Cayo Coco: An Emporium Of Cuban Military Capitalism / Iván García
View from the pool of the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort, one of the
several hotels that the Grupo de Turismo Gaviota S.A. administers in
Cayo Coco. Taken from the blog Travel the World with Shirley A. Roe.
Ivan Garcia, 22 August 2016 — The breeze coming from the coast is a
blast of hot air that barely cools things off. The sun reverberates and
the tourists take refuge from the insufferable irradiation in a swimming
pool in the form of a huge shell, split in two by a cement walkway.
Others escape from the heat wave by tossing down beer like British
hooligans or drinking insipid mojitos one after another. The Russian and
Serbian tourists continue doing their thing: drinking vodka with ice as
if it were mineral water, leaning on the bar rail of the Memories
Flamenco Beach Resort hotel, nestled into Cayo Coco, in the archipelago
of the Jardines del Rey, north of Ciego de Ávila, a province some 360
miles to the east of Havana.
In the tiny shop, Mexican tourists ask where they can buy El Cuervo
tequila. Close by, a group of Spaniards follow on television the
performance of their compatriot, Mireia Belmonte, in the Olympic
swimming finals in Rio 2016.
There are very few Cuban tourists. Even fewer black people. Past 2:00 in
the afternoon, the Memories Flamenco hotel seems to be a plenary session
in miniature of the United Nations: East and West Europeans, Mexicans,
Hindus, Asians and Americans, who try not to call attention to their
clandestine tourism at Cayo Coco.
“Traveling to Cuba isn’t a problem. You can justify it with any of the
12 categories authorized and, although it’s not permitted legally, no
institution in the United States asks if we’re doing tourism when we
travel to the island,” comments a North American of Peruvian origin on
vacation with his wife and two kids.
The five-star hotel is located on the highway that connects Cayo Coco
with Cayo Guillermo. It has 624 rooms; 12 are suites and 4 are adapted
for the handicapped. At this moment, half of the rooms are empty. “We’re
in the low season. And even though the number of visitors to Cuba
continued growing in 2016, hotel occupancy isn’t more than 50 percent,”
says a receptionist.
Like 70 percent of Cuban tourist installations, the Memories Flamenco
hotel is administered by the Gaviota S.A. military emporium, a business
that appeared in 1989 under the auspices of Fidel Castro, on the pretext
of testing the profitability of the incipient tourist business.
“When the tourist boom began, since so much in Cuba is stolen, it wasn’t
known for sure whether a hotel would generate profits. Gaviota reduced
expenditures and raised productivity on the basis of low salaries and
internal controls,” says an employee.
Another employee, driving an electric cart that transports the recent
arrivals to their rooms, says with total frankness that “most of us
workers don’t agree with the deal they give us. Gaviota contracts only
with foreign businesses to administer their hotels. The salary is shit;
I earn 500 pesos (almost 20 dollars) a month, and since it’s a hotel
with ’everything included,’ tipping is scarce. The luggage handlers and
the maids are the ones who get extra money. But it’s always better to
work in a hotel than to be a policeman.”
Every day a maid cleans and prepares 12 rooms. Her base salary is 465
pesos/month and about 18 dollars as a stimulus. “When it’s not Juana,
it’s her sister. The truth is that we never receive a salary that
matches the number of tourists staying in the hotel. I get by, more or
less, thanks to the guests who give me two or three CUCs as a tip, and
leave me clothing and useful stuff when they go, although getting it out
of the hotel is a problem,” confesses a maid.
According to a gardener, most of the Cubans who work in management
changed their military uniforms for white or blue guayaberas and black
shoes. “They arrive from military life thinking that a hotel is operated
the same as a barracks. In addition to being rude to us, they’re
arrogant. I don’t leave, because for better or for worse, working in a
hotel is better than cutting cane.”
Most of the employees of the Memories Flamenco live in Morón, a town 50
minutes from Cayo Coco. “The work routine is very demanding. I work
seven days and get three days off. The management is treated
differently. In spite of the hotel’s good results, Gaviota doesn’t let
our families enjoy the facilities. Even the food they give us workers is
different. In general it’s very little, and poorly prepared,” confesses
a bar worker.
In addition to Memories Flamenco, there are on Cayo Coco, among others,
the hotels Memories Caribe Beach Resort, Meliá Cayo Coco, Meliá Jardines
del Rey, Pullman Cayo Coco, Pestana Cayo Coco All Inclusive Beach
Resort, Tryp Cayo Coco, Colonial Cayo Coco, Sol Cayo Coco, Playa Coco,
Playa Coco Star, Iberostar Mojito, Iberostar Cayo Coco and NH Krystal
Laguna Villas & Resort, with more than 6,700 rooms total.
The zone is designed to be an example of true tourist apartheid. At the
entrance to the isle, a police official, guarded by several soldiers
with red berets, checks the people and vehicles that enter and leave the
Ciego de Avila key.
Almost all the hotels located on Cayo Coco are administered by Gaviota,
which has plans to continue growing in the coming years. Several
brigades are building three new hotels, which will increase room
capacity even more.
Many tourists aren’t pleased with the strategy of being confined in
installations far from towns and cities. “It’s annoying; it prevents you
from interacting with people. When they put you in hotels in Havana you
can chat with Cubans on the street, but it’s impossible in the rest of
the tourist zones,” says Eusebio, an Andalusian who lives in Seville.
The same thing has happened with the construction of the Hotel
Kempinski, in the heart of the capital. Gaviota’s management prefers to
hire foreign chefs and directors before Cubans.
“It’s absurd to bring bricklayers from India or cooks from Spain. They
pay them fair salaries, but not us. It seems that whoever directs
Gaviota hates Cubans,” complains a kitchen assistant.
The dream of one of the tourist promoters is to hook up with a foreign
woman and leave the country. “My goal is to work in Miami Beach, Cancun
or Punta Cana,” he says, and he runs for cover from a drizzle that
barely alleviates the leaden heat.
When night falls, the lobby bar fills up, and in an adjoining theater,
the guests take their chairs to see the performance of Divan Sotelo, one
of the Reggae musicians in style at the moment, who was born in Havana
At this hour, one of the maids is waiting for the worker transport that
will take her home. Today was a decent day. Four convertible pesos in
tips and two half-filled bottles of shampoo that a couple of Japanese
tourists gave her.
Now she is looking for a way to take them out of the hotel without
calling attention to herself. Tomorrow, perhaps, she will have better luck.
Martí Noticias, August 19, 2016
Translated by Regina Anavy
Source: Cayo Coco: An Emporium Of Cuban Military Capitalism / Iván
García – Translating Cuba –