Discovering Cuba – Tourism and the Plight of Sanctions

Photo: Courageous Havana street graffiti – Havana Cuba 2023

By S.E. Lewinski

HAVANA TIMES – Walking the backstreets of Cuba is where the true reality of life begins here, not the facades of museums, statues, and government palatial hotels or buildings. A country can’t hide its failures by applying makeup to a few street blocks where the water and electricity remain on all the time versus outside the tourist zones (my current accommodations). Locals for sure don’t buy into the island’s rhetoric from the top down while spending hours in line buying a loaf of bread or shopping at a government grocery store with meager food supplies.

Observing everywhere on the streets the doom and gloom is total defeat on the faces of people. No one is up to approaching me, though I hear the familiar “Hey Friend,” but best to continue walking considering how could I be someone’s friend on the streets? I know it’s impossible for me to provide anyone on the streets with money, food, electricity, gasoline, medical care, and other necessities…sadly it’s not going to happen.

The real question to ask is, why would anyone want to come to the island for tourism to view a few monuments and government buildings (Capitolio building entry fee: 20 USD for gringos, 120 pesos for locals). The only saving grace for tourism is everyone takes US dollars and Euros, though some genius didn’t consider a less stable currency, the peso, would collapse over time as the economy goes to hell. The current peso street value is one USD to 220 pesos, but in government hotels, it’s one USD to 120 pesos when paying with USD…that is called skimming. 

On the tourist list, packing should include food, water filters, and for sure toilet paper. Beer and liquor are easier to find than water and food on the island, and where the Cubans sell toilet paper is a complete mystery. Has the word got out publicly on the happy conditions here on the island… maybe that is why the airplane was half empty and bookings of various accommodations have open vacancies. Why would anyone visit to enjoy spending hours and hours in a hot room with no electricity or water to flush the toilet?

Of course, the musical jingle for all the island’s deplorable economic conditions is heard over and over again, it’s the embargo and sanctions. Well, let’s try a grand experiment…lift all the sanctions and embargo and consider? Would it really make any difference, or has it become empty symbolic rhetoric? Simple sanction test: buy three drinks in Cuba, mango juice, water, and orange drink. Wow, one is from Eygpt, one from Panama, and the other from Miami. WHAT, NOT MADE IN CUBA the self-sustaining economy. 

“Cuba imports roughly 80 percent of the food it needs for the island’s 11 million people. A healthy portion of that food comes from the United States. But wait a minute, you say, what happened to the embargo on Cuba?* CBS.

Consider the many shout-outs at the United Nations Assembly for all the sanctions and embargo to be lifted while those same countries deny visas for Cubans, allow escalated prices on airline tickets, or hidden economies making money from Cuban refugees making their way off the island. This is pure political irony used to express a concern for the Cubans but not practicing what you preach. 

“Lift the Blockade on Venezuela & Cuba: Colombian President Petro Warns US Sanctions Are Driving Migration.” Democracy Now. 

Really, let’s see how that works. How about increasing jobs, production, industry, entrepreneurship, business development, infrastructure, etc. that’s what motivates people to stay home rather than suffering a ten-day foot journey crossing the Panamanian Darian Gap and or the dangers in Mexico. If sanctions are in place, then take some governmental responsibility and figure out how to deal with them rather than making them into political propaganda tools. 

Photo: Darian Gap Panama – World Vision Canada 2021

Definition of Sanction: A strong action taken in order to make people obey a law or rule, or a punishment given when they do not obey (Cambridge Dictionary)

Wait a second… the reality is the Cuban people are hit with sanctions by their own government under the same definition. This includes freedom of speech, food, medicine, travel restrictions, controlled wages, electricity, etc. In theory, the Cuban people receive a dose of external and internal sanctions. As a tourist visiting it becomes very obvious that internal sanctions are the real culprits that are driving the economic conditions and poverty. There is no way this observation could be made without visiting the island. Tourism may support the economy of Cuba but the reality… it’s about educating the world on the rest of the story!

The role of the government should be to serve the needs of the people. Not for the people to serve the needs of the leaders.

So next time you are thinking of a trip to Cuba, consider the meal you may consume at a government hotel or restaurant is food out of a Cuban’s mouth and of course better quality. Remember the people serving you make twenty to fifty dollars a month to survive. Rather than visiting the monuments or endless empty museums of broken-down cars or sailing ships, consider you are in a country where the people are browbeaten about external perceived sanctions, but the ones that have the larger impact are the ones they must live with each day, imposed by the government that sets the control and command of their lives.

The conclusion for tourism to the island…we are taking home with us the reality of the island to share with our worldly friends and colleagues. Muchos Gracias Amigos!

Read more by S.E. Lewinski in Havana Times

6 thoughts on “Discovering Cuba – Tourism and the Plight of Sanctions

  • The only embargo in Cuba is the one imposed by their terrible government. The people are deprived of every single human right. Only the government eats 3 meals a day an has Aspirins.

  • Can someone please answer this question? Cuba has been at ‘Death’s Door’ for many years. Every time we think that Cuba is taking it’s last gasps, life somehow stumbles forward. My question is, “how much longer can the situation in Cuba continue to worsen? Can a country really cease to function?” The next door neighbor to Cuba, Haiti, as of today is facing a UN-sanctioned military intervention. Obviously, the problem is different in Haiti but is a military intervention in Cuba’s future? What does a non-functional Cuba look like?

  • It is a long time since Granma was delivered to Cuban homes as suggested by Reality Check! Nothing in Cuba is free! People struggle to find anything they can sell. Incompetence reigns in Revolution Square and the Capitolia and hunger is now stalking the streets.

  • Toilet paper for Cubans, are the pages of the government newspaper entitled Granma (in honour of the name of the yacht which, in 1956, took Fidel Castro and his comrades from Mexico to Cuba to begin his revolution). This newspaper is delivered regularly to Cuban houses. And most ordinary Cubans take a gallows humour pleasure in wiping their butts with Granma’s ever present front page photos of President Diaz-Canel, and all the other usual government suspects, making their usual photo-op tour visits, attending revolutionary commemoration events, announcing yet further revolutionary triumphs, and holding more vital “important meetings” to discuss the latest new scheme or innovation to solve the country’s difficulties.

  • Excellent and to the point, you left out all of the foreign/government owned luxury hotels and resorts going up all over the island while Cubans live in dilapidated and crumbling homes. Embargo ,my a$$.

  • The “informal market” price of 220 Cuban pesos to a US dollar is the actual real value of a US dollar, derived from a market valuation, which floats upward with inflation, and sometimes even dips downward when there is less demand. However, the official Cuban government exchange rate is arbitrarily, and artificially, pegged at 120 pesos to a dollar, and that’s the rate that is available in all their hotels, banks, and currency exchange transactions; and sometimes, it’s even far less, like at airport snack-bars, when tourists are waiting for their delayed flight home. This is not skimming at all; it is quite simply organized government theft on a massive national scale. And who are they cheating, and stealing from? Foreign tourists. That’s the reality. And they actually think that in the age of the internet, tourists won’t wise up to their scam.

Comments are closed.