Closed, for Cubans / Henry Constantín

There are regions in my country where I still cannot enter. At least not unless if I am loaded with official documents, authorizations, guarantees, and recommendation letters. An entire list can be made out of these things. I’m used to it: In Cuba, one can write – actually, those in power have already done so – an infinite list of the things that are restricted for Cubans. There is a list of web sites which I cannot enter, a list of magazines and newspapers which are not allowed to be read in libraries (the list includes any which display my rulers committing any errors worth silencing), another list of films, such as “Before Night Falls” and “The Lost City”, which I can’t find in any of the state video stores or movie theatres. As for musicians that are prohibited from receiving any radio or TV play – Alejandro Sanz, Willy Chirino, Porno Para Ricardo, etc. The most outrageous situations is that of the people whom we are not supposed to call by phone or visit in person – but I do it anyway, and that’s why I probably am included in that list, too. There is yet another list which consists of historical people who cannot be mentioned without evoking much offense – commanders Eloy Guiterrez Menoyo and Huber Matos, president Estrada Palma, and so on. There are dozens of lists which are composed of well-off people the same way that there are those made up of everyday people in Cuba. But it is these outlawed regions of our geography which interest me the most on this Travel Report.

The post with which I inaugurated this blog was about how I could not enter the Cape of San Antonio in Guanahacabibes – in the far Western part of Cuba – for the simple reason that I was not a tourist. At that time, the functionaries of the Ministry of Science, Technology, and the Environment denied me the entrance, just as the orders mandated they do so to every Cuban resident on the island. While I was getting over that frustrating trip, a few vehicles with tourist license plates swiftly passed by, heading towards the Cape. They braked right by me, asking (in Andalusian and Italian accents) the solicitous guard where their destination lay as he opened the entrance gate.

In the extreme opposite of the country, halfway from between Baracoa and the Yumuri river – on the North coast – there lies another one of those “border” spots. In it, some locally known cavers, carrying all sorts of official authorizations, waited for almost an hour under the mid-day sun until the official decided that they could pass towards the Maisi Point.

The Sabana-Camaguey archipelago, which borders the northern coast of the central provinces, is also prohibited. It’s made up of a strip of hotels from Santa Maria Key to Paredon Grande, with very little terrestrial access – some anti-ecological and enormously steep embankments from Caibarien to Turiguano – where vehicles which transport Cubans are carefully searched by police officers, who check to see how many documents people are carrying, or who make them get out of the car and stay there. And you can’t just go in under the pretext of simple tourism. If you don’t have a hotel reservation, or if you don’t have any credentials such as being an employee or participant in an already registered event, then you can’t go in.

The same thing occurs in Sabinal, which is less exploited touristically, and also in Romano Key, the largest and most conserved of the keys. As if it wasn’t enough, there is at least one of those small islands which requires a double authorization project: Paredon Grande. Any Cuban who gets there must show his/her permits, and since the terrestrial path goes through Coco Key (where in the entrance of Turiguano they already searched through the papers) then it turns out that you would get searched twice.

But on the Isle of Pines, which still has the official name of “Island of Youth”, it is an even more ironic case. Up to well into the 20th century, Cuban sovereignty was not well defined in terms of this rugged area and with regards those supposed North-American colonizers. And now, in the 21st century, for a national resident to access that minor southern island (the most extensive and inhospitable) it requires even more permits and processes, moreso than a European Union citizen trying to pass from one country to another. And let’s not even mention Largo Key, which lies about 100 kilometers to the East: I’ve only been able to see it from an airplane.

But it isn’t just land that is forbidden. There are also bodies of water which surround the island (and which are supposedly considered territorial waters) which the authorities consider to be malignant for Cubans. A couple of youths from Smith Key (or “Granma Key” as it is officially known) who are owners of boats which are used to explore the interior bay of Santiago de Cuba, opened their eyes wide in disbelief when I suggested to take a look into the exterior part of the bay, where the Morro Castle starts to rise. “That’s forbidden”. And this is a national mandate: any Cuban who is riding upon any sort of water vessel must be heavily armed with authorizations, if not he or she runs the risk of spending the night in a prison.

In all of these cases ecological protection, which is the justification for restricting or controlling the access to protected zones in the world, is discarded simply because of the differences which exist for a foreign citizen and a national resident who wants to visit any of these areas. The foreign visitor would be content just to go in and take a quick look, while a Cuban, when he or she has no reservations (if the area is a hotel zone) could wait up to three months while searching for authorizations from up to half a dozen functionaries — and that really is a valid justification! And, mind you, this is always with the risk present of having such access being denied just because of trivial whims.

Where our internal exile is really colossal is in Caimanera, the city closest to the perimeter of the US Naval Base in Guantanamo. We Cubans consider the territory where the Base is located to be part of our country, and we hope that one day it will really be that way. Of course, we can’t enter that place, but in addition, those who run this country have really gone to the extreme, so much so that in Caimanera, a city which is fully national, no Cuban can get in unless they are pre-authorized and justified by an application filled out by any family they have who are residents of that town, and even they, the family, have to inform the authorities first.

The reason for so much discrimination is really shameful: trying to keep Cubans from leaving the country illegally (perhaps our island is a jail, which is supposed to be the only place where anyone can escape illegally from), protecting the environment, (which they protect from us Cubans who go by foot, and not from foreigners who drive down such zones with their polluting automobiles which can easily exterminate any endangered species), and to prevent diversions of naval vessels and any provocations to the Base…

Out of all these excuses, and out of all the flagrant discrimination which they conceal, we can reach some painful conclusions. The most obvious: that Cubans who are residents of their own country are not considered to be citizens who possess inviolable rights before the State (whose sole purpose is to guarantee these rights), and instead, our role is something very different. We’re supposed to be people who live in a place where others rule, and where our value is below that of politics and the interests of our rulers. The colossal fear which these individuals have of losing authority through illegal exits, improbable clandestine disembarkations, or through the psychological pressure of a conflict with the Naval Base, can never make sense in the 21st century to continue discriminating against its own citizens. This only accelerates the need to get the leaders out of the way, for they have already lost the opportunity to fix things. Today, the goal is very clear: tear down all the silent walls and discrimination which the fears of an older generation erected, be at peace with our own people, and reconstruct our pride.

When any Cuban can stare out to the sea from the Cape of San Antonio, without blushes or permits, then that will be a good sign.

Translated by Raul G.

September 25, 2010