most heart warming activity of the day was a long visit to a school, an interesting discussion with the
director and teachers and a good opportunity to observe the classrooms.
a lot of it I kept flashing back to the media coverage
during the Elian Gonzalez custody battle in Florida.
A frequent theme was how Elian would have been denied the right to an
education if he had returned to the Cuban school system. Yet in
front of me were class sizes that an American teacher would die for, a
curriculum that was equal to, if not
what U.S. students were covering at the same grade level and students
that seemed interested in their studies, were well disciplined,
relaxed and cheerful. The teachers as well were relaxed,
attentive, easy going and cheerful. The classroom wasn't
plastered with commercial advertisement, and there were few computers
at the school, but it also wasn't part of a gulag.
Santiago De Cuba and Guantanamo is largely agricultural land. In the first
half it is broken up by some hills and geological formations. The
second half is generally very flat. Certainly not far outside
of Santiago you escape the urban area for the more
tranquil countryside. Periodically there are towns with a
variety of goods stores and services, which serve as the local trading
centers, like La Maya and Yerba de Guinea. The names are
interesting because they both seem to have ethnic roots, but from
Guantanamo is the location of the girl in Jose Marti's
poem, made famous in the song Guantanamera. The song is much
prettier than the town. Guantanamo is about as pretty and
interesting as most other navy towns. Guantanamo problem, or
blessing, is it is no longer a "navy town" since the closing
of the gate with Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, following the
revolution. This cut off Guantanamo's main employment source --
not all of them high end jobs. Guantanomo is now on the front
line of the cold war and no ones first choice of a place to invest.
Despite its location there is no abnormal military presence in or
around the town. As you head out towards the base there are a
series of checkpoints, each with tighter controls. Evidently, eventually
you need special permits to passes and approach the base fence.
About 30 kilometers away from Guantanamo is the US Naval Base, which has
been one of the thorns in the side of Cubans for a century. Each month
U.S. writes out a rent check, but as the story goes, since the
revolution, the Cuban government has never cashed them because they
don't want to legitimize the occupation of their land. At the
same time the Cubans have never attacked the base or tried expel the
U.S. troops by force. The base lies in a very flat area, that is
relatively hot and humid. Pulling a tour there is probably about
as tough as pulling a tour at a tropical country club.
An architectural note: The main hotel in Guantanamo has exactly the
same architecture and floor plan as the hotel in Manzanillo.