In Cuba, it could be said that the people live in two countries, one in the east (Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, Granma, Las Tunas, Holguín) and the other in the west (Pinar del Río, Habana, Mayabeque, Artemisa and Matanzas). Although given the subject that I am going to address, the rest of Cuba’s provinces, Camagüey, Ciego de Ávila, Santi Spíritus, Cienfuegos and Santa Clara, can also be considered as part of the west.
The eastern part of the country is the most backward in every sense of the word, economically, culturally, in terms of opportunity, architectural development, etc. With a population of more than 4 million inhabitants, the contrast in terms of the number of people that either come and go from or exist in marginal neighborhoods is remarkable. These are places more akin to the favelas of Brazil. In December 2018, the Minister of Construction stated on the CubaDebate platform that “there are 402,120 reconstructions that are needed to stop the deterioration of the housing stock and to prevent the progressive loss of housing capacity. They are projected to be done during different time periods, in correspondence with the situation of each territory.”
The characterization of the homes on the island are falling apart, to mention a few points, as follows, highlighting that the government recognizes that the country has 3,824,861 homes, of which 39% are in poor condition:
– There are 9,823 tenement houses
– There are about 117,775 houses with dirt floors
– There is a housing deficit of 929,695 homes in Cuba
– The most affected provinces are Havana, Santiago and Holguín, which are also the 3 most populated.
The recovery plan for dealing with the housing deficit is designed as follows:
Over the next 7 years: Artemisa, Mayabeque, Cienfuegos, Santi Spíritus and Isla de la Juventud.
In 8 years: Pinar del Río, Matanzas and Ciego de Ávila.
In 10 years: Havana, Santiago, Holguín, Camagüey, Guantánamo, Las Tunas, Granma and Villa Clara.
These forecasts were programmed in 2018, and yet in the 5 years have passed and there are currently no construction materials available in the marketplaces or warehouses where the government announced that all construction implements would be sold to the population. It has already been 10 years since this was first announced in 2011.
Naturally, the Cuban regime is using two fundamental rationales to justify the dire results: the Trump administration, which intensified the US’s embargo to diminish the Cuban military’s business empire and its repressive power against the people along with its influence abroad; and the presence of COVID-19. It should also be noted that all these plans were made under the principles of socialism, which have proven to be failures based on the results of all the five-year plans over the last six decades.
Taking the example of the housing deficit is one way of showing, in no small manner, the disproportionate differences that exist between the east and west of Cuba. For example, the streets of the city of Guantánamo are destroyed, as confirmed by the southern and northern neighborhoods of the municipal capital, where there are almost no asphalt roads, everything is dirt. The same applies in Baracoa, the streets have remained in the same condition for the locals born over the last 40, destroyed. Even though, the county’s so-called “First City” is considered one of the most attractive points in the country for tourism.
It is well-known that the capital cities of countries around the world are given priority, but Havana has preferential advantages over the east for political reasons. The Cuban dictatorship protects this space with great suspicion due to the historical issue of the presence of the diplomatic corps and the foreign press, because before the Internet existed, the people of Havana were better informed than the rest of the country.
In reality, this was planned with the Administrative Political Division established during the Communist Congress in 1976. Since then, the island has been broken up, or, better said, divided into small parts for greater control over the citizenry. In this way, the eastern region of the country remained stuck in the saga of development in every possible way. For example, the obtaining of qualifications for the best professional careers fell far short of the aspirations of the students from the western provinces. At least in professions such as International Relations, Journalism, Nuclear Physics, the quotas were tiny. Not to mention that these are careers that require a considerable political endorsement to obtain it. At least this was the case before the right of Cubans with access to the Internet throughout the island in 2013. At this point, it should also be noted that the quality of teaching in the western provinces was superior to the rest of the country.
The quality of life in the eastern provinces has been growing very slowly, say after 2013 the regime introduced reforms that allowed Cubans to travel abroad for the first time, during the Obama administration period. Before this, having gray tile or ceramic flooring in homes, flat screen televisions, visiting resorts, having a computer in a home was impossible. Only the officials of the provincial governments that were part of the hierarchy enjoyed these types of comforts. While in Havana things like the construction of swimming pools in private homes or driving around in modern cars were seen as trivial; Easterners only viewed such things as a matter of the benefits of living in the capital. While the residents of Havana imitated the fashion and culture of Miami, the people living in the east longed for the Havana way of life. Although 8 years have passed since those small, humiliating reforms, those of us who live in this part of the island, the east, continue with these ingrained subconscious barriers of being behind in terms of cultural development, fashion, and interior decorating. Issues that were part of an education subjected to the mentality of underdevelopment and imitation from the Soviet era.
As for the repression against its own citizens, the dictatorship maintains an even more severe policy of repression in the eastern part of Cuba for historical reasons. It has always been maintained in theory that the greatest rebellions and transcendent struggles against the Spanish colony occurred in this part of the island first. However, during the republican era Santiago de Cuba was seen as a bastion of heroes who filled with their legends the beautiful pages of our history of freedom. Although it pains me to mention it, Batista, Fidel and Raúl were all born in the east. Furthermore, the National Anthem was written and sung in Bayamo and the heroes of our independence are mostly from the east.
The repressive mentality is such that while in Havana a uniformed man asks a question to a citizen first, in the east the police beat you first and ask questions later. This is a common belief held within the spectrum of eastern society. The repressive bodies of the capital are mostly staffed by people from the east, extracted from the greatest ignorance and misery of the remote mountains areas in order to give them the power of the law and the gun. Not to mention the material perks that they never dreamed of. The bodyguards of the country’s top leaders are also brought in from the east. Therefore, if the poverty and cultural and political ignorance that have plagued the people of the east are merely a strategy to keep them quiet and against rebellion, then the senior military leaders in this part are truly sadists and abusers. The highest records of repression, murders, and mistreatment in the prisons in the east of the country have no comparison with any other part of the island: the Combinado de Guantánamo, Boniato in Santiago, Playa Manteca and Cuba Sí in Holguín (where the tragedy of Orlando Zapata Tamayo occurred). What happens in these prisons has been documented in many reports on human rights violations to inmates, presented to international organizations focused on the subject.
The presence of the US Naval Base in the southern area of Guantanamo can perhaps be said to be part of the Great Problem that keeps the regime under wraps, an issue that has created an enormous system of informing on others and citizen control. An area always feared due to the possibility of a popular uprising that has considered the opposition as a beachhead, a military term used in reference to the advance of an army in its conquest.
In any case, for those of us who live in this part, we speak of history and fatalism, also of the evil to sustain power, above the aspirations of the children of this earth.