HAVANA TIMES – The Cuban Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR), on Sept. 6, published a note officially announcing the gradual opening of the nation’s borders on November 15.
The decision, according to the press release, is based on “the progress in Cuba’s vaccination process, its demonstrated effectiveness, and the prospect that more than 90% of the entire population will be vaccinated by November.”
The sanitary controls announced in the release will be the following: flexibility of protocols, measurement of body temperature upon arrival, monitoring of symptoms, no requirement of PCR, and recognition of the vaccination certificate. The published release states that the domestic market for tourism will be opened according to the epidemiological indicators of each territory.
This is an important decision that moves us to meditate and publish opinions regarding it. Next, Progreso Semanal / Weekly publishes some reactions.
Gustavo Arcos Fernandez-Britto (Professor of Cuban cinema at the Faculty of Arts, Havana, Cuba)
In the film, A Cuban Fight Against Demons (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea- 1971), we see the conflict between a priest and a merchant. The first is interested in moving the town where he resides towards some point inland, while, for the second, there is no better place than the coast, a site that would not only favor its management, but would bring prosperity and well-being to the entire community. Two opposing visions, two ways of understanding concepts such as freedom, development, security, hopes and quality of life.
The first option drew attention to the dangers that could come from abroad, events such as pirate attacks, diseases, natural disasters, instability, loss of morale and power. When he saw that the ideas of the merchant surpassed him, he summoned the devil and Satan made himself present, causing fires, burning “heretics” and destruction, because the important thing was “to save his flock.” This story, associated with the founding of the city of Remedios, appears in a book by Fernando Ortiz.
In Cuban cinema the films do not happen by chance, but are closely linked to events, policies and events of our reality or history. In this film by Alea one can imagine all the tensions that existed in Cuba at the beginning of the 70s, when the frustrated [sugar] harvest for 10 million tons had ended and the country began a dark path, economically and ideologically, delivered to the most conservative tendencies of socialist practice. In some way, we are separated from the world, existing under a glass bell, depending basically on aid and collaboration with the socialist camp.
It is why Gutiérrez Alea himself reminded us in his social parable, The Survivors (1979), that any community that tries to isolate itself or go against the current, will be condemned to its own extermination.
The announced reopening of borders as of November 15 places us before the same challenges and conflicts dealt with in those films that are so much like our lives.
Ever since Covid appeared at the end of 2019, each nation has sought and implemented all kinds of measures and solutions. Some have been successful and others have been a failure. No one has escaped this shock. Each country has also had to mourn its dead and process a lot of suffering. Open, close, prohibit, limit, control, decree, all are common words today because what was thought could be temporary and local, has become durable and universal.
The closure of borders has meant a devastating blow to Cuba, to its entire infrastructure, which was already running with considerable difficulty due to inefficient government management. If there’s a silver lining from this event it must be the urgent need to break down all the bureaucratic and conceptual barriers that have weighed down our economic development. It is not conceivable that Cuba, an island surrounded by water, does not have a fishing fleet, or ships that can import or sell our merchandise without the need for third parties. Given a lack of food, it would have helped a lot to have this service. The same could be said of our air fleet limited in its flights that depend mainly on charity and the good management of those in solidarity with us when it comes to bringing donations and importing raw materials.
We have seen how everything bad cannot all be blamed on Covid and its destructive effects on human health. Medicines, vaccines, oxygen tanks, food, masks, beds, hospitals and medical or assistance personnel, make up a whole framework that has its support in the adequate economic development of a nation. It is not enough to have responsible governments committed to solving the problem, it is essential to have agencies, companies, technologies, resources and specialists to effectively solve the matter.
And of course! You have to feed and care for the sick, but also the healthy. You have to invest in medicines, but you also have to build, develop, educate, dress, plant, laugh and live. The world cannot be paralyzed, confinement can be a specific method, but it goes against human nature itself.
Cuba has a huge challenge before it, because with the opening, the infections and therefore the sick will increase, waiting for the vaccines to do their thing. At the same time, it will allow a reactivation of its battered economy and the entire private ecosystem in the medium term, where more than a million citizens get their jobs and benefits. The increase in flights, the foreseeable normalization of the entry of remittances and merchandise will be a palliative that will improve the difficulties and anguish of many families who have seen how their lives are dominated by the routine of queues, the lack of all kinds of basic goods and despair.
I suppose that, for the government, all this has been a learning process, an event that, by the way, can be repeated with greater force in the not too distant future. The enormous debt of our nation, coupled with its economic fragility, herald a tough road and greater sacrifices. Dealing with sanctions and threats from the United States is fine, but already, at this point in history, after six decades of confrontation, it cannot be that all our problems and justifications are associated with this dispute. It is time to change that narrative which makes us live between lament and charity. This is a country with many riches, an extraordinary history and culture, but its prosperity will come only when we know how to defeat our own demons.
Cuban economist Omar Everleny Perez
The Cuban government recently announced that as of November 15 the gradual opening of the Cuban borders would take place. This is very positive news for the development of one of the most important lines of the economy, which is tourism, but at the same time with some pessimism due to the situation of the covid-19 pandemic that affects the world and above all due to the mutations of the virus from time to time.
The Cuban economy has been decreasing in the last 3 years due to multiple factors, but especially due to the lack of currencies and this is related to the decrease in income from services and goods as well. Among the services, after the fall in the exportation of professional services, the one that really collapsed was income from international tourism, given the closure of borders, both in Cuba and in the sending countries. For example, in 2020 only 6% of the usual number of tourists arrived in Cuba, and in 2021 that percentage rose to only 14%.
Therefore, for the Cuban government it was more than essential to accelerate the measures aimed at curbing the pandemic through the intensification of mass vaccination. According to the Minsap (Ministry of Health Care) as of Sept. 5, 36.8% of Cubans had been vaccinated, and by November they expect to reach a figure of more than 90%. If these results are achieved, that would mean a high immunization of the Cuban population.
With these indicators it is very feasible to gradually begin the massive opening of our borders and the recovery of international flights expected for the high season of tourism, a period that covers the last 2 months of the current year and the first 2 of the new.
The challenge for the tourism industry lies in how to achieve an excellent service without increasing health risk. But you have to assume the risks based on the fact that the country does not have many options to get out of the economic crisis in which it finds itself.
In conclusion, it is a wise decision, not without risks, but necessary to see a certain light on the horizon.
Marisol Rodriguez (President, Marazul Miami Travel)
The positive side of this opening is the opportunity offered the thousands of persons who have not traveled in almost two years and who are dying to see and help their loved ones on the Island. This opening of travel will help alleviate that humanitarian problem and need. Also, with persons traveling we shall see people taking medicine, food and other things that are so badly needed in Cuba right now.
Now, for this to be a successful opening, especially for travelers from the United States and specifically the Miami area, I have questions as to how many flights will Cuba authorize? Because a few weekly will not come close to the demand we shall see when the doors are open. Also, I hope Cuba will have learned from the precipitous opening of last year when they opened in the fall and had to again close down by early spring… That is why I applaud the fact that they will require a Covid passport. But I don’t understand why they are not requiring the 72 hour PCR test. Or have they forgotten that the vaccinated can carry the Covid virus? I question it because I am all in favor of the opening, but that opening must coexist with safety measures so that we don’t take one step forward only to have to take two back months later…
Jesús Arboleya Cervera (Cuban political scientist and writer)
I perceive the possibility that the Cuban borders will reopen as of November like a light at the end of the tunnel that has been this horrible pandemic. Cuba is an island, a small one at that, and as such very dependent on the foreign market in many spheres of the economy. It has been a true miracle to survive in the conditions imposed by the pandemic, and in the midst of the intensification of the U.S. blockade.
It will also be an opening to social reunion with the rest of the world, especially with family and friends who live abroad. It is encouraging that this is possible thanks, to a large extent based on our own efforts, to scientific advances capable of producing various vaccines and to the enormous effort of the Cuban public health system.
Manuel R. Gomez (Former president of the Cuban-American Committee in Washington, D.C.)
The announcement by the Cuban government of a gradual opening of the borders as of November 15 is extremely encouraging for many reasons; Here I only comment on the two that I consider to be most important: first, the measure reflects the success of Cuban vaccines against COVID, as well as an enormous reduction in its sequelae of illness and death; and second because that success will mark the beginning of an urgent recovery in the economy (tourism = foreign exchange) and, dare I say, also in the mood within Cuba and its emigration — including those in South Florida.
However, today we are entering the peak quarter of tourism to Cuba, which leaves very little time to revive tourism quickly. The most likely would be an inflow of foreign currency that will increase slowly this year, in line with what will undoubtedly also be a cautious return in the willingness to travel among potential tourists.
Last but not least, possible responses are still awaited through the embargo / blockade of the United States government. That response could well be, for example, maintaining or even tightening even more the measures that today prevent or hinder the trips and remittances of Cuban emigration.
Aurelio Pedroso (Cuban journalist)
It is a risky but necessary decision. To think that such a decision corresponds to the Ministry of Tourism is laughable when you consider that this is a political act based on economic survival. The green light to start the leisure locomotive, according to international standards, is a move not being taken not only by Cuba, but by half the world with service economies.
There is not much more we can do because we no longer produce sugar and during these times we still have to import food.
Like sappers in time of war, we must deactivate this danger of the virus with intelligence and prudence, but without giving it up.
Even with almost two months to go before the start-up, the initial reaction has been positive among the population. Especially the private sector that depends on these visitors, and not only owners, but a considerable number of people who work in the private sector.
According to popular wisdom, which is rarely wrong, to succeed you must take risks.
Manuel Alberto Ramy (Progreso Semanal Editor)
According to the Mintur release, by November 15, 90% of Cubans must be vaccinated. This forecast, together with other sanitary measures, will support the gradual opening of the borders. That said, I will point out, two urgent needs for the opening of borders:
- From the family-social point of view and given the indicated sanitary guarantees and others that arise, the opening of borders will cover a very important need for the thousands and thousands of families that have members in emigration because it allows them a real life hug. I will not go into psychosocial factors that hit us all.
- From an economic point of view there is no other way. Or said in other words: When you’re up against the wall all you can do is run forward. Our economic crisis is not a premiere, we live from “remakes” to “re …” And to this is added the pandemic, which is hitting us very hard. We must open the borders and move the right chips to attract tourism (foreign exchange), which is our engine, and push forward the very depressed service and income sectors. It is a very risky decision. But is there another?