Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Beaches Belong to the People (But the People Have an Owner) / Henry Constantín

The Beaches Belong to the People (But the People Have an Owner) / Henry
Henry Constantín, Translator: Unstated

In Cuba, contrary to what one might think, even the beaches are places
where the Cubans who live here can suffer. Ask the people of Santa Lucia
beach in Camaguey. Recently, people from the government told them they
would all have to leave. And still there are those who fantasize about
the soft changes of our self-elected government. Some media closed the
year by putting their faith in the slow pace, when the slow pace is the
same test used by those who do not want fundamental change. But when
Cubans are most sunk into reverie, the booming voice of the foreman
reminds us that the surface moves while the depths are undisturbed, from
the time of the Spaniards, it's useless. The foreman, even as he puts on
his suit and reads speeches, keeps looking at us through his foreman's eyes.

This is what the hundreds of inhabitants of Santa Lucia beach are coming
to understand. House by house, indifferent functionaries advise them
that their lives there must end: a tourist development plan, talked over
with everyone but the people of the place, is going to rise on the
bulldozed ruins of their homes. The irony is that there are hotels in
other less bright areas of the beach than the sands of Residencial, and
even in the high season they're not filled with foreign tourists.

I don't own a single inch of that place. But an earthquake of impotence
shakes me every time I hear the story of another family that they try to
force — through economic pressure — to abandon their home and the land
they own. They closed down the state enterprises and basic services —
the pharmacy, the grocery store — and deny construction permits on
private lands, and they closed almost without pretext the businesses of
those who don't work for the state, which I write — and think of — in
lower case letters, because it hurts less.

So, one confirms an earlier opinion: And these people's delegate? What
of him who should defend them with the last drop of whatever it is that
runs through his veins, because that is his reason for being? And the
unions of the businesses and institutions that will be closed? And the
neighborhood committees, effective in monitoring the isolated
individual? And the elected officials of Camaguey, with the hundreds of
thousands they supposedly represent, whose favorite spot for the summer
is about to be a place they can no longer enjoy? And the institutions
charged with protecting nature, because the plan will affect natural
areas? And the provincial media of the press, vanguards in the attacks
on some individual worker they charge a peso extra, but mute before the
daily kicks — down and out — that both they and the people receive from
the senior leadership of the state? And the youth organizations, who
will lose the nearby Punta De Ganado camp, the only recreation facility
on the coast within reach of the whole province's pockets? Where are
they all, to defend us? Looking on, in silence.

And what is offered in exchange, to the subtly dispossessed inhabitants
of Santa Lucia? A mediocre chance for mediocre housing in mediocre
conditions in the settlement of Las Ochenta, twelve miles from the
beach, in an area cloudy with mosquitoes and gnats surrounded by a dense
coastal forest.

The opening or closing of beaches is a tradition in Cuban social
history. In 1944, Eduardo Chibas tore down the illegal walls some
powerful people had raised to create private beaches. But if our country
had the crab-like ability to walk backwards, we would now be looking at
the same phenomenon repeated in different ways on all the white beaches
of the country. These are examples from my own experience:

When Chibas's evil disciple triumphed, he gave himself the gift of a
completely virgin beach, Maria La Gorda, at the far end of Pinar del
Rio. Others were forbidden access there for years. Today, since he can
no longer swim, his people charge Cubans half a month's average salary —
five convertible pesos — to bathe in these waters.

A similar thing happened in Varadero. To turn it into a haven for
foreigners, they put obstacles in front of every possible Cuban
presence; until recently, to move into a house there you had to jump
endless bureaucratic barriers. With the keys to the north of Camaguey it
was worse: Cayo Coco has so many hotels with cops at the entrance, that
no Cuban can pass without state permission.

On the Guardalavaca beach in Holguin, the best in the eastern region,
Cubans who don't bring hard currency or their own food from home, go
hungry. I and a group of journalism students who once dared to go there
found out: the inhabitants of the place are prohibited from engaging in
the culinary trade. The Covarrubias beach in Las Tunas is almost
inaccessible, because state transport is only for the tourist business
that exploits the place. And the deserted beaches dotted around the
keys, without any contact by land, require that you come with an
accumulation of justifications and permits that have nothing to do with
free entry.

In short, it seems as if, at the same moment that the Cuban archipelago
retreated from the world in 1959, it's best beaches were receding from
the island due to some telluric cause.

Now they want to take, by bulldozer, and without asking permission from
its owners and users, what they lacked of the Santa Lucia beach. It is
obvious that the word "take" is an euphemism: there is a simpler and
more accurate one, for trying to grant representatives of the state the
properties and rights of individuals.

By the way, are there foreign investors planned in this business? What
might they think? And the tourists who will be able to visit these
planned hotels, would they like to know that their pleasure was built on
such conditions? I, at least, will not go to these hotels.

Finally, in Santa Lucia there are Cubans who are resigned to losing what
they had. And some keep their little souvenir of sand, because their
impotence or sadness pushes them to look for other beaches, far away and
for some few years. Never mind that the new place does not have sand as
white as that of their island: it's enough to feel respected as people.
I understand them. Along with their houses, their jobs and their beach,
they are going to take away their faith in Cuba.

Henry Constantin

Note: This article was included at number 13 of the independent magazine

17 February 2011

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