Guantanamo wants to shake off the stigma of being the poorest part of Cuba, known only for the US military base, while seeking sustainable development through the excellent quality of its, coffee, cacao and coconut crops, despite the eternal threat of hurricanes.
While there is talk of possibly more prisoners being interned in the high-security prison, the first such move in over a decade, the half-million inhabitants of the province say their “heroic land” is “much more than the base.” It is very fertile, not only in terms of agriculture but also because it has the highest birth rate in a country with serious problems of an aging population.
In the last two years, this eastern territory has been hit by two devastating hurricanes: Matthew swept across it in 2016 and Irma blasted its north coast in 2017.
Now Guantanamo – 5 percent of Cuba’s land surface – has prioritized recovery from hurricanes and learning from past errors, with small-scale industrial investments ensuring self-sufficiency on the one hand, and boosting the Cuban economy with coffee exports and the production of cacao and coconuts on the other.
The impact of hurricanes on the latter two crops has been brutal because their production cycles are long – three years for cacao and five for coconuts.
Hurricane Matthew was “like an atomic bomb” and wiped out thousands of hectares (acres) of plantations, according to Odel Cobas, director of the processing plant for coconut (“the tree of a thousand uses”) and the fruit harvests of Baracoa, the historic villa on the northeast coast.
Ironically, Matthew also “contributed to increasing the industry’s efficiency level,” he said, because it forced “Guantanameros” to find ways not to have the factories shut down or farmers left without income until the coconut trees and cacao plants were producing again.
Installed in the coconut processing plant – which makes use of their pulp, oil, water, fiber and shell – with the aid of Spanish cooperation funds is a fruit processing line that means the factory never has to stop working, Cobas said.
And where previously only coconut and cacao were planted, now they are mixed with mango, guava, banana, pineapple and papaya, crops that make a relatively quick comeback after a hurricane.
With the new machinery, a plant that buys the seeds from 3,000 farmers in the province can process a ton of cacao per hour.
The other gem of Guantanamo is coffee – it produces half of the amount Cuba exports to such markets as Japan, New Zealand and the European Union.
© 2018 EFE News Services (U.S.) Inc.