The eastern half of the country has seen the ghost of development go by in official speeches and in the trains and planes going to Havana or overseas. When a high government official tediously insisted on making promises of economic development, immediately the political machine would start a “shock public works project.” Who doesn’t remember the power plant of Nuevitas, the Nickel factory in Moa, the cement factory in Santiago de Cuba, or the expansion of the hotel capacity in the Guardalavaca zone, in Holguín ?
Not so long ago I went back the Nickel producing region in search of a half-buried story which started there and which is being continued in the Che Guevara plant in Moa, where an unforgiving wind took more prisoners to Villa Marista — the notorious State Security prison in Havana — without any explanations.
Several questions kept going around my head. I knew that I could share all of them with my readers, but I hurried on to those related to the prisoners in February. I delayed the one related to the environmental pollution and respiratory diseases suffered by many over there, but the note about an arrested and jailed manager who was transferred to the oncology ward of the provincial hospital led me to an article written by the exiled journalist Juan Carlos Garcell. It says: “Medical sources reported on a study made in 2002 regarding respiratory diseases in workers exposed to the lateritic mineral dust in the Che Guevara factory (Moa) during a five-month period, and which covered the 926 workers belonging to the seven departments where exposure was the greatest. The study noted that the most prevalent pathology was chronic obstructive lung disease; 83.42% had a normal hematocrit; altered respiratory functional tests were found in a 42.33% of subjects; and 66.33% had acute pulmonary lung disease as a radiological sign.”
I thought about the former manager who had a marginally better life than a common worker, I thought also of the others. The air they breathe over there doesn’t have the name of the one who will breathe it, it’s always polluted.The dust rises and goes along the streets and highways destroying promises without discriminating based on age or hierarchy. Where did they go, the dreams of thousands of young men who moved from Havana and Matanzas to Moa to build a new country?
When some of these megaprojects stopped working as propaganda, the dreams went bust. The ramshackle buildings, increasing cost of food, and deficient local management transformed these so-called “industrial cities” into abandoned cemeteries.
History’s paradox, government’s lies, deceit and false promise, become reality, now raised as a flag by the humblest of citizens.
* The article was published in the illegal monthly journal El cubano libre (The Free Cuban) in 2006, and several of its authors received threats for their part in exposing it.
Translated by: Xavier Noguer