Standing before the venerable monument to the birth of the Cuban nation at La Demajagua National Park, where on October 10, 1868, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes launched our independence struggle, the President of Cuba’s Councils of State and Ministers, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, observed a moment of silence, as he began his government visit to the province of Granma, June 27.
The President visited the memorial which is undergoing a renovation process and will be re-inaugurated this coming October 10, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of our independence wars. The project includes remodeling the museum and construction of several auxiliary works.
Díaz-Canel asked about the work underway and emphasized the importance of the care taken to preserve original elements from the era, as was conceived in the current plan.
The President greeted workers on the job, noting that he had visited the site last February and could appreciate the progress made in the construction.
Museum director Carlos Céspedes Leyva reported that, thanks to the efforts of all, the project is 15 days ahead of schedule and should be completed as planned.
Despite the construction underway, the site is intact, and perfectly conserved are the ruins of the sugar mill and archaeological objects recovered in 1968, during initial efforts to establish the national monument.
To be seen in all its splendor is the stone wall symbolizing the island of Cuba and the revolutionary process, and the mill’s original bell, which, according to the bronze plaque at its side, “once called slaves to begin their exhausting tasks… and on October 10, 1868, called Blacks and whites to share the heroic sacrifice for freedom and independence.”
Located in the municipality of Manzanillo, the Demajagua memorial was erected in 1968 under the direction of heroine Celia Sánchez Manduley, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of our wars of independence. It was inaugurated by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz.
Previously, all that existed here was an obelisk commissioned by Masons to honor Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and the initiation of the struggle. Nothing more was done until the triumph of the Revolution. Declared a National Monument in 1978, the Demajagua National Park museum was visited by Fidel on two occasions, the second in 1976, and by Raúl Castro Ruz and heroine Vilma Espín in 1997.
In addition to the mill’s ruins and the bell – forged in Normandy, France, and brought to Cuba in 1860 – the giant fig tree with its roots creeping over the mill’s gear wheel has become a symbol of the site, as is the royal palm that stands guard alongside the two flags – the nation’s and that of Céspedes. It was planted January 8, 1981, in earth taken into space by the first Cuban and Latin American astronaut Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez, aboard a joint USSR-Cuba voyage in September of 1980.
Explanations at the site indicate that the plantation “consisted of 16 caballerías of land, of which only three were cultivated. Raw sugar was not produced, but rather molasses in barrels.”
“Its installations, that were of low productivity, included a steam engine,” the remains of which lie at the foot of the fig tree, along with part of the cauldron and tanks, some of which will be left here for all time, in the open air.
Comments etched in bronze plaques guide us around the site. One in particular always attracts attention, given its illustrious nature. It features Fidel’s words, expressed on March 25, 1965, referring to the leaders of Cuba’s wars of independence: “At that time, we would have been like them; today, they would be like us.”
The environmental and scientific efforts of institutions like the crocodile breeding station in Manzanillo were praised by Miguel Díaz-Canel, during a tour of the site.
He conversed with Gabriel Cisneros Suárez, biologist at the institution, who emphasized that achieving the reproduction and development of thousands of exemplars of the species was indicative of the creativity and innovative work of the facility’s workers.
Affiliated with the Flora and Fauna state enterprise, the center is undertaking an investment project which will allow for expansion of environmental education efforts, and the offering of a wide range of recreational activities for residents of the area, as well as the development of national and international “nature” tourism.
The President asked about the conservation status of the species bred here, Crocodylus acutus, and about its specific characteristics, questions which Cisneros Suárez answered in detail, reporting that the facility currently has under its care 10,101 individuals, and that in the last few weeks alone, more than 900 have been born.
After leaving the crocodile station, heading toward the city of Manzanillo, Díaz-Canel stopped to talk with a family waving to him from the side of the road, holding a friendly conversation, especially with the mother of several little ones who calmly answered his questions. The chat went more or less like this:
“How are you doing on your tests,” the President asked the children.
“Good,” the children answered shyly, almost inaudibly.
“You have computers at school?”
“Yes.” (They teach them well, the mother adds).
“Do you have a library? Is it big? Lots of books?”
“Yes, it’s very good,” adds the young mother, among other comments.
The father of the family, standing to one side, stays quiet, until Díaz-Canel asks him if he has work.
“Siiiiii,” he answers, stretching the vowel, “but its private, in agriculture.”
“Oh, private, well that’s work, too” the President says.
“I have a few cows and some land.”
“Land awarded in usufruct?”
“Yes, four hectares.”
“How many liters of milk are you getting from the cows?”
“Is it being picked up? Are you paid well? Any delays in receiving your pay from the enterprise?”
“No, everything’s fine.”
Two emblematic industries in Manzanillo, the “XX Aniversario” battery factory and the “Comandante Manuel Fajardo” basic enterprise unit (UEB) devoted to fabricating metal parts for the sugar industry, were next on the morning agenda for Díaz-Canel’s government visit.
For this segment, the President was accompanied by Minister of Industry Salvador Pardo Guerra.
At the battery plant, which previously distributed its products under the brand name Taíno and now as Dinamix, Díaz-Canel discussed the possibilities for finding funds to finance production, currently reduced because of a limited supply of raw materials.
During the tour, the Cuban President interacted with staff, asking about working conditions and the activities of political and mass organizations at the plant, as well as the training and incorporation of youth and students into the productive process.
After the “XX Aniversario” tour, Díaz-Canel commented, “We had heard about the plant in reports, now we understand better, we needed to come see it.”
At the “Comandante Manuel Fajardo” foundry, the President learned about the installation’s facilities and interacted with workers, amidst the heat of the blazing ovens, the burning sand, and chunks of metal lifted into the air by overhead cranes. Díaz-Canel is an engineer; surely he felt at home here.
He asked the men and women on the shop floor (because there were several women) about the conditions, the salary… day-to-day life in one of the most challenging occupations around, in a foundry, amidst the heat, heavy equipment, and noise.
Alexander Martínez Pérez, director of the UEB affiliated with the Technical Industrial Services Enterprise (ZETI) which is part of the AzCuba state enterprise group, explained that the shop is devoted primarily to forging and machining spare parts for the sugar industry, though they also respond to requests from “third parties.”
Granma is an industrious province, and in the city of Bayamo, Díaz-Canel toured other industrial centers, as well, such as the Bayamo Mechanical Company (EMBA), which produces agricultural equipment, including irrigation systems and greenhouses, and visited the city’s bank of photovoltaic panels, located in the community of Payares.
FINALE IN MANZANILLO
Everywhere Diaz-Canel passed by, the people of Granma came out onto the streets to greet the President of Cuba’s Councils of State and Ministers, showing their commitment to the continuity of the Revolution.
In Manzanillo, Martí Street was jam packed. Hundreds followed him to get a closer look and everyone said the same thing, “I didn’t think so many people would come out to see him,” no matter that they were themselves among the “so many.”
The women wanted to give him a kiss and the men, a hug. We reporters witnessed this continuing tradition that has characterized the Cuban Revolution – recognition and deep affection for those leading the country, something that began with Fidel and Raúl continues. Díaz-Canel has inherited it, and perhaps because of this, has humbly reached out to his compatriots throughout the tour. He did so in a simple, open manner. It could not have been any other way.