Reforestation Center Cuba

2 Hours in the hands of Cuban Counter-Intelligence

I traveled to the city of Guisa on my last trip through Cuba.  This was specifically to visit the Sierra Maestre Reforestation Center, designed by Walter Betancourt.

When I arrived at the Reforestation Center I begged and pleaded to take photographs, but I was given the most common answer one receives in Cuba, “Sorry my boss is not here so I can not allow you in”. This is code for just about everything, and in this case I am sure it was because the gentleman didn’t want to give up time in his busy schedule, sitting behind a non-functioning computer and being paid for it.

Walter Betancourt ArchitectWhile standing in the street taking photos, I noticed a groundskeeper working by a gate at the end of the property. I asked for permission to enter the gate and take a few photos of the out-buildings that are part of the Reforestation Center, the groundskeeper opened the gate and let me in.  In about 5 minutes the original gentleman found me and chased me away.

End of the story…  My next stop was the Mirador, a restaurant/bar at the top of the highest hill in Guisa, for a beer and some stunning scenery.

Mirador Guisa CubaUpon leaving town my driver was pulled over. This is very common and is to ensure that the driver I hired has a chauffers license and is not making any illegal money on the side.  I knew I had hired a legal driver so I had no worries.

The next thing I knew I was being asked for my passport.  Now, I have traveled throughout Cuba on day trips and I never carry my passport.  In fact I never carry my passport no matter what country I am in, as it is just too easy to loose it.

At this point I was asked to leave the car and follow the officer.  The next thing I knew I was being placed into a room with a window and a view of a lovely acacia tree.  The gentleman repeated many times that I was in no trouble but they had several questions.  I must interject at this point and state that the gentleman interviewing was truly a gentleman but he also did not speak ONE WORD of English.

There were several questions but the highlights, and my answers are as follows:

What do you think of the Castro Regime?
I don’t have an opinion.
Why not?
It is not my country.
You can have an opinion?
No, I do not live in this country so my opinion is of no consequence, if I lived here I would have the right to an opinion, but since I do not, I have no opinion.

Confusion abounds on the interviewers face.

What do you think of the embargo.
It is reality.
What do you mean?
 Well, if I were Queen of the World, no human on earth would need a passport, but I am not Queen of the World.

Small gentle smile on my interviewers face.

What do you think of Donald Trump?
 I am horrified of what he is going to do to the present Cuban American relations.

Big smile on my interviewers face.

What do they ask you when you leave the United States to come to Cuba?
They do not ask anything, I must simply check of one of 12 appropriate reasons I am visiting in a box on a piece of paper.

Complete and utter confusion on my interviewers face.

That can not be all?
Yes that is all.
What do they ask you when you return from Cuba to the United States?
They do not ask me anything.

More confusion and shock on my interviewers face.

How Many Times Have you been to Cuba?
Three times this year
When will you be returning to Cuba?
I do not know.
Why do you not know?
 Well I am planning on going to India to plant trees.

Now the look of holy shit I have a space alien on my hands begins to coalesce.

Why would you plant trees?
Many countries are not as green as Cuba and planting trees is necessary for the environment.

Yep I have a space alien on my hands.

Who will you plant these trees for?
The Buddhists.

OK, that does it, just lock this woman up, she is bat shit crazy.

Buddhists what are Buddhists?
A form of religion in India.
A religion?  Yes a form of religion.
Are you a Christian?
No.
A religion?
I feel no need to repeat my answers so I simply smile.
Is that the only religion in India?
No they have Hindi as well.
Hindi?

OK head about to explode, must retreat from room, crazy is possibly contagious.

Me:  Might I have some water?

He runs out to get my driver to go buy me a bottle of water, then returns gently sitting back down in the chair behind his desk, with its ubiquitous non-functioning computer.

You understand that there are many sensitive military sites in Sierra Maestre?
No I did not.
And yet you were taking pictures.
Yes I was, but of buildings, I only take pictures of buildings, that is what I do.
Show me.

I must tell you reader, that I had anticipated this question, so before anyone was aware of what was happening I had already slipped the photo chip into my bra.  I have a camera with two chips, so there were still photos in my camera.

I began to show him buildings I had taken in Greece.  He asked if these were photos of his office building, well, unless your building is the Temple of the Wind in the Plaka in Athens, I hardly think so, but no was all I said.

He: We are now going to call another officer in that speaks English, so please sit and wait.
I waited, and waited, and waited.

The next thing I knew a woman of about 50 and a gentleman of the same age entered.  They also did not speak a word of English, but their patois Spanish was impossible for me to comprehend.

They scolded me for traveling without a passport, they took down illegible notes on an official form, and asked me to sign the paper. They now have my parents names, and my passport number in a little file somewhere, and that was the end of that.