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La Cuba del Espiritu Cubano
Educational Program

Guantanamo

click to enlargeThe 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.

click to enlargeThrough 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 click to enlargeabove, 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.

click to enlargeBetween 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 opposite directions.

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 click to enlargethe 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.

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