Keep the Americans out of Cuba

by Patricia McGregor

Now that the US ban on Cuba travel seems about to disappear, and hordes of American travelers are poised to save Cuba from itself, I say, keep the ban. It will make very little impact on the average Cuban’s lifestyle and merely serve to line the pockets of the rich.

photo via Flickr by Robyn JayFor periods of time over the last four years I have lived with a musician in Havana. Because of him, my Spanish improves and his friends become my friends. I live like he does. I become Cubana.

Parties and discussions are our entertainment. His friends feel that they have nothing to gain by having American tourists in the country. Tourist money will not filter down to them.

Although there are many hotels, with the current tourist numbers it is often difficult to make a reservation. An influx of Americans (one estimate is 1 million per year) will put pressure on the tourist infrastructure.

Where will they stay? If they bump out tourists already on a Cuban holiday routine, hostility will surely grow.

New hotels will have to be built. Most Cuban hotels, like the Sol chain, are financed by foreign interests. Are these companies stretched to their last euro in this time of financial difficulties? Will they start up dozens of projects only to abandon them half-built? Will American companies be allowed to invest? Construction workers and such might be busy for a while, and then it will be back to the old life. If they are thrifty, they will save the money. There is no unemployment insurance.

New hotels will need workers and again that will give employment to some. Pressure on everyone will be great since for every job opening there will be many applications. Will this cause friction among the locals? They know that if someone makes a mistake they are easily replaced. Will they begin to wish ill of their neighbours?

True, more souvenirs will be bought. No doubt a great deal of the inexpensive duty free rum will find its way out of the country.

We cannot ignore the impact on the environment. Each new hotel is a larger and more extravagant blight on the land. More hotels mean more waste, more beach use, more pollution and destruction. The airport will have to be expanded. More airplanes mean more air pollution.

Cuba used to be one of those truly economical countries where you could find a great and safe vacation. Then the Cuban dollar was boosted to be worth somewhere around the value of the euro. If there is a sudden influx of Americans, will the Cuban dollar increase again making this vacation spot even more expensive? Will more tourists make it less safe?

With the number of people in Havana at the height of the tourist season now, it is difficult to walk down the streets or find a seat in a bar. As a ‘Cubana’ I find it very annoying when I am trying to get around. Imagine the crush if vacationing here is opened up to a huge new country. Their gawking tourists will wander aimlessly, stopping in the middle of the streets to confer, blocking everyone’s way. Yes, I grant you that, in other countries, I am sometimes one of those tourists and have seen the look on locals’ faces.

Some of today’s tourists are American. For every problem, there is always a solution. American tourists go to Mexico or Toronto and pick up a flight to Cuba. As in many countries, Cuban customs do not stamp passports any more unless asked. Everyone is happy.

Josefa, a local schoolteacher, sums it up well when she says, “ We are poor but we are all the same, no one has more and no one has less. No tourist is going to change that.” Bringing in hordes of American tourists may actually make things worse, not better. Keep the travel ban.

Among many other journeys, Patricia McGregor has circled the globe on a freighter, and will visit West Africa this fall to learn about voodoo. She lives in Toronto.

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