A Glimpse At Matanzas, Cuba

By Fernando Ravsberg

Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

HAVANA TIMES — The private lodging sector has grown more than any other in Cuba’s province of Matanzas. In 2014, it expanded by more than 40 % and, this year, it has already grown more than 50 %. Towards the south of the province, near the Zapata Swamp, there are more private accommodations than in State hotels.

Local tourism continues to grow, and not just in terms of numbers – accounting for more than 12 % of all tourism, it represents 15 % of revenues, or so says provincial Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) representative Isis Fernandez. You’ll have to take a raincheck in terms of specific figures, because she holds on to these like State secrets.

The MINTUR representative considers this good news, as private hostels allow the province to meet the growing demand for accommodations, and Cuban tourists tend to vacation during the low season, guaranteeing greater hotel occupancy throughout the year.

If this is important now, it will be much more so in the future, when the Varadero beach area reaches the figure of 40,000 hotel rooms and ceases to be developed, as the master plan establishes. As of that moment, if demand continues to grow, the only response possible will be to raise prices.

Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

One best hurry if one wishes to enjoy its beaches. In a few years, the average tourist – local or foreign – will not be able to afford a stay there. Yacht marinas, golf courses and mansions for sale – everything is being designed to accommodate very wealthy visitors.

The good news for the average resident of Matanzas is that the government plans on destining a percentage of taxes collected by the tourism industry to local development. It would be worthwhile to remind the government of this every so often, such that this future doesn’t take too long to arrive.

The way Cubans are revitalizing Matanzas’ tourism industry, be it as service providers or tourists, is a clear example of how freeing the nation’s productive forces has a positive impact on the economy – and this is not an isolated example.

After years of contracts with State construction companies, the Sauto Theater is being restored by self-employed persons and cooperatives. This architectural gem found the enthusiasm and skill needed for its renewal in local craftspeople.

Matanza’s Sauto Theater, a true architectural gem. The entire stalls platform is lifted and lowered using a fully manual system, operated by 4 men. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

They refused to use the wood employed by State companies and demanded a higher quality product. Curiously, it was the director of Cuba’s National Ballet Company, Alicia Alonso, who supported them, at least with respect to the type of boards that should be used to build the stage.

Naturally, theater director Cecilia Sodis Carillo is delighted with these self-employed workers, for they are far more qualified and, being from Matanzas, they are far more devoted to their work, feeling special affection for the theater.

Matanzas is by no means the Garden of Eden of non-State employment. Outside the agricultural sector, they have authorized a mere 20 or so cooperatives, such that some members of cooperatives have to disguise themselves as self-employed persons to be able to work legally.

No one quite understands why a socialist country makes it more difficult for people to set up a cooperative than a private enterprise, and no one in Matanzas managed to give me a convincing explanation for this apparent contradiction between political discourse and economic practice.

When people manage to get their cooperative approved, they are treated like regular State companies. For instance, they are forced to buy their supplies through official import companies that choose the suppliers (which do not always meet expectations in terms of price, promptness, quality or reliability).

Scaffolding from a Matanzas cooperative are being used for the restoration of Havana’s Capitolio building. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz.

They are also not authorized to purchase vehicles. “We have to rent them, which spells a substantial increase in costs,” the member of a cooperative tells me, adding that “we hope one day the government will realize that these things are raising the final price we offer the State itself.”

Despite all of these bureaucratic obstacles, the cooperative we visited seems to booming. Its scaffolds are being rented throughout the country. They are the ones that were used to restore the Havana Cathedral and the ones being used to repair the Capitolio building right now.

Next Thursday, we will be interviewing Sergio Acosta, a cattle breeder from Matanzas. We will try to have him explain how they are managing to control cattle mortality and increase milk production, when the situation of livestock in the rest of the country is disastrous.

5 thoughts on “A Glimpse At Matanzas, Cuba

  • The Matanzas ecology is world class as is the case for Cuban committees country wide who take steps to minimize enviromental impact and preserve polonizing
    insects and century old growth so to provide the best natural experience for visitors.
    As for the cattle situation , they are a good source of protien , that said insect farming for protien , for flour or protien drinks , self contained mills like a ice machine where waste vegitation goes in and high protien flour is dipensed via locusts/ grasshoppers milling , this food source is self sustaining and could use solar power. Fish farming is also self sustaining , I am sure the committees have
    the expertise to cure hunger and malnutrition along with pretty much anything
    despite the blockade/embargo and export this technology to other hungry nations for the love of God.
    Thank You

  • Gordon, I do admire your optimism. Just what Cuba needs, another bar!

  • Gordon, are you serious? The Greater Orlando SMSA is the most visited tourist destination in the US with a record 65 million tourists for 2014. http://media.visitorlando.com/pressrelease/index.cfm/2015/4/9/Orlando-Becomes-First-Destination-To-Surpass-60-Million-Visitors-Sets-New-Record-For-US-Tourism/
    The Orlando Tourism Board estimates an annual public and private investment of more than $100 million is expended to sustain this level of tourism. Cuba can’t afford to keep buildings from falling down. ‘Disneylandia Cuba’ is a pipe dream.

  • This area should be developed for theme parks such as Orlando was. Orlando has seven of the worlds best theme parks and over 450 hotels. Tips in Orlando vary between 15 – 20 % of bill.

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