While there are signs that point to the Camilo Cienguegos City, 30 miles east of Havana, no one knows the city by that name. Ask for “AIR-shee” and everyone knows what you are looking for.
Founded in 1916 by Milton S. Hershey, the town is now a ghost of its former self. The sugar mill once one of the most advanced in the world is gutted, rusty, and looks like it was hit by a bomb.
With clapboard siding, many of the original company-built homes still remain. A few still have the screened-in front porches, the only ones you see in Cuba. The stately flagstone homes where the American supervisors lived and the company hotel have all caved in.
The town of 160 homes also consisted of a public school, medical clinic, movie theater, golf course, shops, and social clubs. There was also a baseball stadium where a Hershey-sponsored team played. As well as the town, Mr. Hershey also built an electric railway between Havana and Matanzas for easier transportation of goods.
The sugar refinery was one of the most productive in the country and envied by those in neighboring towns. Hershey employees were well paid, lived in subsidized housing, and maintained the public utilities. Like in the US, there was class and racial segregation, with the supervisors living in the largest homes and workers in the smallest, and the black workers segregated to the edge of town.
With Hershey passing away in 1945 with no heirs and leaving most of his fortune to charity, the company sold the village and plant in 1948 to Julio Lobo. In 1959, when Castro took control of the government, he redistributed the homes, and had the mill and railway nationalized. It was at this time he changed the name of the town to Camilo Cienfuegos, after a friend of his who died in 1959 in a plane crash from Camaguey to Havana. The sugar produced at the plant was now being sent to the Soviet Union to sweeten their tea.
In 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union and Cuba losing their financial support, the government began shutting down all sugar plants throughout the country, and in 2003 the Hershey mill closed for good.