Isbel Diaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban State appears to know no limits when it comes to strategies for milking the last penny out of those who visit the island. Even Havana’s sprawling Necropolis de Colon cemetery is used as a tourist trap.
Though I am constantly cutting across this, the country’s most important cemetery, it was only recently that I found out that, while allowing Cubans free access to the premises, the necropolis charges non-nationals a 5 Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) ($5.50 usd) admission.
I became aware of this while trying to show a Latin American friend, a lover of Cuba and its revolution, one of the city’s most beautiful places in terms of sculptural and architectural art.
A few steps beyond the gigantic Carrara marble monument that adorns the cemetery entrance, when I was just about to show my friend the tomb of Jose Marti’s mother, a gatekeeper ran up to us and demanded that the young foreigner pay the admission.
I must confess I felt deeply embarrassed. Neither I nor my friend could afford to pay 5 CUCs to walk among those tombs, no matter how beautiful they may be.
It didn’t exactly matter to us that many experts consider the necropolis the second most important cemetery in the world, preceded only by the Staglieno cemetary located in Geneva, Italy. The fact of the matter was that we could not and did not want to pay for something that couldn’t even be described as a service.
My friend is a young university professor who had traveled to Cuba to participate in a scientific forum. He had come, not to throw away money on prostitutes or discos, but to enjoy the country’s people and culture.
He had come for work-related reasons and to enrich himself spiritually, not to enrich the island’s tourism companies. He had come to visit his friends, who have known him for thirteen years.
For Cuba’s tourism industry, every foreigner is a potential tourist. This industry tends to forget, however that they are dealing with human beings, each with his or her own life history, interests and social status.
What might have happened, I wondered, if the foreigner they had approached had come to visit the grave of their mother in Cuba? How could the gatekeeper know, ultimately, that my friend was a foreigner, without having seen his ID? From his facial features? Were we witness to a racist gesture?
I don’t believe this 57-hectare historical site should be devoid of mechanisms for raising hard-currency revenues, needed for restoration efforts. It is clear, however, that it must re-evaluate its current strategies, which do nothing but frighten visitors away.
As for us, we went out of what has been the largest mortuary in the Americas since 1854 and took some pictures from behind its surrounding, barred fencing. I intend to go back soon wearing sandals, a Panama hat and a camera to see if they try to charge me 5 CUC to go in.