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Entry to this town requires a special pass for nonresidents, and even Cubans can wait weeks for permission to visit family here. A Cuban military checkpoint marks its access road. And nearby still looms a faded billboard that reads, "This is the first anti-imperialist trench. Caimanera, Cuba -- just across Guantanamo Bay from the notorious US naval base -- is surrounded by guard towers, bomb shelters dug into the hillsides, concealed military encampments and miles of cactus ordered planted by Fidel Castro.
Long before "Gitmo" gained notoriety as the prison where terrorism suspects were sent to indefinitely await trial, this no man's land was dubbed the "Cactus Curtain" by the US Marines who stood guard, eyeball to eyeball with Cuban soldiers. Thousands of land mines were planted around Caimanera as the base lingered as a potential Cold War flashpoint, each side watching anxiously for any miscalculation, any provocation that could lead to a greater conflict.
In some ways, this town-turned-military zone of 11, residents is like any other, with relatives watching from wooden porches as children splash in the tranquil, light blue water. But it's also steeped in decades of international tension. Here, residents told CNN, a day doesn't go by without the sound of machine-gun fire, mortars or some other threat drifting to them across the bay. The activity continues as, far from here, a new leader -- one not named Castro -- has taken the reins of this island nation, while US President Donald Trump oversees freshly tightened travel restrictions and sanctions against the Communist state.
It's perhaps why, unlike their countrymen elsewhere, people here still refer to Americans on the Navy base with a term that reflects a conflict still quite unresolved: el enemigo -- the enemy. The two nations soon signed an indefinite lease for the square-mile plot that served as home to the oldest military base maintained overseas by the United States -- though critics now say Cuba was in no position to reject its terms.
The bayside villages grew to house thousands of Cubans who found work at the American outpost -- and also became home to rows of brothels frequented by US servicemen. All that changed in , when Castro took control in Cuba, and his revolutionary government clashed with the United States. Both countries accused the other of using the base as provocation for war. To prevent Cubans seeking to flee to the United States via Gitmo, Caimanera and towns like it became militarized zones -- closely watched and off limits to outsiders.