Guantánamo, 82 kilometers east of Santiago de Cuba, is a large city (pop. 180,000) at the head of a deep bay of the same name and some 25 kilometers inland of the U.S. Naval Base, which lies at the mouth of the bay. The colonial heart of the otherwise ungainly city has been spruced up and enlivened in recent years.
Much of the population is descended from Haitian and English-speaking Caribbean immigrants who arrived in the 1920s to work in the sugar fields. The connections are strong: A British West Indian Welfare Center (an association for English-speaking descendants, locally called ingleses—Englishmen) and a Haitian cultural center, Tumba Francesa, work to keep alive the traditions and anomalous culture (Haitians are called franceses—Frenchmen).
Given the proximity of the U.S. Naval Base, there’s a strong Cuban military presence (when serious friction occurs between Cuba and the United States, the city gears up for a worst-case scenario). U.S. Marines first arrived here in June 1898 during the Spanish-Cuban-American War, following which the town developed a near-total economic dependency on the base, which employed hundreds of Cuban workers.
Prostitution was also a major industry. Says an early guidebook, “The flourishing prostitution business passed from generation to generation like titles to land, and it was not unusual to find three generations of women in service to the base.”
Getting to Guantánamo
Aeropuerto Mariana Grajales (tel. 021/32-3564), 12 kilometers east of town, is not served by international flights. Cubana (Calixto García #817, e/ Prado y Aguilera, tel. 21/32-4533) flies between Havana and Guantánamo.
The bus terminal (tel. 021/32-5588) is two kilometers south of town. Víazul (tel. 021/80121) buses for Guantánamo depart Santiago de Cuba at 7:45 a.m. (CUC6.48), and Baracoa at 2:15 p.m. (CUC10.80).
The train station (tel. 021/32-5518) is on Pedro Pérez, one block east of Paseo. Trains depart for Guantánamo from Havana at 6:25 p.m. (#5, CUC43 especial) and 8:20 p.m. (#720, CUC32, regular), and from Holguín at 2:20 p.m. (CUC6.50).
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition