Cuba, a ‘Paradise’ That Is Beginning to Scare Canadians

Canadian tourists in Havana’s Central Park. / 14ymedio

By Karel J. Leyva (14ymedio)

HAVANA TIMES – Attracted by its beaches, warm climate, the hospitality of its people and competitive prices, Canadians have traditionally considered Cuba as a tourist destination without equal. Not only a vacation paradise, but also a reliable healthcare bastion. Even Canadian political leaders did not spare their praise for Cuban medical care, fueling confidence in the services offered.

However, times have changed, a lot. Canadians’ perception of Cuba is undergoing a 180-degree turn, and not exactly towards a postcard of palm trees and mojitos. This change is due to multiple reasons that could definitively discourage travelers from choosing the Island as their vacation destination.

First, and this is crucial, Canadian government authorities have gone from encouraging the flow of tourists to Cuba to issuing warnings about the risks involved in visiting the Island. The Canadian Government is strongly asking citizens to exercise a “high degree of of caution” when considering a trip to Cuba. It should be noted that, for many Canadians, whose culture is impregnated with what is known as high-context communication — filled with euphemisms and avoiding strong statements — this is equivalent to high alert.

What do Canadian authorities communicate to their citizens? Well, they warn travelers about the serious shortage of food, medicine and fuel in Cuba. They insist on the increase in violence, assaults and financial scams, including credit card fraud and the risks associated with ATMs empty of cash.

In addition, they warn about poor security for women, the lack of reliability in telecommunications, complications in online transactions and the prevalence of theft of bags and wallets in tourist spots, markets, public buses, nightclubs and beaches. They warn that thefts from hotel rooms and vehicles are common occurrences in Cuba and explicitly advise keeping windows and doors securely closed, not resisting in the event of robberies, and being cautious when using debit or credit cards.

And that’s not all. Canadian authorities inform travelers that Cuba’s health care infrastructure is critically deficient, with a marked lack of medications, supplies and equipment, compounded by insufficient hygiene practices, slow responses to emergencies and, to top it all off, inadequate mental health services (certainly necessary in the event of a crisis in any of the situations described above).

In fact, the Canadian government asks travelers, if they still decide to take the risk of going to Cuba, to carry their own supplies of medications due to the presence of diseases such as the Zika virus, cholera, hepatitis A, typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases.

With the additional threats of vector-borne and zoonotic diseases such as chikungunya, dengue fever, West Nile virus and malaria, personal health preparedness, they suggest, is crucial. All of these risks have been confirmed and exposed by the Leadership and Democracy Lab at Western University (London, Ontario).

To all this (and especially to the fact that it is announced by a Government in which its citizens have a high degree of trust) are added the “traveller reviews.” And I’m not just referring to the ones they leave on websites that are, of course, consulted when making a decision, but to the warnings that these travelers have been giving to their families, neighbors, friends, colleagues and, of course, If that were not enough, to the press.

Recently, the dream of an idyllic vacation in Cuba was described in numerous Canadian media outlets as a nightmare. Complaints range from the presence of cockroaches and dirty guest areas to children being robbed in their own rooms, to a lack of food and bottled water supplies and even a shortage of toilet paper for guests.

Canadian tourist Deanna Lang took legal action against Sunwing travel agency in Manitoba, seeking to recover C$8,000 (about US$5,830) spent on what turned out to be a disastrous vacation at the Memories Varadero Beach Resort (a well-known name: it is guaranteed that she will never forget that unfortunate stay). Additionally, Lang criticized the resort staff’s ineffective response to her complaints and the challenges she faced in communicating with Sunwing representatives during her stay.

A couple from Ontario had a similar experience earlier this year at the Meliá Marina resort in Varadero. Their unfortunate experience began right upon arriving at the hotel, the conditions of which they described as “deplorable.” The elevators were out of service, forcing the couple to use the stairs. They then found themselves in dark hallways, illuminated only by flashing lights, so they had to use the flashlights on their cell phones to make their way. The presence of cigarette butts, stains on the walls and, most alarmingly, what appeared to be blood stains on the sheets, made them feel like they were starring in a horror movie, details that they did not fail to comment on extensively to the press.

Unacceptable accommodation conditions, including issues with room cleanliness and a faulty toilet facility, led the couple to explore the resort in search of some redemption in the amenities on offer, only to find further signs of neglect, squalor and disrepair. Even when, after much effort, they managed to be transferred to another hotel, they found similar conditions, including a lack of toilet paper and running water. The couple, who spent almost 7,000 Canadian dollars on the trip, were compensated only 150 dollars.

Another experience widely reported in the Canadian press is the case of Caroline Tétrault. Caroline had the terrible luck of having to undergo emergency surgery in a Cuban hospital. Her husband, Christian Maurais, told several media outlets about all the needs they experienced, from not being able to get into the ambulance because of the defective stretcher to the precariousness of obtaining the necessary antibiotics. They had to ask family and friends for help to get medical supplies from Canada.

Christian narrated on television how he had to resort to the black market to acquire specific foods required for Caroline’s liquid diet. When asked what message he wanted to convey, he warned other travelers about the importance of researching the quality of medical services and health infrastructure before traveling abroad. Due to this experience, the couple has decided not to return to Cuba.

I could continue listing reasons, from the political activity of the Cuban exile in Canada and the awareness work they carry out in public spaces, to the position of open criticism of the Cuban Government by senators and members of the Canadian parliament for the county’s more than 65 years of repression and its constant violations of human rights.

The truth is that when Cuba appears in the news in Canada it is no longer to praise it as a paradisiacal and warm place, but to show the horrors faced by the daring people who decide to travel there against the warnings of their Government. Horrors that can include the body of a deceased relative being mistakenly sent to Russia, while the wrong body is received in Canada.

When Canadians hear about Cuba, it is about its ties to Cuban mercenaries involved in the war in Ukraine, about its brutal practices, about the people’s desire to liberate themselves and, what touches Canadians most closely, about the already widely publicized fact that the misery imposed on the Cuban people has metastasized, and not even tourists, the jewel in the crown, are safe from precariousness, chaos and fear.

The difference is that while the Cuban people lie crushed by the dictatorship and their options to free themselves from so much oppression entail risks, Canadians can simply choose another tourist destination. Fortunately, they have the enviable luck of being able to say what Caroline’s husband declared to Radio-Canada: “Cuba is over for us.”

Translated by Translating Cuba.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

13 thoughts on “Cuba, a ‘Paradise’ That Is Beginning to Scare Canadians

  • As a 30t time visitor, Cuba is stumbling and we are throwing in the keys. Way, way to much to do without (milk,, pop,,food, and vitamins
    Dr. Are WORLD CLASS. HAD very bad lung infection and they cleared it up. Their Dr’s are 1st rate working with less than adequate equipment. Have money & bring clothes to stay warm. Memories Flamenco 20 times, Tryp resort 3 times, Grand Astor once was enough, and Melia resort.
    Told Dr. I had minor breathing issues un way home……….very minor. Shit, called pilot 3000 miles & they said chance I was Pissed, ready to kick him off. Never Cuba again, although some of our best friends are making turnips and making ends meat to survive
    WORST FOOD EVER.

  • How nice and comfortable for Connect Rotary to be able to ignore the hunger, repression, abject poverty and struggle to exist by the average Cuban. To develop a perspective where reality is ignored in favour of complacency. To prattle about how to “empower” Cubans suffering under a tyrannical dictatorship is cynicism in the extreme. What goes around rotates!

  • Oh boo hoo Canadians you poor things can’t experience a cheap luxury vacation. (US citizens feel the same way, tourist are an ugly bunch.)
    WAKE up …Cubans don’t get vacations!!!
    If you want to enjoy your vacation, Change your perspective and you will enjoy Cuba again. Go stay in the countryside privately owned Casas and eat in the privately owned restaurants. The people are warm and friendly and will take special care of you for $10-50 a day. The food is much better than the government places. Give your business to privately owned places and not those all-inclusive government owned and operated rip -off locations. Yes the beaches are beautiful. Visit the beaches. Rent a taxi and go but then go back to your little quaint clean room or apartment.
    That will change everything. That will empower people.

  • My last vacation to Cuba was in 2015 and it was well on its way to becoming a stink hole even in the tourist destinations by that time. While I realize they live under a tyrannical government, they also must accept that is the government that they wanted originally. Sometimes you have to let them sleep in the bed they made. What a terrible waste of a beautiful island and great people. And to think Canada is rapidly becoming a stink hole.

  • Giles Slade you state: “So please just don’t go.”

    I totally disagree with this advice regarding visitors to Cuba.

    First, let me layout the premise of my objection. I totally agree with the sentiments stated that the Cuban economic situation for the majority of Cubans is absolutely deplorable to say the least. And the fault lies squarely on the shoulders of the repressive, totalitarian government who as you so eloquently expressed: “. . . have the hearts and souls of mafiosi).” I am in agreement with that sentiment.

    Many Cubans with the means and many without are exiting the island. Who can blame them. They, especially the young, see no future living a life with no freedom of expression, no opportunity to influence change, no chance for economic advancement, basically in a nutshell – a hopeless situation.

    Nevertheless, those left behind are perpetually stranded. They must survive with what they can muster. They need help. From where can that essential help come from but from outside visitors. Those tourists who have been to Cuba, have witnessed the misery, now are being advised to boycott Cuba for other Caribbean localities.

    So what happens to all those Cuban hotel, motel, restaurant workers, taxi drivers, bus drivers, etc., etc., all who will be instantly unemployed when next to no one appears at resorts? What happens to the plethora of Cuban families who rent out rooms to tourists when no one shows up?

    Misery steeped upon more misery is what happens. Is that the solution to the economic crises in Cuba perpetrated upon proud everyday Cubans trying to survive ? Boycott, in fact boycott the entire island.

    The existing misery and economic hardships will be further perpetuated to an even greater amount among the all ready desperate Cubans. Thousands upon thousands of Cubans employed in the tourism sector will be severely and adversely affected if the tourism sector completely collapses.

    So easy for us Westerners to sit in our comfortable communities and plan the next vacation somewhere where we are sheltered and sequestered from human hardships. You are absolutely correct in stating “ . . . all of the money you spend in this broken, collapsed, and honestly very creepy nation goes to support the current generation of thieves.” True.

    However, as the old adage says: Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. Absolutely the corrupt Cuban government receives a good portion of all tourist money spent on the island. That cannot be avoided, unfortunately. But, all those Cuban workers- the thousands of them – who work in the tourist trade, from the hotel chambermaids to the taxi drivers, also receive in remuneration tourist dollars which greatly sustains them and their families. So, no doubt, they the voiceless would appreciate continued support.

    Informed tourists with families and who make safety a top priority may not be interested in, as you state: “. . . that wildly drunken beach party . . . “ and will continue to visit Cuba, despite its described challenges. And that is a good thing for at least some Cubans – better some tourists than none.

  • The excellent article and the comments in response, illustrate that tolerance of the Cuban dictatorship by tourists from the democratic capitalist world has ended. Those of us who know Cuba well, now recognize that Cubans have perforce embarked upon a period of pain. The abject and callous support by Diaz-Canel for Putin’s endeavor to simply eradicate Ukraine as a country and absorb it and its people is unacceptable to those concerned with freedom. Many have lived in hope that life for Cubans may improve, but realize that such thoughts are folly. I have written many times that in Cuba: “nothing changes”. That is no longer correct, almost every aspect of what was already a difficult life under State repression, has become even worse. The shortage of power to produce electricity, coupled with incompetent levels of management, not only causes the daily prolonged black-outs, but now is affecting water supplies. For Diaz_Canel who knows nothing of any alternative to that system that has ruled in Cuba throughout his life, his only response is to tour supposed friends, with his well polished begging bowl outstretched. But even such friends grow weary of increasing pleas. Sadly, many long-term supporters of Cuban families, have quite simply had enough, and seek happier holiday spots. Those of us with homes and families in Cuba, will perforce continue to spend time there, but doing so and experiencing the pain of watching friends and neighbours trying to find ways to feed the children and to simply exist is distressing. The reality is that only political change will relieve the agony.

  • There is little left in beautiful Cuba after 60+ years of theft by the rapacious people in power: (they call themselves “communists”, but they have the hearts and souls of mafiosi). The current ‘president’ was simply chosen by Raoul Castro as the nation’s leader. There are elections, but they are not “free and fair” as the saying goes.

    Tourists can buy anything they want or need since they have access to foreign dollars, but there;’s is no money to repair the resort hotels or even to fix the potholes in big cities. For ordinary Cubans there is NO food, NO purified water, NO electric power, NO gasoline (hence no transportation to and from work) and NO liberty. The streets of Havana are dark at night. They have also become dangerous since inflation is a demon who follows its own rules.

    These days, if there is ANY civil unrest, the government shuts down the Internet so ordinary Cubans will not organize and demonstrate. Ordinary Cubans call their daily lives ‘la lucha’ or the struggle. This current period has become the most difficult one ever to live on the island: it is widely acknowledged that the economic and social situation now is more difficult than it was just after the collapse of the Soviet Union (the so-called “special economic period”) when all Soviet foreign assistance to Cuba ended suddenly.

    As bad as it was in those days, things are much worse now. In desperation people flee the island in rickety boats or join the Russian Army to fight in Ukraine just so they can get out and get a meal. This is what you’re supporting when you buy a cheap flight to Varadero in the midst of a chilly Canadian winter.

    Many of the people i meet who still go to the island are older male, sex tourists [Canadian and American] eager to encounter jiniteras –pretty young girls– who sell themselves for less money than your evening bar tab. Among these tourists, the asses of Cuban women are the principal attraction and topic of conversation since the mixture of races that occurred on the island since the days of Columbus has resulted in a nation of readily available women (read VERY poor) with really nice heinies and a healthy attitude towards sex. [I’m just telling the truth]. The social reality of this has become quite ugly. Honestly, the desperation of ordinary people to leave their home is nearly as intense as it is in Haiti. For this reason, it is impossible to have an ordinary relationship with an ordinary Cuban.

    No matter how poor you are, they desperately need your wealth to get the next meal.

    So please just don’t go.

    The Cubans themselves have to throw off their oppressors. They have been trying to do this since the time of Columbus, and for 3 years they actually succeeded. But Cuba is not now free and will not be free again until a lot of blood has been shed. And until they achieve that freedom, all of the money you spend in this broken, collapsed, and honestly very creepy nation goes to support the current generation of thieves.

    Informed tourists looking for that wildly drunken beach party are now flocking to Dominca, the Dominican Republic, Belize and Yucatan. I’m too old for drunken beach parties, but I like pyramids

    Southern Mexico has the mother load.

  • Stephen: No need to be so touchy. I am one of those people who have stayed long term in casas for over 10 years. I am also one of those people who have taken many suitcases of supplies to Cuba in addition to shipping many items to Cuba, to the tune of over 10K. My contributions to Cuban society have been more than generous. And it has been like pouring sand down a rat hole, there is never enough. The suffering is still present. I am very aware of that fact.

    Fortunately, many of the people I have taken suitcases to over the years, have been able to immigrate to other countries and are no longer suffering under the Cuban regime.

  • I completely agree with the article. Family members had traveled by the necessity to help whoever was left behind on their family members; another life line to the government of Cuba besides Tourism. Things are a lot worse even worse than during the infamous special period in the 1990’s. Read about it.
    Socialism has destroyed many countries like Nicaragua, Venezuela and including Cuba of course.

  • Jennifer you write: “If someone can enjoy themself while watching those around them suffer from basic shortages and human rights violations, then Cuba is the place for you to vacation.” This statement is heartless.

    Who in their right mind would, as you emphatically write: “. . . enjoy themself while watching those around them suffer from basic shortages . . . “? Perhaps a sadistic, inhumane person.

    You have a myopic understanding of what kind of tourist vacations in Cuba. There are various vacation tourist types. I will edify two types.

    One, the vacationer who goes down for one week, or two week or longer to the beach on an all inclusive resort and, as you state “ . . . of staying drunk.” Most rarely do these types venture outside the resort and prefer to be cocooned and coddled beach side, and/or in the pool. The only Cubans they encounter are the privileged ones working at the resort.

    The vacationers receive a skewed sense of Cuban culture and society because these resort employees must always exude smiles and happiness as part of their employment. To do otherwise is to risk losing their privileged positions. At the end of the vacationers’ sequestered sojourn, they know next to zero about how the majority of Cubans live. And perhaps they could care less.

    Second, are the vacationers who go down and stay with a Cuban family for their one, or two, or lengthy vacation. They stay in what are called “casas particulars”. Some vacationers have been going to Cuba for decades and have stayed with the same Cuban family all the while. These vacationers like the ones at the resorts also enjoy themselves fully. They enjoy and partake in the Cuban culture and have some insight how Cuban society operates. To that end, they also witness the immense suffering ordinary Cubans must undergo on a daily basis. Do they enjoy watching their friends in such misery? Obviously not.

    Yet, Jennifer, these humanitarians are not inhumane sadists as perhaps you infer. These tourists come down with suitcases full of critical commodities like medicines, toiletries, foodstuffs, clothing for children, school supplies for children … etc. Whatever their host Cuban family, relatives , neighbours, absolutely need, the vacationer helps. When they return to Canada, or whatever country they come from, they have a list of additional humanitarian supplies to bring next time around to their impoverished Cuban friends.

    So, Jennifer, you may want to enlighten your understanding about “the majority of people”, as you state, specifically Canadians, who are Cuban vacationers. Canadian vacationers to Cuba are not all one homogeneous group as you portray them, far from it.

  • The majority of people go to Cuba to enjoy the beach and a week or two of staying drunk. One of the main questions asked on travel forums from Canadians going to resorts is: “Is their alcohol?”

    Canadians aren’t into independent travel. Independent travelers now have to pack everything as if they are going on an overseas camping trip. Who wants to pack their own lighting and cooling systems, in addition to toilet paper, food and medicines?

    If someone can enjoy themself while watching those around them suffer from basic shortages and human rights violations, then Cuba is the place for you to vacation. As for me, I’m through with Cuba.

  • What kind of leader is Miguel who would let his country start going down a sinkhole ? YOU had us Canadians routing for your country, willing to go, spending long weeks there , even months. We have banded together for years to help provide extras for the Cubans but now it’s beyond comprehension.. how we must bring not just bandaids and bug spray but a whole medicine cabinet… should we need more than a simple band aide or tylenol. We also have to bring protein snacks, toilet paper, spare sheets, disinfectants, ….. not for Cubans, for us.. the tourists. I have been blessed going to Holguin hotels and finding them almost better supplied than the Veradero hotels.. wow , what a switch. I don’t eat meat and bread much so the many dishes of fruit and veggies, rice , soups and salads was fine for me. But i see the trending and it’s looking bad Miguel…. who seems to be holding fast to the old mantra of Stalin and Krushev. everything goes to the “state” .

  • It was May 2012 & having a difficult time just Booking a 30-night stay in Cayo Coco. I had to be reminded that I had only one week to go & I would be on my way home, then all I could think of, who could help me stay longer (extended stay, change my Flight, I’m staying) Retirment on an island paradise. After that & into 2013 a total of 4 visits months was my first visits to Cuba. Where did everything go wrong, who gave up on the Canadian Tourist. Many Canadians had plans of winter Retirment life & Not in the south of USA as our parents did. Cuba, you had it all & more for a Canadian looking for a winter peaceful safe Retirment Paradise at the Resorts or off the Resorts.

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