world map before 3.5 billion viewers watching CNN confer upon her the environmental title of “Heroes for Defending the Planet”; the city’s excellent Olympic athletes, and the impregnable defensive barrier erected by the Border Brigade as the first and most important trench for protecting the nation, all explain and justify why these people deserve a better future.

The “Colonia Española” and the “Block Catalan” for whites, the “Club Moncada” and the “Nueva Era” for blacks, the “Siglo XX” for mulatos (mixed race), its dozens of lodges, churches, the British West Indian Welfare Center, the Haitian Community Center, the Tumba Francesa, Guantanamo’s Chinese societies, its children’s choirs, school bands, its shower of stars in the endless search for talent and in sports competitions, each of them in their own particular way have fostered and bestowed on  Guantanamo a certain vitality and moral strength.

All of this has enabled most of its youth to confront, resist and triumph over the temptations emanating from the largest corrupting center in the nation.

To restore those arms — ones that protect the present generation of Guantanamo residents and those people of southeastern Cuba — must be an inescapable and non-postponable commitment for all of us.


Guantánamo, la cenicienta de Cuba (parte I)

“Guantánamo, la cenicienta de Cuba” (parte I)
por Alberto N. Jones

HAVANA TIMES — En días pasados supimos a través de la prensa que las celebraciones del próximo 26 de Julio serán en nuestro Guantánamo, la cenicienta de Cuba, lo cual nos llenó de alegría, orgullo local y reconocimiento por un pueblo sufrido, olvidado e inconmovible.

De inmediato recordé, que en el pasado este honor se le había conferido y poco después de los festejos, todo regresaba a la inercia, falta de creatividad e impunidad con lo mal hecho, que desgraciadamente ha venido a caracterizar a nuestro Guantánamo en particular y a Oriente sur en general.

La historia de Guantánamo es cruel, siniestra y está asociada con tragedias e infortunios.  Antes del triunfo de la Revolución ésta era la región más abandonada y atrasada del país, en la cual los sistemas de educación, salud, deporte, comunicación, industrias y cultura, brillaban por su ausencia.

En cada periodo electoral aparecían  politiqueros, oportunistas y sargentos políticos prometiendo escuelas, acueducto, alcantarillado, hospitales y empleos, solo para  defraudarnos poco después de haber sido elegidos.

No fue hasta el gobierno del Presidente Ramón Grau San Martín en 1944-48, que tuvo lugar un masivo plan constructivo que llevó a Guantánamo el 80-85% del actual sistema de abasto de agua, alcantarillado y pavimentación de sus calles. Todos los municipios y la capital Santiago de Cuba estaban conectados con Guantánamo mediante terraplenes, que eran intransitables en periodos de lluvia.

Como botín de la guerra-Hispano-Cubana-Americana de 1898, los Estados Unidos ocuparon en 1903, 118 Km2 de terreno circundante de la bahía de Guantánamo, una de las mejores del mundo, que fue transformado en la Base Naval conocida por GITMO hasta el día de hoy.

La presencia de este enclave militar fue una desgracia para la región disfrazada de estabilidad económica, al crear unos 2500 empleos temporales y a tiempo completos en tiempos de paz, y mucho más durante periodos de conflagración internacional, convirtiéndola en la espina dorsal de la economía local.

La salida semanal de cientos de militares de “franco” desde la base, creó en Guantánamo y Caimanera el mayor prostíbulo de Cuba, con cientos de mujeres de todo el país, proxenetas famosos, masiva perversión sexual, drogadicción, violencia, enfermedades venéreas, chantajes, traficantes, boliteros y sobornos, coexistían, y en algunos casos, eran admirados por las clases vivas, religiosas, fraternales y legales de la ciudad.

El subdesarrollo de Guantánamo y su absoluta dependencia de los recursos económicos legales e ilegales provenientes de la base, les otorgaba a los militares norteamericanos absoluta impunidad, por lo que todos los crímenes, sin importar su gravedad, estaban fuera de la competencia de las autoridades cubanas.

Es por ello, que el asalto al Cuartel Moncada en 1953, encontró una clarinada entre la juventud frustrada y avergonzada de la sociedad que se les había impuesto, llevándolos a sumarse masivamente a esta gesta, por lo que derramaron su sangre, ofrendaron sus vidas y convirtieron a  Guantánamo en uno de los pilares anti batistiano más importantes del país durante el proceso insurreccional.

Inmediatamente después del triunfo de la Revolución, se prohibió la salida de la soldadesca de franco de la base, se clausuró el prostíbulo y las prostitutas pasaron a escuelas. Se impidió el ingreso de nuevos empleados cubanos en la base naval y esta se transformó de inmediato en una cabeza de playa y un peligroso centro de conspiración dentro de Cuba.

Miles de delincuentes comunes y contrarrevolucionarios encontraron asilo en dicho enclave, recibieron entrenamiento militar en Centro América o Miami, regresando a la base y logrando, algunos, infiltrarse en Cuba para sus acciones delictivas. Decenas de millones de pesos desvalorizados en manos de desafectos fueron cambiados abiertamente por dólares dentro de la base y su emisora local WBGY se hizo bilingüe, incitando abiertamente la emigración de cubanos.

Varios trabajadores cubanos fueron detenidos, torturados y asesinados dentro de la base.  Varios soldados cubanos Guarda fronteras fueron heridos de bala, y tres asesinados por disparos provenientes de su interior, por lo que en 1964, el gobierno cubano determinó cerrar la toma del abasto de agua a dicho enclave, lo cual determinó que el jefe militar de la base despidiera en masa a unos 700 empleados, lo que supondría el colapso económico de Guantánamo y sus 100,000 habitantes.

Este resumen parcial pretende describir el grado de hostilidad, peligros y amenazas imperante en Guantánamo, que  convirtió a esa zona en el segundo campo minado más grande del mundo y en una llama perenne que podía desencadenar una conflagración bélica sin precedentes en nuestro continente, forzando a nuestro gobierno a dedicar incalculables recursos económicos para su fortificación defensiva y el consiguiente estancamiento del desarrollo social, agrícola, industrial, cultural y científico de la región.

El daño colateral vivido es grave e irreversible en algunos casos. Guantánamo ha pasado en medio siglo a ser, la comunidad más diversa de Cuba, con un sincretismo de hábitos y cultura sui géneris, derivada de la presencia de inmigrantes españoles, caribeños de cada una de sus islas, italianos, alemanes, ingleses, norteamericanos, suizos, libaneses, franceses, polacos, pakistaníes, chinos, hindúes, sirios, mejicanos, canadienses etc., a palestinos en su propia tierra y con uno de los mayores índices migratorios hacia el exterior.

Guantánamo, la región de Cuba que produjo más médicos por habitantes en el país en las primeras cinco graduaciones después del triunfo de la Revolución, ha perdido hoy su brillo e incentivo.

Guantánamo, la región con el mayor caudal y reserva de agua del país, la mayor productora de Café, Cacao y Sal, ha perdido su capacidad productiva, mientras gran parte del país está seca y sedienta.

Guantánamo, la del famoso helado Samy’s, los Caramelos Tudela, el Chocolate la India, el Pie de Coco, el jabón 13/13, los ómnibus La Ideal, el cine América, el Cabaret Monte Carlo, la panadería Modelo o el Frio/Caliente, el popular balneario en el rio Bano, no hemos sido capaces de preservarlos para nuestros hijos, mientras se deshidratan en la región más cálida del país.

Guantánamo, el lugar de nacimiento del primer hombre en el espacio con vínculos filiales en África,  el CEPRU, donde una heredera de Mariana Grajales puso a Cuba en el mapa-mundi ante 3.5 mil millones de espectadores, sus excelsos deportistas olímpicos y la inexpugnable barrera defensiva de la Brigada Fronteriza en la primera y más importante trinchera del país, justifican con creces, que este pedazo de tierra y su gente, sean dignos de mejor suerte.

La Colonia Española y el Block Catalán para blancos, el Club Moncada y la Nueva Era para negros, el Siglo XX para mulatos, decenas de logias, iglesias, el Center, la Tumba Francesa, las Sociedades Chinas, los coros juveniles, las bandas y paradas escolares, Lluvia de Estrellas en su búsqueda constante de talento y las competencias deportivas, forjaron y le confirieron a Guantánamo una vitalidad y fortaleza moral, que permitió al grueso de su juventud, resistir y vencer las tentaciones emanadas del mayor centro de corrupción del país.

Restituir esas armas, esa coraza a la generación actual de Guantánamo y de Oriente sur, ha de ser un compromiso ineludible e impostergable de todos.

[articulo original]