By Daniel Benitez (Cafe Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES — Free access to beaches and tourist facilities in Cuba’s northern keys is now being demanded by the population of a country where economic changes are prompting more and more difficult – and explicit – questions about citizen rights.
The beaches located in the northern keys of the province of Ciego de Avila, in the Moron region, have become areas restricted to Cubans living on the island, who require authorization from government officials or must “buy” access at three Convertible Cuban Pesos (CUC).
The measure does not apply to foreigners and Cubans living abroad, who can enter freely and are only required to present their IDs at the control and sales point of the Empresa Cubana de Turismo (CUBATUR) in the municipality of Moron.
There, at the entrance to the keys, a voucher affording users 2 CUC in products sold at the beach is sold, and a third CUC gives visitors permission to continue on their way. Those who do not purchase this voucher or do not come from abroad, however, see their wish to spend a day at the beach end at this control point.
Letter of Authorization
The alternative is obtaining a letter of authorization, which can be issued by a mere eight government officials: the First Secretary of the Provincial Communist Party headquarters, the chair or vice-chair of the Provincial People’s Power Assembly, the head of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) office in the province or the MININT official assigned to the keys or the First Secretary of the Moron Party headquarters, with the co-signature of local government chair or vice-chair for the locality.
This bureaucratic nightmare has caught the attention of the weekly periodical Invasor, which has described the hardships faced by those seeking to spend a day at the beach in an extensive report.
One case involved a woman who requested a letter of authorization in January (and later in May) to avoid having to pay 3 CUC. Her request was turned down by a receptionist at the provincial house of government, who informed her these letters are only issued during the summer.
Apparently, people who are not employed by any State institution have a harder time, as the application requires the name of the person, the date of the trip, the license plate of the vehicle, the number of people visiting the beach and the State entity one works in.
In her statements for the provincial newspaper, vice-chair of the provincial government Nohemi Iglesias alleged that access to the keys is restricted owing to limited capacity and because the area is not designed to receive large numbers of visitors outside the months of July and August. The curious thing is that only Cubans face such restrictions or are required to pay, not foreigners.
On “Instructions from Above”
Iglesias claims those are the “instructions handed down from above,” but the Council of State bureau responsible for the keys, from Villa Clara to Camaguey, denies any such instruction and insists that the norms governing entrance to the keys are defined by local governments.
Though all Cubans are entitled to unrestricted access to public beaches under the constitution, access to these keys is regulated by Resolution 113, passed on March of 2014, which allows for the admission fee of 3 CUC, or 75 Cuban pesos at the current exchange rate.
The Ministry of Tourism representative in the province, Iyolexis Correa, says that the admission fee is optional. “There’s nothing in writing saying that one has to buy a voucher from MINTUR to access the beaches,” the official claims.
The periodical points out, however, that anywhere from 10 to 20 people are barred daily from entering the key area when they do not have the permit and refuse to pay this “optional” fee.
Though a manuscript titled Regulations Governing Measures Controlling Access to the North Keys is currently being studied, the rights of those required to secure authorization or pay for access to the beaches continues to be violated.
The chief prosecutor at the Citizens’ Rights Department of the Provincial District Attorney’s Office, Neisa Garcia, acknowledged in a local television program that no one had approached her office to register a complaint in this connection.