By Vicente Antonio de Castro
HAVANA TIMES – During the rapprochement process under US president Barack Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro, I worked with many groups of US visitors. I would speak to them while walking through Havana, for a modest price for them and for a fortune for me, but I would have given the explanations to anyone who was interested in the subject for free if I’m going to be perfectly honest.
That’s how I discovered that these visitors were under the impression that if they planned their trip using the most private services they could, they would be killing two birds with one stone: discovering the island and not financing its tyrannical government. WRONG.
I understand that it might be hard for them (they don’t live under a totalitarian dictatorship) to understand just how much citizens are an extension of the State, the individual as part of this huge entity, mass or people, the only thing the Government is interested in.
That’s why I understand that when they pay a Cuban in cash, they think that their money is feeding the productive chain that this entrepreneur has created, who works with entrepreneurs who are also independent of the Government, who get their merchandise independently, by producing or importing it.
All of this is false. Except for a bit of foreign currency that is exchanged on the black market, the rest of it ends up in the totalitarian Cuban State’s coffers, so my dear US tourist, I’m sorry to inform you but yes, your money, among other things, pays into our dictatorship.
The first thing you should know is that private enterprise doesn’t exist here. We have people with licenses for specific activities, mostly in the service sector: restaurants, cafes, accommodation and transport. These people are just simple middlemen between you, your US money and the Cuban State, the only supplier that is authorized to import goods.
But don’t lose heart, your concern is very admirable, even more so when you from the United States are the only tourists who contemplate this dilemma as a group. There is a way to enjoy and get to know Cuba without filling the local elite’s pockets.
The solution that comes to my mind might seem naive, but what does that matter? Try it out and see what happens.
Regular holiday package deals to Cuba include accommodation at a Casa Particular (private rental), so as to flee from military-controlled Cuban hotels. A day trip to Vinales or maybe a one-night stay. Another trip to Trinidad which goes via Varadero a lot of the time, will include a two-night stay. The three or four nights you spend in Havana, you spend them going to privately-owned restaurants or cafes and to travel across the city, with a guide probably.
This package deal which you can organize from your departure point, could be paid for in THING/S, not money. Just calculate how much the package deal will cost you and ask the person who you’re dealing with in Cuba, what they would like, or directly offer the things you choose to bring.
It will be a great business opportunity for Cubans; merchandise you buy for 1000 USD could easily be sold here for 2000 USD, precisely because of ridiculous prices and never-ending shortages in the State’s retail monopoly.
This option implies some inconvenience, but you can take preparing for your journey as part of your truly Cuban experience, plus, whoever does this can be proud of getting to know the last remnant of the Cold War, without contributing a single cent to our chiefs’ family coffers!
Two suggestions for mindful tourists:
- Make a clear agreed upon list of the objects you are going to bring your counterpart in Cuba so as to avoid any misunderstandings.
- Take a look at www.aduana.gob.cu, you will find a list of the things and the quantities you can bring in as personal goods, which you don’t have to pay duty on when you enter Cuba.
Let me give you an example:
If you are going to buy a package deal for a week-stay in Cuba which is worth 1200 USD, you could bring 1 Smartphone, 1 decent tablet, 1 mid-range laptop, 1 pair of Raybans, 1 digital camera and 100 Viagra pills.
Always bring some cash for small expenses, be conscious sure but please do have common sense.
Have a good trip!