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Latest update : 2012-01-13

Guantanamo prison, through Cuban eyes

Despite US President Barack Obama’s promise to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, 171 men are still locked up there. Our reporters went to the two villages closest to the barbed wire surrounding the military base and met the Cubans living beside these awkward neighbours. It is a sensitive zone, just a few metres from the American watchtowers.

You always get the same feeling as soon as you leave the village of La Maya, half-way between Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo, that of arriving on a forbidden planet. This is due to the phantasmal word GUANTANAMO. For many people, Guantanamo still brings to mind the notorious image of the prison of suspected Taliban fighters. Approaching it does nothing to contradict this feeling.

Half-way down the 20-kilometre-long strip of tarmac which leads to the town, you are ordered to slow down. A “verde”, a Cuban soldier, comes out of his post, asks for your documents and inspects the boot. Guantanamo is tense...

And yet... It all changes as soon as you head to parque Marti, in the town centre. A few “yumas”, tourists, few and far between, who are on their way to Baracoa in the north, discover, much to their surprise, that there are no bars on the windows, that the prison wardens are mostly female, smiley and attractive, and that the public notices do not announce the curfew but rather a “descarga” evening, a salsa night, at the Casa de la Musica.

Guantanamo Town is 20 kilometres from “Guantanamo prison”, on the US military base.

By François MISSEN , Alexandre DEREIMS

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