Before the triumph of the Revolution, many of those who inhabited mountainous areas of Cuba lived in conditions of almost absolute isolation and precariousness. The abandonment on the part of the government of the day, and the natural conditions, prevented many residents from being able to descend from the hills, to treat any ailments at medical points that were located tens of kilometers away, to go to school or to the cinema.
The guerilla forces, led by the young Fidel Castro Ruz, lived alongside many of these residents during the insurrectionary struggle at the end of the 1950s. During those years, they took the firm decision to change the living conditions in the mountains, the poorest rural areas of Cuba, as the leader of the Revolution noted in a speech in the Sierra Maestra, May 17, 1959, when the Agrarian Reform was decreed.
With the triumphant Revolution, efforts began to be systematized to advance the economic, political and environmental development of these territories. In order to strengthen what had been achieved, on June 2, 1987, the Comprehensive Program for Mountainous Regions emerged, better known as Plan Turquino, in reference to the highest point in Cuba.
In its beginnings, the geographical scope of the project covered four mountain ranges: Guaniguanico, in the province of Pinar del Río; Guamuhaya, in Villa Clara, Cienfuegos and Sancti Spíritus (in the former region of Escambray); the Sierra Maestra, including the territories of Granma, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo; and finally, Nipe-Sagua-Baracoa, to the north of the provinces of Holguín (Sierra Cristal) and Guantánamo.
Determining the territories and the limits of Plan Turquino represented a rediscovery of the island’s mountainous areas. The task was led by a multi-factorial commission composed, among other bodies, by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Agricultural, Soils and Physical Planning Projects Enterprise.
During this process, the teams worked long days to complete the studies.
They visited the provinces almost always on horseback, on mules or on foot. They traveled up and down the hills, inquiring as to the name of each farm, locating fences or identifying geographical features; they drew up, inch by inch, the routes of Plan Turquino.
“It was a tough task,” Luis González Borrego noted in an interview with Sancti Spíritus newspaper Escambray, who at the time was commencing his career as a Physical Planning project designer.
“Due to the conditions of the terrain, some woods were so dense that you couldn’t see the sun, the technology of today didn’t exist, we worked with a compass, map sheets, and what was done during the day was mapped out at night.”
Thanks to these socioeconomic projects, today these territories have the most elementary means and services to promote the comprehensive development of their communities, including those that are located in the most remote and isolated areas.
PROMOTING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN THE MOUNTAINS
Another priority of the Plan Turquino was to attract a labor force to the mountains, given the high level of depopulation these areas suffered. As such, for the specialists commissioned with delimiting the territories, it was also a challenge to carry out soil tests on the land and define whether it was suitable for plantations.
They were able to verify that in these areas there was abundant water, wood, exportable products such as cacao and coffee, as well as root vegetables, grains, meat and milk production.
In order to increasingly link people to the hills, it was essential to improve living conditions. New housing was built, a process that advanced year on year.
According to a report published in the Revista Cubana de Medicina General Integral (Cuban Journal of Comprehensive General Medicine) in 2009, while in 1988 there were some 114,625 homes in these areas, 15 years later, this figure had doubled. At the same time, water and power networks were extended by more than 6,000 kilometers, and approximately 90% of homes, centers and state facilities had electrical power.
Communications were another of the areas strengthened by the Revolution. A high percentage of the settlements were provided with a telephone service. From 1987, post offices, radio and television transmitters and video rooms became widespread; and even their own television station, Televisión Serrana (TVS), appeared, which since 1993 has been dedicated to the rescue of local cultures and reflecting the interests of these communities.
Also included within the project is Ciénaga de Zapata municipality, one of the most forgotten areas of the country before 1959 and which, for example in 2017, had a infant mortality rate of zero.
CONSERVING THE CULTURE AND TRADITIONS
The Revolution not only focused its efforts on the economic development of the Plan Turquino areas, but also promoted culture, sports and recreation, while conserving their traditions.
As well as the promotion of theater, dance and musical groups, and visual arts, the Plan has contemplated the rescue and study of their roots.
These areas are exceptional reserves of cultural traditions, such as that produced by the arrival to Cuba of thousands of French and French-Haitian settlers and their African and Creole slaves, in the early 19th century, during the Haitian Revolution.
This migration contributed new cultural expressions, which continue today. The Ruins of the French Coffee Plantations, located in the hills of the Sierra Maestra to the east and west of Santiago de Cuba and the Guantánamo region, are an example of the historic, architectural and archeological value of this area covered by Plan Turquino and recognized by UNESCO.
The architectural footprints, on their own, are monuments of hydraulic and road engineering, domestic architecture, funeral and productive systems, among others, that reveal the skill of the engineers, brick layers, carpenters and slave labor; architects of the best use of the mountainous spaces and topography, of the materials and construction techniques of the territories themselves, some of which continue to exist today, like the networks of mountain trails.
Also conserved are the traditional Tumba Francesa (French Drum - dance, song and drumming style) de Santa Catalina de Rissi, in Guantánamo; that of Bejuco, in Sagua de Tánamo; and of La Caridad de Oriente, in Santiago de Cuba, some of the most important expressions of the cultural heritage of the island.
The Tumba Francesa derives from 18th-century French ballroom dancing, mixed with African drums. The dance is organized and prolonged and can be compared to the contradanza(Spanish-American version of the French contradanse). The music follows the rhythm of three wooden and goat skin drums and marugas (metallic shakers) that accompany the chorus sung by women.
The mountains of Cuba are a natural space where a good part of our history has been woven, as they protected the rebels of all the Cuban independence wars, and continue to be the exuberant rearguard of a country that has decided to preserve nature hand in hand with the men and women that inhabit it.
It is said that the word Turquino derives from the indigenous names “turey” and “quino.” The first refers to the sky, and the second, to an important or elevated person or thing. Plan Turquino is mountain and sky, a special project for sacred areas of the Cuban geography, history and culture.