Varadero is no longer a prohibited city, but… / Ivan Garcia
Posted on August 24, 2013
In a country such as Cuba not known for its middle class, few are the
families who can give themselves the luxury of paying between 300 and
800 convertible pesos for a three or four night package in an “all
included” hotel of Varadero.
Even though an employee at a Havana tourism bureau mechanically repeats
a string of numbers and statistics, to reinforce the thesis of the
increase in Cuban tourists in 4 and 5-star hotels, behind the numbers
are different hidden matrices.
Nothing is black and white. Less so in Cuba, where an average citizen
receives a monthly salary in pesos equivalent to 15 or 25 dollars.
According to predictions of the Ministry of Tourism for 2013 almost
1.5 million Cubans could take a dip in Varadero.
This is good news. But the fabulous beach and the comfort of its hotels
are still not within the reach of the majority. One and a half million
Cubans represents 10% of the total population.
A not so gratifying percent for a government that shouts their heads off
with populist discourse in favor of the poor. Behind a series of
nationalizations, decrees and expropriation of businesses, mansions and
works of art of the Cubans who generated riches, the middle class
Many felt obligated to flee to the South of Florida. The number of
doctors and engineers on the island dropped by more than half. With a
base of voluntarism and utopias, a frenzied Che Guevara buries the rules
of the economy underground.
All the summer properties that upper and middle class people possessed
in Varadero became the summer homes of the heavyweights in the
revolutionary state. Other homes swelled the real estate funds of the
Workers Central Union of Cuba (CTC), in charge of giving a week of rest
to the most loyal and dedicated workers.
The carelessness, lack of maintenance, looting and robbery of
vacationers in the hotels and villas, caused the best beach in Cuba to
enter a stage of destitution. It was pitiful to see the splendid
chalets destroyed by the salty air and state apathy. Sometime in the
80s, when the soviet paradise of workers and peasants cut the subsidies
to the island, Fidel Castro decided to bet on capitalist tourism.
With the fall of the Berlin wall and the shabby Soviet communism, Castro
maintained his anti-Yankee discourse and continued brandishing a sermon
agreeable to the ears of the dispossessed. But, in practice, they
started dismantling the “benefactor state.”
The houses owned by the unions were expropriated and renovated by the
State. They rented them in dollars, the money of Castro’s enemy. But
the generals, ministers, and functionaries maintained their residences
and floated their yachts in Varadero.
The “dedicated compatriots” had no other choice than to spend their
vacations in the country, swim in rivers and shores or beaches without
conditions. Varadero turned into a prohibited city. Only the
inhabitants and workers of the town had access. A police control
station was put up on a bridge entering the city.
Chubby Europeans or Canadians went arm in arm with male and female
prostitutes who target tourists. The families and friends of the
“worms” and “scum” also had the green light. Cuban-Americans who,
thanks to their buying power, were now received by the regime with a red
It was an era of embarrassing apartheid. The Cubans could not dine in a
restaurant of a hotel or enter the room of a foreigner. We were 3rd
class citizens in our own country.
Raul Castro, appointed to the presidency by his brother, overturned the
absurd anti-constitutional norms. Since 2008 any Cuban with hard
currency can enjoy a stay in tourist installations anywhere in the country.
However banned zones exist. Exclusive. Reserved areas to hunt wild
boar, golf courses and villas designated for high officials. But they
are becoming fewer. From 2008 to the date, gradually, national tourism
Varadero is the preferred enclave for the majority of Havana’s
residents, for its proximity to the capital–some 80 miles–its 52 hotels
and dozens of private homes for rent.
Those with less money, for 70 or 80 pesos (3 dollars) a head, rent a bus
and spend eight hours on the beach. They bring water, food and cheap
rum. These tend to be day trips arranged under the table, and the bus
driver and the transport boss of some company split the profits evenly.
There are families who save the whole year and in summer rent a private
home. The costs are not within reach for the average Cuban: 40 CUC (the
cheapest) and 100 CUC, daily.
And then there’s the “all included” option. The preference of those
with certain purchasing power. First of all, they reserve and pay in
one of the various tourist travel agencies (Cubatur, Cubanacan, Gaviota,
Isa Azul or Gran Caribe).
Each agency has a variety of offers. Cubanacan, Gran Caribe and Gaviota
are the most expensive. They offer rooms in 4 and 5-star hotels. A 3 or
4-night stay costs around 600 convertible pesos.
Cubatur and Isla Azul are the most affordable. For 300 CUC you can
enjoy 4 days of sun and sea. The difference in price marks the quality
of service. In the hotels grouped under Cubanacan, Gran Caribe and
Gaviota you find the Spanish names Melia and Barcelo and the food is
more varied and elaborate.
A brief survey of 30 Cubans, pertaining to this 10% who can spend a mini
vacation in Varadero, found that 14 could enjoy this thanks to money
sent by family in the United States or Europe. Eight were discreet
prostitutes. Four, worked for themselves and saved the money.
The other four Cubans had been voluntary workers overseas and with
savings, or certain under the table services, such as illegal abortions
or plastic surgery, this allowed them to repair their house, acquire a
car and enjoy a stay in Varadero.
In the “all included” hotels it is very difficult to find a professional
or worker who can manage a vacation with their miserable salary of 15 to
25 dollars a month.
With this mess in the media, Cuba has fragmented into castes. And the
hotels of Varadero have been converted into recreational sites for a few.
Photo: Until 1976 the city or town of Varadero, where the most famous
beach in Cuba is found, was a municipality. But since 2010 it was
reincorporated into Cardenas, one of the 13 municipalities that today
form the province of Matanzas.
24 August 2013
Source: “Varadero is no longer a prohibited city, but… / Ivan Garcia |
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