Cuba: Tourism Apartheid in the Making?

By Reynier Guerra Capote, Student at the University of Havana

They're coming. What does it mean for Cuba?

They’re coming. What does it mean for Cuba?

Prior to the Cuban Revolution, discrimination was a common feature of Cuban society. However, after assuming power in 1959, the revolutionary government led the country into a head-on fight against discrimination.

Since then, gender and racial discrimination have declined in Cuba, though other forms such as religious, cultural discrimination and homophobia continued to be executed by the state and the population at large.

Many people were forced to hide their religious beliefs and sexual preferences for fear of losing their jobs or being rejected by their social environments. For years those who did not give the impression of adhering to the precepts of communism were subject to explicit discrimination.

But through the 1990s, with the fall of socialism in Europe, Cuba was forced to bring changes to its social and political state, and public attitudes towards religious and sexual preference began to shift. The views of the revolutionary process expanded and intellectuals and artists in general became freer in their work. The fight against racism, violence and other forms of discrimination continues today, with much work still to be done.

Will expanded tourism be a step back?

Given the extensive economic difficulties currently faced by the Cuban people, along with the increase of migration flows and the opening of Cuba to tourism, the state has implemented new administrative rules.

The survival of the socialist state was dependent on this; consequently people were forced to make sacrifices. In addition to the original restrictions for Cuban citizens, new ones were added such as denying Cuban nationals the right to stay in tourist hotels or to use their services, the inability to obtain cell phones, computers and other electronic equipment and the inability to enter into any cruiser or motor boat.

Not that most Cubans would be able to access these services anyway: The average Cuban salary is about 20 dollars a month, well below the prices levels sustained by foreign tourists in Cuba. The result is a notable socio-economic difference between locals and tourist.

Of course, this is why the country advertises itself to tourist—they have the money to pay.

Hear from the author in interview

But what is the long-term affect of the quick buck?

Despite the fact that the government has removed some of the restrictions, service workers continue to see foreigners as a possible good tip and the stigma of restrictions still remains in the mind of workers. As we like to say, in hotels and other resorts that the only worker who pays careful attention to Cubans is the security guard.

In addition, Cuban citizens remain subject to ad-hoc detention randomly in the street without any reason while foreigners move freely throughout the country. In many places, police officers behave as if their job was not to protect all people but only to protect foreigners and tourist facilities.

Another discriminatory element is the fact that to enter to Cuba’s touristy cays, Cubans are forced to show identification and wait while foreigners have free access. In cases where naval transportation is necessary to reach one of these places, Cubans do not have the possibility to visit because there is still a restriction that prohibits Cuban to use motorized boats without a special permit.

As a result, if a Cuban citizen wants to visit Cayo Levisa at the north of Pinar del Rio, he must wait for a highway being built. The restriction is implemented to discourage illegal migration but it seems contradictory that citizens with passport and residency in another country are granted easy access.

All these elements are part of life on the island. And they are part of a changing Cuba. As the tourism sector booms – and as a wave of North Americans pack their bags and count down the days until the travel ban is lifted – Cuba’s lifestyle of necessity, the political issues, and its cultural richness fade into the background.

And in the foreground is the appreciating value of the foreigners, which seems to come at the expense of their Cuban contemporaries.

Reynier in his apartment in La Havana

Reynier in his apartment in La Habana

Reynier Guerra Capote is a student at the University of Havana

Want more? Check out Cuba at the Crossroads

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One Response to Cuba: Tourism Apartheid in the Making?

  1. leon mcmahon says:

    hi question what things could I bring for school children

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