14ymedio, Ignacio de la Paz, Camagüey | 18 September 2018 — The Jimaguayú municipality has been busy for days starting last week, when the authorities announced a visit to Camagüey by President Miguel Díaz-Canel. Between 19 and 21 September the president is expected to arrive, which has unleashed an avalanche of repairs in public areas and state centers.
The provincial authorities of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) have called several meetings with their members to alert them that Diaz-Canel will be accompanied by a large government contingent and that Camagüey must show “its best face” on these days, especially in the places where the caravan will travel.
In Jimaguayú, one of the municipalities included in the tour, a fever for touch-ups has been unleashed, including a rejuvenation of the road that leads to the Sanguily Genetic Rescue Company, located in the area of Jesús María, one of the sites expecting a visit from the president who, last April, replaced Raul Castro.
The road to the genetic company right now is the scene of brigades of workers with machetes clearing out the weeds in the surrounding area, a scene that the farmers of the zone look on with surprise. The older ones, such as farmer Omar Vázquez, do not remember “when something like this was done around here.”
Since assuming power, Diaz-Canel, a 58-year-old engineer, has made a frantic tour of several provinces that has been widely followed by the official press, a practice that contrasts with the lack of travel that characterized his predecessor who “did not even come to Camagüey when we were affected by hurricanes,” says Rubén, a resident of the area.
Before the arrival of the president, in the bodegas of San Cayetano and Victorino, two of the poorest communities in the region, the sale of the rationed basic basket corresponding to the month of October has been pushed forward, a usual practice on festive dates. The residents can’t contain their amazement because, for the occasion, products like chocolate, detergent, washing soap and rum are also being sold off the ration book.
The greater police controls that have also been deployed in the area complicate the operation of the black market in a region where most of the cheese that ends up being sold illegally is produced. More surveillance along the roads has producers and retailers of this product holding back on the “under the table” trade, given that the State prohibits any private sales of cheese.
Others prefer to see the arrival of the president as an opportunity to air the daily problems that mark life in Jimaguayú.
“Díaz-Canel has to pass through this area more often, because we are abandoned,” says a farmer who complains that “what is being done is pure makeup in the streets where he is going to pass, but the problems that we, the people who work in the fields, have are not fixed with a little lechada (low quality paint).”
The Camagüey plain, and especially the Jimaguayú area, has a long tradition of raising cattle, but in recent decades the sector has been harmed by the economic crisis and the loss of thousands of cattle as a result of the drought, the lack of fodder and mismanagement in state farms. 70% of the milk produced in the territory comes from non-state farms, according to official data.
Owners of estates, tenants and cooperative members have been pressing for years for the State to allow them access to a better wholesale market, where they can buy things from piping to carry water, to food for animals, something that is now available only sporadically and in small quantities.
“It will take less makeup and more resources because we do not have medicine for the animals, the feed is missing, and even getting a piece of fence to keep the cows in one place is a problem because there is no wood or wire for sale,” says Gumersindo, 66.
The autonomy to sell “milk directly to consumers and develop a cheese industry without going through the State” are also among the demands that Gumersindo and several farmers in the area have been posing for years in meetings of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP).
In several meetings at workplaces where the imminent arrival of Díaz-Canel has been mentioned, the workers have called for taking advantage of the visibility that the arrival of the president will give the area to make some social and labor demands.
Several residents hope to be able to raise with Diaz-Canel problems that affect the area, such as the notable reduction in the number of schools and the deficit of teachers. “The schools of La Loma and Piedra Imán where I live closed for lack of students and teachers, and that left only two in San Cayetano and Victorino,” laments Gumersindo.
Before beginning this school year, the Minister of Education, Ena Elsa Velázquez, acknowledged that, despite the “attention” and “stimulation” accorded to the teachers by the Government to “avoid the exodus,” there is a nationwide deficit of about 10,000 teachers. A situation that worsens in rural areas.
“Here we have a double problem, because the low salaries are compounded by the poor conditions of the classrooms and the transportation problems for teachers to get to the schools,” says Carmina, a grandmother of two children of school age, residents of Jimaguayú. “The last teachers my grandchildren had didn’t last three months in front of the classroom.”
Carmina and many of her neighbors complain that the students “have no teachers but rather makeshift teaching assistants who can not teach the kids anything.”
Alberto Murga, a farmer in the area, wants to bend Diaz-Canel’s ear with the difficulties that the residents of Jimaguayú are going through every day as a result of the bad state of the roads and the lack of public transportation, as well as the low electrical voltage of the area that means many families “can only light a couple of bulbs.”
“For more than two years we have not had any buses for these communities and the pharmacy in Victorino does not have the medicines that are sold on the so-called card.” The farmer complains that “the family doctor comes once a week and there is no doctor’s office, so she has to take care of the patients in the social circle without any privacy.”
The chorus of complaints continues to grow as the scheduled date for the visit approaches. The residents know that, in all likelihood, after the photos everything will remain the same. Even the place where the heroic rescue of Brigadier Sanguily took place is lost in the undergrowth and the marabou weed. “Like all of Jimaguayú,” Gumersindo says.
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