Tourists and Cuba as a Caricature

by Fernando Ravsberg

Foto: Raquel Perez Diaz
Foto: Raquel Perez Diaz

HAVANA TIMES – More and more come and leave us without beer. After colliding with the Caribbean sun, tourists drink it like water. The local breweries produce half of what is needed and no more. This year Cuba will have to import millions of liters, 4 or 5 times higher than expected.

There are so many tourists that the city of Trinidad overflowed, all hotel rooms and 1,000 private hostels were occupied. The mayor and his city council members went door to door begging people to offer a bed for tourists to spend the night.

If this happens with a growth of 17%, imagine what will fall on us when the United States repeals the law prohibiting its citizens to come as simple tourists to the island. A “US invasion” could double the total number of tourists arriving in Cuba today.

Obispo Street offers tourists mass produced "crafts."
Obispo Street offers tourists mass produced “crafts.”

Infrastructure issues can be solved only in so far as the effort is nationwide, including the state and private individuals. But if it aims to meet the level of demand, they will have to free the hands of those working in the industry.

Much bureaucratic burden remains including a lack of wholesale markets to acquire inputs and restrictions in obtaining building permits for those wanting to adapt their homes to the demands of international tourism.

But if infrastructure and even the legislation moves at a snail’s pace, the social adaptation to the phenomenon of mass tourism is an issue that’s not even talked about, although the impact on communities “benefitting” can be very harmful.

And the country should already have socio-economic studies on the effects of tourism on the resort areas and in nearby communities. Varadero and its surroundings are a unique laboratory for measuring and foreseeing what will happen at future resorts.

In the city of Cardenas, not far east of Varadero, have flourished exquisitely decorated restaurants offering WIFI… from the park, hundreds of electric motorcycles circulate in the city and dozens of tourists can be seen walking the streets, looking for a more authentic Cuba than in Varadero.

This year Cuba will have to import millions of liters, 4 or 5 times higher than expected. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
This year Cuba will have to import millions of liters of beer as local production only meets half the demand. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

But all this prosperity is diluted in the outlying areas where part of the construction workers who are building the luxury hotels and others who come from the provinces attracted by the fever of tips in hard currency live in shanties.

There, pimps recruit some of the girls that they “protect and manage”, as they did before 1959, exploiting them in exchange for crumbs. They have contacts in hotels, which allows them to work from outside Varadero and elude the police.

Cuba has tens of thousands of psychologists, sociologists, ethnologists and other specialists to investigate and propose mechanisms to enable communities of the future tourist resort areas to better weather the inevitable impact that will shake their very roots.

Building rooms and making more beer will not be enough for the onslaught that will fall on the island. It takes conditioning communities for harmonious integration into an industry that boasts not producing smoke and yet, contaminates.

Many tourists are rushing to come to Cuba before the Americans standardize things, rendering resorts more like those that exist in other parts of the world. However, to be fair, we shouldn’t blame the US if the island loses its “charm”.

If tourists want to ride in a convertible, we'll cut off the roof. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
If tourists want to ride in a convertible, we’ll cut off the roof. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Take a walk down Obispo Street in Old Havana for an example of how we can “standardize ourselves” without anyone’s help. Each house, local, doorway and even stairwell has become a tourist stand where they sell the exact same things.

In all restaurants and bars the same rhythms and the same songs are heard. It’s sad that in a musical power of the level of Cuba tourists only see the “typical” as if it lacked talent able to create and interpret any kind of music.

Do painters or sculptors have a space in the hotel industry? Are there books by Cuban authors in hotels to loan or sell to customers? Do tourists have contact with nearby communities? ¿Are musical shows of a varied nature available?

Tourism can promote the culture and the community but that does not occur spontaneously, it is necessary to plan, avoiding self-limitations. Why offer tourists a caricature of what Cuba is when we can surprise them with a gigantic universe of creativity?

9 thoughts on “Tourists and Cuba as a Caricature

  • Its almost a giggle Gordon. Remember back in June 2013 when Raul expressed his concern about various activities and sins of Cuban people pursuing ways of survival and his criticism of them utilizing “the art of fishing”. But when it comes to getting large sums of money from capitalist societies for practising the same art of fishing, it becomes acceptable.

  • Taleb Rifai spent how long in Cuba, where did he go and with whom? First of the many difficulties he mentioned would obviously be having a communist dictatorship in power. Others are discussed by Fernando Ravsberg’s next article: elevator not working, no water in the bathrooms or toilets, leaking ceiling, no remotes for TV’s, beds not made up. Having visited the Tropicoco at the Playa del Este and my wife being told to leave because she is Cuban, I can speak of how Cuba ‘took care’ of hospitality. There is not a blockade in Cuba as Nikita Krushchev negotiated its removal in the deal he made with President Kennedy in October 1963. Krushchev duly reported that in his letter of October 30, 1963 to Fidel Castro.
    You may recall that he also said:
    “In your cable of October 27 you proposed that we be the first to carry out a nuclear strike against the enemies territory. Naturally you understand where that would lead us. It would not be a simple strike but the start of a thermo-nuclear world war.”
    Always remember that whereas many, especially of ‘the left’ criticize President Harry S. Truman for using a nuclear bomb to end a World War, Fidel Castro Ruz at age 37 and presumably of sane mind, proposed that Nikita Krushchev use it to start a World War.

  • Orlando has 11 theme parks and is the most visited city in the Americas. Many fisher persons are looking at an adventure inCuba :::

    The inlets and tranquil waters of the Bay of Pigs are considered a sacred place in Cuba.

    It was here in 1961 that Fidel Castro fought back a US-supported invasion force, a victory that cemented his rule.

    The nearby 300,000-hectare Ciénaga de Zapata National Park is a
    pristine ecosystem that has largely been off limits to US anglers until

    On Friday, Orvis announced the Cuba trips which will the
    company said they will do monthly basis starting in October. The seven
    day fishing and cultural visits will cost $7,150 per angler; airfare is
    not included.

  • A meeting of the United Nations World Tourism Organization just concluded in Havana on May 7th.Taleb Rifai, its General Secretary is very optimistic about the future of tourism in Cuba. Rifai also pointed out that Cuba is a very happy, beautiful country which, despite having many difficulties {was he referring to the ongoing US economic, financial & trade blockade here} and challenges, will be able to make a financial success of tourism.
    Cuba received and took care of more than 3.5 million foreign visitors last year. The meeting in Havana is being attended by more than 2,000 people from 53 countries during the week.

  • Cubakingone, you misplace your considerations regarding Cuba, Europeans and Canadians. It is the Castro family regime that wishes to continue to market Cuba as a PLAY GROUND for people from the free world, because they have money! It is GAESA that announced in 2014 its intention to build a further 14,000 hotel bedrooms by 2017. Cuba’s economy pitiful as it is, is dependent upon finding a replacement for Maduro’s Venezuela as his time is obviously limited having driven his country into having the highest inflation rate in the world and upon an increase in tourism from capitalist countries. Yes!

  • Yes Gordon, since the Chinese adopted capitalism some of money enabling them to travel. Why would the Chinese build a brewery in a country that has a diminishing volume of production due to incompetence, where their majority partner would be GAESA, when they can simply import their product. Building such a brewery at Mariel makes no sense – where is the labour? Where are the primary constituents produced? I recognize that the regime is desperate to find some means of justifying Mariel, but building a brewery there just doesn’t make sense.

  • I am finding this forum in both journalism and posters to be coming very negative without solutions. The solution to the beer problem is to have small breweries that are privately owned. Currently 12 more cruise companies have applied for the right to visit Cuba so there will be no gain without some pain. Some people in Canada and Europe want to Cuba to stay the same so it still be their PLAY GROUND – Si !!!

  • Sadly there is a lot of truth in these observations by Fernando Ravsberg. Over the last five years or so, the number of tourists to Trinidad has escalated to the point where the prices demanded for beer in the ARTEX trovas (subsidiary of GAESA) have increased by 50% and the bici-taxis charge 3-5 CUC to take tourists from the bus-station to their casa-particulars. The charm of the city is being lost. But, that is the nature of the tourism industry.
    Regarding Fernando’s observations about beer, in the community where I live, Cristal and Buchanero were unavailable from early December until April when a small volume appeared for a couple of days. The socialismo economic system does not consider that the loss of work for those employed in the breweries is important or that similar loss for those who work in the supply chain. Instead a smug Marino Murillo Minister of the Economy, ever increasing the strain upon the collar and buttons of his shirt lectures the faithful at the 7th Congress upon how after fifty seven years of rampant incompetence, to date, matters will improve by 2030.
    The photograph of the menu with a ‘Special Offer’ of a meal for more than half a months pay for the average Cuban carries an important message, one which will no doubt be multiplied when US citizens appear in larger numbers. Those tourists will not be appraised of Cuba’s reality for Cubans and probably they won’t care.

Comments are closed.