Life in Cuba

This is the first of a three part series from a man who spent years working in Cuba. The story is fascinating and speaks to a life of which we could only quietly dream here in the newly minted police state of Amerika.

Working the Revolution – In the Fields of Cuba
By Ron Ridenour*
Jan 4, 2007, 12:58

Showing up for work!

At the crack of dawn one humid July morning, I mounted my trusty iron horse and pedaled off to La Julia in Batabano municipality, 50 kilometers south of my Havana residence. I was on my way to participate in what Che called that “special atmosphere” of collective volunteer labor.

“To build communism, you must build new man, as well as the economic base…the instrument for mobilizing the masses … must be moral in character … Work must cease being what it still is today, a compulsory social obligation, and be transformed into a social duty … Our goal is that the individual feels the need to perform voluntary labor out of internal motivation, as well as because of the special atmosphere that exists.” (1)

A “Special Period” was declared by the State soon after the collapse of European state socialism. Cubans lost 63% of their foodstuffs, previously imported from Comecon trade partners. They also lost 85% of export income including oil-for-sugar barter trade.

Cuba’s leaders designated plan alimentario (food plan) as priority number one, alongside tourism. The state emphasizes becoming self-sufficient in many areas. Everybody’s belt had to be tightened.

After cycling without stop for two hours, a sign marked GIA-2 appeared on the flat horizon saturated with banana plants and vegetable crops. The camp looked like others I had just passed: white-painted, one-story concrete dormitory buildings neatly arranged in rows. Shrubs, flowers and garden vegetables grew between the buildings. In the distance, I could just make out the sea where I had sailed past Batabano on petroleum runs.

GIA-2´s director, Oscar Geerken, a handsome man in his mid-40s, led me to his cubicle where I’d be staying. It had four, two-tiered bunk beds, thin foam rubber mattresses and pillows. Two ventilators whirled overhead to cool the room and chase away persistent mosquitoes—Cuba’s only dangerous animal, Fidel was fond of saying.

“We built this camp ourselves with help from local constructors,” proudly proclaimed the mustachioed Oscar, “and we did it in just 29 days.”

Geerken was a chemistry teacher and school administrator, who had come here with the original 120 founders, in November 1990. He, like the others, would get his job back following two years of volunteer work, or even before if he quit earlier.

When I first arrived to work, in early 1992, there were 220 workers at Colonel Mambi Juan Delgado Contingent. Commonly called GIA-2, it received its official name after an officer who had rescued the cadaver of hero Antonio Maceo killed in battle, in 1896.

Read the rest of part one here.

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