El Pais, Madrid, May 7, 2007
CUBA AND TOURISM
With the loss of the subsidies from the Soviet Union and Eastern
European countries in the late 1980s, the Cuban Government had no other
recourse but to accept tourism as one of its principal sources of
foreign currency. Up to that time it had vetoed the development of this
lucrative activity, despite Cuba's noteworthy conditions for development
of the so-called smokeless industry.
The considerations for rejecting tourism were based on fear of the
"ideological contamination" that would come with the visitors from
democratic countries. It must be recalled that, in the mentality of the
totalitarian Cuban leaders, the ideal of society would be a totally
isolated Cuba, free of any contamination and examples that might
jeopardize the absolute power. Their phobia of the Internet, cell
phone, DVD, videocassettes, and their raids to persecute those who
surreptitiously see and hear foreign TV were not for fun.
In the case of international tourism, although they had to swallow the
bitter pill of allowing it, reluctantly, they always intended to pull
back and, if not completely stop the activity, at least slow its
development or reduce it by a percentage, which would enable them to
manage the visitors more easily, using tourism packages taken to
places with little contact with Cubans, in cays or regions such as
Varadero, where the nationals are present only as servants. A Caribbean
version of apartheid.
The foregoing could explain now the considerable decrease in the
number of people who visit the Island and the scant advertising seen
nationally about the activity which, for some years, was called the
engine of the Cuban economy. Thus, the figures show a
considerable reduction recently. In 2006, arrivals dropped by 3.6%, a
trend which continued in January and February 2007, with declines of
7.0% and 13.0%, respectively; decisive months in the high season for
To explain this situation, the international operators point to a lack
of investment in advertising and infrastructure. To that could be added
an absurd, approximately 20.0% revaluation of the convertible peso in
relation to the US dollar, taking into consideration the 10.0% tax and
the exchange fees imposed by the Central Bank of Cuba against that
currency, as well as the effect on other currencies, including the
Euro, in the amount of 8.0%. All that done arbitrarily and without
taking into account real economic considerations, including price
increases for tourism services.
These factors are not the only ones. One would have to add the
recentralization of the Cuban economy in recent years, with a view to
strengthening the role of the State, which has resulted in slow decision
making by companies and, consequently, increased inefficiency, because
the entities do not have, among other things, their own resources in
Certainly all these measures have not been aimed solely against
tourism. The joint ventures with foreign capital have been drastically
reduced. In late 2006 there were just 236, as compared to 313 in 2004,
according to official reports.
In this respect, action has been taken against self-employment, with
many of the permitted occupations being cancelled, new permits not being
issued for several authorized occupations, or prohibitions and new taxes
on persons with licenses; all of which has resulted in a decrease in the
number of self-employed individuals, including people who rent
apartments and rooms to foreigners.
Clearly, this entire policy is the result of the fact that, a new
Soviet Union having appeared through Venezuela's subsidies,
totalitarianism feels more economically secure and wants to take
advantage of this situation to close the small spaces opened in the
1990s, including the risky – to them – international tourism, a strategy
aimed at again assuming absolute political control over society.
In these circumstances, the mechanisms established by the U.S.
authorities, aimed at isolating Cuban society from contact with its
citizens, and even with Cuban-Americans, are counterproductive and
incomprehensible. In fact, it is aligned with the policy always promoted
by the Cuban Government, of keeping the people on the Island isolated
from any outside contact. The only sensible thing that could help the
Cuban people is what was done in Eastern Europe and later in China and
Viet Nam, where the ties between the peoples were fostered and continue
to be fostered, with unquestionable success.
One would hope that, with the new balance of power in the U.S.
Congress and Senate [sic], there will be more understanding of this
matter, and that there will be a radical change in the policy toward
Cuba, especially because Cuba-U.S. relations are vital for the
democratic transition in Cuba. A climate of tension and suspicion
in the Straits of Florida has always been very helpful to the interests
of the most change-resistant sector of the Cuban Government.
So, the proposals made recently by Representatives Jeff Flake, Bill
Delahunt, Mrs. Emerson, and Charles Rangel, among other important U.S.
legislators, all made with great common sense and which, if approved,
would doubtless significantly benefit efforts on behalf of a democratic,
reconciled Cuba, where human rights are respected, are essential to Cubans.
Oscar Espinosa Chepe is a Cuban economist and journalist.