Guantanamo's Neighbors Trying to Adapt
By VIVIAN SEQUERA
Associated Press Writer
CAIMANERA, Cuba (AP) — Built on the coast of Guantanamo Bay, this
Cuban town of 10,600 people is tied
like no other to the U.S. naval station in southeastern Cuba.
Residents of this remote, southeastern community of steaming, narrow
streets and weathered wooden houses are
the closest Cuban neighbors to the U.S. military camp now filling up with prisoners from the war on Afghanistan.
The sixth flight of Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners arrived Monday, adding
a new chapter to what Caimanera
residents say is a long story of the town and a 45-square-mile piece of land seized by U.S. troops in 1898.
The Americans have remained, despite opposition from the Cuban government.
Cuba, however, has not opposed
holding the prisoners on its soil.
"Thanks to the base, Caimanera grew,'' said Ofelia Garcia, the community's
historian. "But it has also suffered
much because of its presence. We have not been able to develop a normal life here.''
The community of fishermen and salt mine workers flourished at the beginning
of the 20th century precisely
because of the base's construction.
It was a magnet for Cuban workers and a popular spot for visitors, including
Cubans from across the island and
people from nearby countries such as Jamaica.
The base, Garcia said, eventually had thousands of Cuban employees.
Many American military officers and their
families lived off base in Caimanera.
That all changed in 1959 when Fidel Castro came to power through a revolution.
In a little less than three years, Cuban defense forces formed
a military zone along the 17-mile perimeter of the
American base, seen on this side as enemy territory.
During that period, thousands of Cuban employees were fired or
quit their jobs at the base, Garcia said. Today, less
than a dozen Cubans work there.
Once the relationship between Cuba and the United States changed,
Caimanera began to lose an important source of
employment — good jobs that at the time paid $2.80 a day.
Many former workers left, but those who stayed — and successive
generations — learned to live with the
watchtowers, the fences, and the proximity of mine fields that Cuba still maintains around the U.S. installation.
Two army posts on the road leading to Caimanera open only to the town's residents and their relatives.
The community grew so poor that in 1985 Castro's socialist government
ordered salaries here and in the nearby town
of Boqueron raised by 30 percent to encourage workers to stay.
In 1991, the government decided to use the base to promote tourism,
opening a 19-room hotel here. Still, few visit:
just 300 foreigners last year, manager Angel Barreda said.
Most who stay at the Hotel Caimanera are Cuban-Americans visiting
relatives in town. Those family members living in
the United States are an important source of income for Caimanera, which had an unemployment rate of 18.2 percent
About two miles away, about 5,000 visitors a year — mostly Europeans
— travel to Guantanamo town through trips
arranged by government tourism agencies.
There, they can go to Malones lookout to see a section of the
base being used to hold the prisoners. Military approval
is required to get to that site.
Living so close to the base, Caimanera residents have access to
the U.S. military's television programming, providing
glimpses about the arriving prisoners that few Cubans have had.
Judging by the number of prisoners and the space set aside to
house them, ``it must be pretty bad over there,'' said
Manuel Prieto, 73, a resident and former base worker. ``But I understand that they are building a prison'' with more
room, he said.
Prieto himself was a prisoner on the base for six days in 1961
when he was questioned by U.S. military officials about
possible Cuban agents at the American installation
Prieto, who worked 14 years at the base as a welder's assistant, said he still suffers nightmares.
"I dream that I am there,'' he said, "but I cannot leave.''