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The author, CNN's Havana-based correspondent, asked for years to visit this highly guarded Cuban town. In June, he and journalists from other news agencies boarded a Cuban government bus and spent about two hours there, unrestricted in where they could go and with whom they could speak.
More Videos Isolated Cuban town still calls US 'the enemy' Chat with us in Facebook Messenger. Find out what's happening in the world as it unfolds. 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.
Foreign visitors and Cubans who are not from Caimanera need special permission to visit the town, making it one of the most isolated places on the island. The Cuban government says the restrictions are in place to keep Cubans from making the dangerous journey to the base and to prevent an incident from taking place that could spark a confrontation between the two countries. But it's also steeped in decades of international tension.