Today, it is the heart of the movement against the Castro dictatorship.
In the last couple of years, we have witnessed the rise of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), a non-violent pro-democracy group led by former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer.
UNPACU has quickly grown into a full-blown movement in the eastern provinces. Not a day goes by that there's not a protest, vigil or organizational drive by its supporters.
Famed Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez described its leader best:
"José Daniel, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), is today State Security’s main headache in the East of the country. He occupies that place -- admirable but dangerous -- in part because his every word projects honesty and determination. Good-natured, young, conciliatory, he has managed to revive a dissident movement languishing between repression and the exile of some of its members. His drawing power, and the respect many have for him, comes also from his perseverance and, in particular, from the fact that he is quicker to embrace than to distrust. He has become a human-bridge between several citizen projects and, right now, that makes him a sharp stone in the Cuban government’s shoe."
Now, Hurricane Sandy has tragically hit Santiago, causing horrible devastation. The city's already disgruntled citizens remain without electricity, running water and very little food.
Not surprisingly, the first thing the Castro regime did upon Hurricane Sandy's impact was to block Jose Daniel Ferrer's cell phone. They wanted to severely limit his communications.
Days later, state media is still providing very little information about the hurricane's damage, while independent journalists and activists are being routinely arrested. They are being warned that the regime will not tolerate any independent reporting on the hurricane's damage and the citizenry's needs.
Raul Castro has even gotten off his comfortable dictatorial perch and traveled to Santiago, where he asked residents to "resist" -- "resist" what? Opposition to his dictatorship?
And predictably, Raul called in his friend Hugo Chavez to send personnel and aid, which he badly needs to control and distribute -- but only as he sees fit.
That's because he knows Santiago is at a crossroads.