By Alberto N Jones
HAVANA TIMES — It is with a heavy heart that I have decided to write a piece on the V International Seminar of Peace and for the Abolition of Foreign Military bases to take place on May 4-6, 2017 in the city of Guantanamo, Cuba, which is organized by the official Cuban Movement for the Peace and Sovereignty of the Peoples.
Hundreds of journalists, writers, researchers, intellectuals, pacifists and activists from around the world will be attracted to this gathering in the city of Guantanamo.
After having been invited and later disinvited to take part in this historic event, I cannot deny my pain and disappointment for not being able to be there to represent and honor the memory of thousands of humble, predominantly black men and women from every Caribbean Island and Cuba, who contributed millions of years of loyal services in construction, maintenance, housekeeping and management to an ungrateful institution, where workers were subjected to fear, threats of being reprimanded or dismissed, frequently stripped-searched when exiting GITMO and where others less fortunate, were imprisoned, beaten, tortured and murdered with absolute impunity.
Unfortunately, organizers of this event have concluded that theoretical analyses, speeches, webinar, graphs and presentations by highly educated historians, politicians and researchers is more important and contributes more to the understanding of GITMO’s tragic past, than the vivid experiences of humble men and women who lived, suffered, died and survived the risks and challenges they had to endure in order to earn their daily bread.
Biology will soon determine the faith of the handful of surviving eyewitnesses of this unique piece of Cuban history and one day, many of today’s narrow-minded hardliners with a limited sense of value of the memories and oral history ordinary ex-employees of GITMO could contribute, will regret their unforgivable blunder of not documenting their testimonials.
To ignore the wealth of life experience Mr. Harry Henry may have accrued as the last Cuban commuter who traveled across the border separating GITMO and Guantanamo for 62 years and his last day on the job meant closing the NE Gate forever, should not be lost with others nor left absolutely to foreign journalists and researchers, who travel across the globe to document his views.
Much has been said and written about Cuba’s tragic relation with the United States since President James Polk’s attempt to annex or purchase that country in 1840. Later came the infamous “Remember the Maine” that led to the Spanish-American-Cuban war, followed by 4 years of military occupation of Cuba, the installation of a puppet government and GITMO becoming a booty of war that gave birth to an empire called the United States, which gobbled-up Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam and Cuba for all legal purposes.
GITMO’s first 55 years of existence between 1903 and 1958 is remembered for its interventionist acts into Cuba’s internal affairs, massive corruption of the area, bribes, kickbacks, prostitution, rape, sexually transmitted diseases, beatings and an occasional murder with impunity of any unfortunate Cuban.
The triumph of the Revolution in 1959 and the ensuing hostilities, turned this enclave into a beachhead inside of Cuba, from where numerous conspiracies, infiltrations, money laundering and a safe haven for counterrevolutionary activities was hatched and violence grew exponentially, turning the area into the most dangerous, heavily fortified and largest minefield in the world except for the 38 parallel in Korea.
At the same time, limited journalistic, literary, psychological, sociological and mental health studies have not focused on the human toll that GITMO has inflicted on generations of innocent people living in Boqueron, Caimanera, Ullao, Glorieta, Paraguay, Filipinas and Guantanamo, who were forced to live under a state of undeclared war for over half a century.
Caught in the middle were GITMO Cuban civil service commuters who for decades were seen with suspicion both inside and outside of GITMO. Meanwhile, thousands of peasants in these small communities were victims of their geographical fatalism for being too close to enemy lines and for which they were not fully trusted by their peers nor by the US military.
Although many historians tend to ascribe the darkest and most dangerous days of the cold-war era in Cuba to the period of terrorism, sabotage, air strikes, the Bay of Pigs and even the missile crisis, most ignore the constant pain, anxiety and suffering endured by the inhabitants of the province of Guantanamo during the past 50 years, which greatly outweigh the cumulative effect these focalized events had on the rest of the nation.
The long-term effect this tragic experience had and continues to have on the lives of every citizen in Guantanamo has been barely studied and is poorly understood but it should not be ignored, denied or dismissed. The devastating mental, psychological and physical impact this siege exerted upon an entire region for over half a century may never be known.
What is an obvious fact is that no government in the world would invest and develop a frontline community knowing it would be the first casualty in case of a war. These tangible decisions are visible and irrefutable in the population of Guantanamo which has nearly tripled in half a century, while most social services and development have stagnated or disappeared.
Gone are the days when that city boasted 8 movie theaters which are now reduced to 3, when a vibrant passenger train service had 3 daily departures to Caimanera and dozens of vehicles connected every countryside community as well as over 25 daily bus departures to Santiago de Cuba the then provincial capital are now barely covered by 10 or less departures. The once famous Samy Ice Cream, the 13-13 laundry soap, Eva Cigarette, La India Chocolate, the Rivercola and Pay Pay sodas, the huge coffee, sugarcane and cocoa plantations, the Rum Los Marinos bottling plant and over 100 clothing, household, food, drugstores, barbershops, beauty salon, bars and restaurants are mostly gone.
Guantanamo and Santiago de Cuba are the hottest region in Cuba and this community found solace during its stifling summer days at a few cooling holes at the river Guaso, Bano and Jaibo. Others went week-ends to the beach at Tokio, Cayo Toro and Cayo Brooks in Caimanera. Today, all rivers cooling holes in Guantanamo are highly contaminated and unusable with household waste while beaches in Caimanera are off bounds to the population because they are within the military zone.
The people of Guantanamo will receive all visitors at the upcoming event with open arms and eternal gratitude for demanding the closure of foreign military bases. No one understands better the negative impact foreign bases exerts on their lives and the community than these humble men and women who have seen their dreams, hopes and future senselessly destroyed.
I hope this important gathering and those in the past, should not end as an academic exercise excoriating and lamenting the past but rather, acknowledging the dire need of international solidarity to heal the scars and irreversible harm thousands of people have suffered in these captive communities.
Guantanamo was the most diverse community in Cuba in which Spaniards, Italians, Germans, English speaking Caribbean islanders, Haitian, Lebanese, Hindus, Chinese, Polish, Americans, French and Pakistanis lived in respectful harmony with each different culture and traditions.
Fortunately, the enormous challenges faced by Guantanamo before and after the revolution, has not destroyed or altered that community’s powerful convictions, which were bred and fostered under an extremely adverse environment.
May each intellectual, pacifist, activist, clergy and ordinary men and women visiting Guantanamo, who will be exceptional witnesses to what men are capable of doing to each other, may recommit themselves to develop collaborative healing projects in Guantanamo and transform that region into a Monument of Peace, where men and women from around the world suffering from hate, strife, division and death, may live in peace, harmony and respect, proving that a better world is still possible.