A little more than six miles from the city of Manzanillo, the town’s center of gravity is a leafy Jagüey tree, born among the ruins of the old sugar mill. The tree’s roots have engulfed a huge cogwheel of the industry, destroyed by cannon fire a week after Carlos Manuel de Céspedes began the conflict there.
Retired senior citizens, teenagers and preschool children clarify to the visitor that the tree that is now admired is the son of the original, which died in 1998 despite efforts made to save it. They explain that the bell that today presides over the National Park was forged in 1859 in Normandy, France, and brought to Cuba in 1860. continue reading
Residents also relate that the bell has been bought, stolen, rescued and taken down from its seat on several occasions as an object of manipulation by politicians. They know everything about history, dates, the ancestry of surnames, and about small and large disagreements among their leaders.
What they can not explain clearly to the visitor is why the roads that reach the site are almost impassable, what is the reason for the dilapidated state of their homes, what is the cause of the malfunction of the water distribution network, and why there are so many difficulties supplying markets and providing electricity service.
Nothing in the daily situation of their lives is consistent with the historical importance of their homeland, a place with bold headlines dedicated to it in the press when historical dates approach.
Despite their town’s having been declared a National Monument in 1978, residents complain that it is only remembered when 10 October approaches, especially in the years that the bureaucrats of history like to call “closed anniversaries” because the number of years ends in a zero.
Thus it was on the centenary, which had its apogee with an act presided over by Fidel Castro in 1968, when Fidel took the opportunity to proclaim that he and the other members of his generation were successors of those patricians “because the Revolution is the result of a hundred years of struggle (…) because in Cuba there has only been one revolution, the one that was begun by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes on October 10, 1868 and that our people carry forward in these moments.”
Now, half a century after that commemoration, a popular phrase inspired by “the historical statements of the maximum leader” is still being repeated and even updated, and it is thrown at those who get too vocally upset in the face of problems. “Don’t pick a fight, remember it’s already a hundred and fifty years.”
For years, slogans have drowned out the voices of the people who live in La Demajagua. Like Carmen Barreras, who regrets that they have never seen any Government figure or local authorities show any concern about the town. “Neither about how we live, nor about our situation when the evening comes, sometimes, and we have nothing (…) and nothing to sell.”
As this October celebrates a round anniversary of that uprising, the current Cuban president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, visited La Demajagua last June to show interest in the work aimed at giving greater splendor to the historic place.
There, ten royal palms have been planted in representation of the tenth day of the tenth month in which the events took place, and 12 flagpoles have been placed on the mount of flags that symbolize the number of men who continued fighting with Céspedes after the first military failure of the attempt to take the town of Yara.
Among the renovations now underway are included: new lights, the restoration of all the park’s plantings, an internet room, a cafeteria and a cultural goods store. The rooms of the museum will also be enlarged with the purpose of setting up new showcases, exhibiting numismatic objects allegorical to the date, and photos and documents of the time.
However, the residents insist that more effort should be made to solve people’s problems rather than a continued investment in historic facilities. “Our little houses that they said they were going to fix, they came, they measured everything, but it is one of things they say they are going to do and then they don’t … I do not understand how they carry on like this,” another resident denounces to 14ymedio.
To the housing problems are added La Demajagua’s other chronic ills, those things that cause its young people to turn their eyes to another part of the national geography, or abroad, in search of new horizons.
“Here most of the people were left out of the cooperative, here the people do not have a job more than once a year,” regrets Mayelín Aguilar. To the drama of unemployment are added the scarce supplies in the area’s only market of rationed products “There is no rice now in the bodega, and so people are hungry,” she warns.
This Wednesday, once again the residents of the area will listen to historians speak about the latest details discovered in research about the past, it will be discussed again if the correct name of the site is La Demajagua or just Demajagua, due to the proliferation of the blue Majagua tree, whose woods are used to make doors and furniture.
When the celebrations are over, the television technicians, the journalists, the Communist Party officials and the Government will leave this place that many call “The altar of the Fatherland.” The demajagüenses will remain with the hope that by the next anniversary their demands will be met. And as for that wait, some recommend not to get too upset because it’s already been 150 years of struggle and you have to take it easy.
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