The Dark Side Of Tourism in Cuba
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Viñales, 27 June 2018 — At the entrance to Calle
Obispo a guide explains to her customers the restoration works in the
historical center of Havana. A few yards away, the line to exchange
currency is full of foreigners and in the corner bar one hears English,
French and German. Tourism is shaping the face of several areas of Cuba
and becoming a problem for their residents.
“In this neighborhood you can’t even walk,” complains Idania Contreras,
a resident of Obrapía Street in Old Havana and a law graduate. “At first
people were happy because the area improved economically, but little by
little the tourists have been taking over all the spaces and this is
less and less like a neighborhood where people live.”
As a consequence of the increase in tourism, prices have also
risen. “Now buying fruits in the markets is a headache because they are
hoarded by the people who rent to tourists,” adds Contreras. “A
pineapple never costs less than 20 Cuban pesos because the private
restaurants in the area can pay that amount, because they sell the
tourists a piña colada for three times that price,” she explains. In her
view, those mainly affected are the citizens themselves who can’t afford
Contreras, who worked for a few months in a real estate management
office, says housing prices are also up in the area. “The price per
square meter has exploded around the Plaza de la Catedral, the Plaza de
San Francisco and the streets where it is most profitable streets.” She
also says that these areas are beginning to look like the center of
Barcelona or Venice, where fewer and fewer families are living.
However, she acknowledges that “the problem has not yet reached the
point of other cities in the world that receive many more tourists,” but
she is concerned because there are no “public policies to alleviate the
problems we are already experiencing.”
Contreras’s biggest fear is that there is only talk of the positive side
of tourism, while some streets in the area are already showing symptoms
of congestion and tourism activity aggravates the problems of waste
treatment and water supply.
Several regions of the island face the challenge of absorbing an
increasing number of travelers despite the precariousness of their
infrastructure. Among the areas most affected by the avalanche of
visitors are the Viñales valley, the city of Trinidad, the Varadero
resort area and the Cuban capital.
“It is very difficult for a Cuban to rent a room because homeowners
prefer to rent only tourists,” warns Gustavo, a handicraft seller near
the Casa de la Trova in the city of Trinidad, which was declared a World
Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988 and is now an obligatory stop on many of
the package tours.
“This whole area is focused on foreigners,” he says. The salesman, born
on the outskirts of Trinidad, believes that there are many people who
benefit from tourism, but on the way he has lost the city he knew as a
child. “Now it has been commodified and everything has a price, even
people,” he laments.
In all the tourist hubs, along with an increase in private businesses
there is also an increase in prostitution. “At night the discos are full
of yumas, foreigners, with young girls and it is a really pitiful show
for our children,” notes Gustavo.
“[Tourism] is more positive than negative because 30 years ago this city
had old and beautiful houses, but nothing more,” says the seller despite
his reservations about this economic sector.
Carlos and his two children live on the road to Viñales. Coming from a
family of farmers, they now sell fruit at a stand by the side of the
road. “Most of our customers are foreigners coming and going from the
Valley,” says the farmer. He hasn’t gone into town for two years
because, he says, “you can’t take a step with so many tourists.”
The winding road that leads to Viñales also suffers with the increase of
vehicles. “It’s a rare week that there is not an accident in this
section,” recounts Carlos while pointing to one of the curves near his
house. The number of travelers interested in the area seems to have
grown, but the seller points out that the streets and roads remain the
same and that no expansion has been undertaken.
Carlos’s closest neighbors have a thriving business that offers
horseback rides to travelers. They gain much more from
these “ecotours” than they could sowing beans or tobacco, another change
that is due to the avalanche of visitors. “Before this was predominantly
a farming area with strong traditions, but now everything is being
lost,” he says.
A few yard away, a tobacco drying shed stands with its gabled roof and
its walls made of logs. In the interior, a peasant shows a dozen
tourists how the leaves re dried. “This shed has been set up for groups
who want to see how the process is done, it’s pure showcase,” says
Carlos. “In this town everything is already like this.”
Source: The Dark Side Of Tourism in Cuba – Translating Cuba –