Cayo Coco: An Emporium Of Cuban Military Capitalism / Iván García

View from the pool of the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort, one of the several hotels that the Grupo de Turismo Gaviota S.A. administers in Cayo Coco. Taken from the blog Travel the World with Shirley A. Roe.
View from the pool of the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort, one of the several hotels that the Grupo de Turismo Gaviota S.A. administers in Cayo Coco. Taken from the blog Travel the World with Shirley A. Roe.

Ivan Garcia, 22 August 2016 — The breeze coming from the coast is a blast of hot air that barely cools things off. The sun reverberates and the tourists take refuge from the insufferable irradiation in a swimming pool in the form of a huge shell, split in two by a cement walkway.

Others escape from the heat wave by tossing down beer like British hooligans or drinking insipid mojitos one after another. The Russian and Serbian tourists continue doing their thing: drinking vodka with ice as if it were mineral water, leaning on the bar rail of the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort hotel, nestled into Cayo Coco, in the archipelago of the Jardines del Rey, north of Ciego de Ávila, a province some 360 miles to the east of Havana.

In the tiny shop, Mexican tourists ask where they can buy El Cuervo tequila. Close by, a group of Spaniards follow on television the performance of their compatriot, Mireia Belmonte, in the Olympic swimming finals in Rio 2016.

There are very few Cuban tourists. Even fewer black people. Past 2:00 in the afternoon, the Memories Flamenco hotel seems to be a plenary session in miniature of the United Nations: East and West Europeans, Mexicans, Hindus, Asians and Americans, who try not to call attention to their clandestine tourism at Cayo Coco.

“Traveling to Cuba isn’t a problem. You can justify it with any of the 12 categories authorized and, although it’s not permitted legally, no institution in the United States asks if we’re doing tourism when we travel to the island,” comments a North American of Peruvian origin on vacation with his wife and two kids.

The five-star hotel is located on the highway that connects Cayo Coco with Cayo Guillermo. It has 624 rooms; 12 are suites and 4 are adapted for the handicapped. At this moment, half of the rooms are empty. “We’re in the low season. And even though the number of visitors to Cuba continued growing in 2016, hotel occupancy isn’t more than 50 percent,” says a receptionist.

Like 70 percent of Cuban tourist installations, the Memories Flamenco hotel is administered by the Gaviota S.A. military emporium, a business that appeared in 1989 under the auspices of Fidel Castro, on the pretext of testing the profitability of the incipient tourist business.

“When the tourist boom began, since so much in Cuba is stolen, it wasn’t known for sure whether a hotel would generate profits. Gaviota reduced expenditures and raised productivity on the basis of low salaries and internal controls,” says an employee.

Another employee, driving an electric cart that transports the recent arrivals to their rooms, says with total frankness that “most of us workers don’t agree with the deal they give us. Gaviota contracts only with foreign businesses to administer their hotels. The salary is shit; I earn 500 pesos (almost 20 dollars) a month, and since it’s a hotel with ’everything included,’ tipping is scarce. The luggage handlers and the maids are the ones who get extra money. But it’s always better to work in a hotel than to be a policeman.”

Every day a maid cleans and prepares 12 rooms. Her base salary is 465 pesos/month and about 18 dollars as a stimulus. “When it’s not Juana, it’s her sister. The truth is that we never receive a salary that matches the number of tourists staying in the hotel. I get by, more or less, thanks to the guests who give me two or three CUCs as a tip, and leave me clothing and useful stuff when they go, although getting it out of the hotel is a problem,” confesses a maid.

According to a gardener, most of the Cubans who work in management changed their military uniforms for white or blue guayaberas and black shoes. “They arrive from military life thinking that a hotel is operated the same as a barracks. In addition to being rude to us, they’re arrogant. I don’t leave, because for better or for worse, working in a hotel is better than cutting cane.”

Most of the employees of the Memories Flamenco live in Morón, a town 50 minutes from Cayo Coco. “The work routine is very demanding. I work seven days and get three days off. The management is treated differently. In spite of the hotel’s good results, Gaviota doesn’t let our families enjoy the facilities. Even the food they give us workers is different. In general it’s very little, and poorly prepared,” confesses a bar worker.

In addition to Memories Flamenco, there are on Cayo Coco, among others, the hotels Memories Caribe Beach Resort, Meliá Cayo Coco, Meliá Jardines del Rey, Pullman Cayo Coco, Pestana Cayo Coco All Inclusive Beach Resort, Tryp Cayo Coco, Colonial Cayo Coco, Sol Cayo Coco, Playa Coco, Playa Coco Star, Iberostar Mojito, Iberostar Cayo Coco and NH Krystal Laguna Villas & Resort, with more than 6,700 rooms total.

The zone is designed to be an example of true tourist apartheid. At the entrance to the isle, a police official, guarded by several soldiers with red berets, checks the people and vehicles that enter and leave the Ciego de Avila key.

Almost all the hotels located on Cayo Coco are administered by Gaviota, which has plans to continue growing in the coming years. Several brigades are building three new hotels, which will increase room capacity even more.

Many tourists aren’t pleased with the strategy of being confined in installations far from towns and cities. “It’s annoying; it prevents you from interacting with people. When they put you in hotels in Havana you can chat with Cubans on the street, but it’s impossible in the rest of the tourist zones,” says Eusebio, an Andalusian who lives in Seville.

The same thing has happened with the construction of the Hotel Kempinski, in the heart of the capital. Gaviota’s management prefers to hire foreign chefs and directors before Cubans.

“It’s absurd to bring bricklayers from India or cooks from Spain. They pay them fair salaries, but not us. It seems that whoever directs Gaviota hates Cubans,” complains a kitchen assistant.

The dream of one of the tourist promoters is to hook up with a foreign woman and leave the country. “My goal is to work in Miami Beach, Cancun or Punta Cana,” he says, and he runs for cover from a drizzle that barely alleviates the leaden heat.

When night falls, the lobby bar fills up, and in an adjoining theater, the guests take their chairs to see the performance of Divan Sotelo, one of the Reggae musicians in style at the moment, who was born in Havana in 1996.

At this hour, one of the maids is waiting for the worker transport that will take her home. Today was a decent day. Four convertible pesos in tips and two half-filled bottles of shampoo that a couple of Japanese tourists gave her.

Now she is looking for a way to take them out of the hotel without calling attention to herself. Tomorrow, perhaps, she will have better luck.

Martí Noticias, August 19, 2016

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuba in Rio 2016: A Forecast / Iván García

Clothing and footwear with which the Cuban delegation paraded at the opening of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro is the work of French designer Christian Loboutin. Taken from the Internet.
Clothing and footwear with which the Cuban delegation paraded at the opening of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro is the work of French designer Christian Loboutin. Taken from the Internet.

Ivan Garcia, 7 August 2016 — A couple of months ago under a frightening morning sun, the team of Cuban athletes who will compete in the next Olympic Games were training on the deteriorated synthetic track of the Pan American Stadium, east of Havana, under the watchful eye of a dozen trainers, with stopwatches around their necks while, taking notes on their tablets.

In a corner of the track, in the shade, as if escaping the sweltering heat, Dayron Robles was training in headphones and with his inseparable signature plain glasses on.

The story of Robles, since winning the gold medal eight years ago at the Beijing Olympics, has enough material to make a soap opera. Continue reading “Cuba in Rio 2016: A Forecast / Iván García”

Five Nights in Cuba’s Tourist Apartheid / Iván García

Entrance to Memories Flamenco Beach Resort. Taken from the blow: Andrew742.

Ivan Garcia, 19 August 2016 — On a cloudy afternoon in early July, I went with my daughter to the reservation office in the basement of the Habana Libre hotel, to reserve for mid-August five nights in a hotel in Cayo Coco, in the north of Ciego Avila province, some 360 miles from the capital.

I started saving the money for it in September of last year. A tourism representative suggested the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort. The price was absolutely prohibitive for an ordinary Cuba: 1,188 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), which, when adding the cost of transportation, was nothing less than 1,290 CUC for five days of sun and beach.

On the day of departure, at four in the morning, we were there will two pieces of hand luggage and a briefcase, waiting for the bus that would take us to Cayo Coco. They told us to come to the parking lot of the Roman Fonst Sports hall, adjacent to the interprovincial bus terminal in the Plaza de la Revolution municipality. Continue reading “Five Nights in Cuba’s Tourist Apartheid / Iván García”

Emigration: The Great Cuban Obsession / Iván García

One of the 8,000 Cuban migrants who, in January 2016, were stranded in Costa Rica and eventually were airlifted to El Salvador, where they managed to travel to Mexico and from there could cross the border and reach the United States, the 'promised land'. Taken from El País.
One of the 8,000 Cuban migrants who, in January 2016, were stranded in Costa Rica and eventually were airlifted to El Salvador, where they managed to travel to Mexico and from there could cross the border and reach the United States, the ‘promised land’. Taken from El País.

Ivan Garcia, 13 August 2016 — Like many Cubans who emigrate, Ariel celebrated by buying a case of Domincan-made Presidente beer and two bottles of aged Havana Club rum the day before his flight to Cancun.

Only his father and a couple of his friends knew of his plans. Weeks earlier, his wife flew to Miami legally as part of a family reunification program. Ariel, who did not want to wait two or three years to reunite with his wife, saved enough money and contacted a variety of people, who arranged his trip to Mexico. Continue reading “Emigration: The Great Cuban Obsession / Iván García”

Without Eusebio Leal, Habaguanex is Controlled by the Military / Iván García

Eusebio Leal. Taken from Habana Nuestra [Our Havana].
Eusebio Leal. Taken from Habana Nuestra [Our Havana].
Iván García, 9 August 2016 — The sun illuminates the Plaza Vieja, and a humid heat transforms the place into an open-air sauna. When you set foot on the cobblestones, the sensation you have is one of walking on burning embers.

At the entrance of the planetarium, dozens of kids accompanied by their parents get in line to see this piece of Havana geography from a black-box camera.

The tourists, as always, relaxed and absent-minded, are drinking beer or taking photos of the Plaza Vieja, dressed in bermuda shorts and leather sandals, always accompanied by a bottle of mineral water. Continue reading “Without Eusebio Leal, Habaguanex is Controlled by the Military / Iván García”

Hookers Will Increase With The Tourist Boom And The Economic Austerity / Iván García

Photo taken from My Wall Paper Top.
Photo taken from My Wall Paper Top.

Iván García, 5 August 2016 — In the middle of the empty bottles of aged rum and the Presidente Dominican beer washed down on the patio, five people are drinking and talking about sports and business. From the back comes the sound of the Reggaeton, Hasta que se seque el Malecón, [“Until the Malecón dries up”] of Jacob Forever [a Reggaeton star].

Meanwhile, four girls are taking turns with a chipped soda can, inhaling a mix of cocaine and a bite of cigar, known in Cuba as cambolo. Continue reading “Hookers Will Increase With The Tourist Boom And The Economic Austerity / Iván García”

Voices of Change in Cuba Could Emerge from the Private Sector / Iván García

Bicyclists parading through Havana on May 10, 2016 in protest against high fines imposed on them and restrictions preventing them from operating in some streets of the capital. From Independent and Democratic Cuba (CID).
Bicyclists parading through Havana on May 10, 2016 in protest against high fines imposed on them and restrictions preventing them from operating in some streets of the capital. From Independent and Democratic Cuba (CID).

Iván García, 30 July 2016 — One a hot afternoon in May, a Havana bicycle taxi driver became upset over a fine of 700 pesos and managed to overturn a government regulation which he considered arbitrary. This triggered a flawlessly prepared legal argument, which culminated in a protest by about forty taxi drivers in Revolution Square demanding their rights.

Officials of the regime treated them with kid gloves. The government dismissed the fines imposed on bicycle taxi drivers and promised to investigate irregularities and complaints of corruption against state inspectors.

Without fanfare and despite continuing abuses, they continue working in different areas of Havana from which the government had tried to evict them years earlier. Continue reading “Voices of Change in Cuba Could Emerge from the Private Sector / Iván García”

Cuba and Venezuela: Stormy Weather / Iván García

Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez in a "proof of life" photo with newspaper. Source: Toronto Star, November 14, 2011
Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez in a “proof of life” photo with newspaper. Source: Toronto Star, November 14, 2011

Iván García, 1 August 2016 — Whatever serious prophecy is offered, Venezuelan President, Nicolás Maduro, has very few options. It’s an uncomfortable liability even for the followers of chavismo [the politics of Hugo Chávez, who preceded Maduro].

No one knows the interior of the Palace of Miraflores better than the Havana Regime. It’s an undisputed merit that the Castro brothers have conquered Venezuela without firing a shot.

Thanks to Fidel Castro’s charisma and his ideological narrative, the Island holds the reins of power in Venezuela. Of course, the intelligence reports that land on the desk of President Raúl Castro detail with surgical precision that Maduro’s government is numbering its days. Continue reading “Cuba and Venezuela: Stormy Weather / Iván García”

The Other Mariel / Iván García

Mariel, Cuba. Photo by Ivan Garcia
Mariel, Cuba. Photo by Ivan Garcia

Iván García, 28 July 2016 — A woman with outlandish eye-glasses, reading a book in the back seat, and a sinewy mulatto who is chain-smoking and chatting up the driver on the approaching economic austerity are two of the six passengers in an old collective taxi that the chauffeur drives, zigzagging along the ruined road.

With the salsa music at full blast, we head to the village of Mariel, some 55 kilometers to the west of Havana. Two passengers get off at La Boca, a grey and ugly one-horse town where minutes are hours. Continue reading “The Other Mariel / Iván García”

Affordable Vacations in Cuba / Iván García

Piscina-de-un-hotel-cuba-_ab-620x330
Photo: Lorenzo Crespo Silveira, Havana Times.

Ivan Garcia, 4 July 2016 — Mayara finished ninth grade with excellent grades and the next school term she will start high school. She is thinking about going to university and getting a degree in civil engineering or architecture.

Until then, she is spending her holidays scrubbing dishes, cleaning house and helping her mother wash fifteen pounds of dirty clothes twice a week.

“I feel very bad for my daughter but I don’t have money for her to go a discotheque or a party with her friends. I cannot even afford to send her on a trip to the beach with some neighbors who have rented a bus. She’ll have to settle once again for watching television and reading books. I make 380 pesos a month (about 17 dollars) as a receptionist and that isn’t even enough to feed ourselves adequately. And I can’t rely on her father. He’s always drunk and months will pass before he gives his daughter so much as a peso,” says Mayara’s mother. Continue reading “Affordable Vacations in Cuba / Iván García”

Three Months Later, The Residents Of Havana Still Remember Obama / Iván García

Michelle Obama, her mother, Marian Robinson, and her daughters, Malia and Sasha, pose together with a group of Cuban children after having planted two magnolia bushes, similar to the ones that bloom in the White House gardens, and after donating a wooden bench for the relaxation of visitors to the Rubén Martínez Villena library garden in Old Havana. Taken from Impacto New York. 
Michelle Obama, her mother, Marian Robinson, and her daughters, Malia and Sasha, pose together with a group of Cuban children after having planted two magnolia bushes, similar to the ones that bloom in the White House gardens, and after donating a wooden bench for the relaxation of visitors to the Rubén Martínez Villena library garden in Old Havana. Taken from Impacto New York.

Iván García , 22 June 2016 — The park at Galiano and San Rafael is a beehive of activity. At one end, several teenagers play soccer, using a school desk as the goal, while 50 men and women are connecting to the Internet, sitting on wooden benches or the ground.

Conversations with relatives or friends mix together. Here the wifi is confined exclusively to talking with family through IMO or chatting on Facebook, the island’s new virtual drug. Continue reading “Three Months Later, The Residents Of Havana Still Remember Obama / Iván García”

Intense Rains Give Evidence of the "Wonder" of Havana / Iván García

Beneath the rain, Havana received the title of Wonder City of the Modern World. Photo by Elio Delgado Valdés, taken from Havana Times.
Beneath the rain, Havana received the title of Wonder City of the Modern World. Photo by Elio Delgado Valdés, taken from Havana Times.

Iván García, 9 June 2016 — Ask Luis Carlos Rodríguez, retired, his opinion about the designation of “Wonder City” based on an Internet survey conducted in the winter of 2014 by the Swiss foundation, “New 7 Wonders,” and you will hear a long list of complaints, sprinkled with insults, about the olive-green government that has governed the destiny of Cuba since January 1959.

The old man lives in a quarter where the wastewater runs through the cracked central corridor, a little more than half a kilometer from the area of colonial Havana, which wears makeup for the photos of dazzled tourists. Continue reading “Intense Rains Give Evidence of the "Wonder" of Havana / Iván García”

The Cuban Government Wants to Regulate Prices for Collective Taxis / Iván García

Photo from Cubanet
Photo from Cubanet

Iván García, 19 July 2016 — At the traffic signal on Infanta and Carlos III, in the heart of Havana, Guenady takes advantage of the red light to thirstily take a swig out of a half-liter of ice water that he keeps at one side of his driver’s seat.

Perhaps the cold water helps to appease his fury. He spends 20 minutes protesting what he considers an arbitariness of the Government that is trying to regulate the prices of the routes taken by the collective taxis [taxis that pick up people and travel set routes, often old American cars].

The man turns off the CD and replaces the Reggaeton with a rant sprinkled with curses and criticisms of the olive-greet autocrats. Continue reading “The Cuban Government Wants to Regulate Prices for Collective Taxis / Iván García”

Traffic Accidents: The Fifth Highest Cause of Death in Cuba / Iván García

The state of a Transtur bus, carrying 30 European tourists, after a crash. The crash happened on April 2, 2016, at the Jatibonico exit going towards Ciego de Ávila, leaving 2 dead and 28 injured. The two who died were the driver, Alkier Barrera Medina, a 36-year-old Cuban national, and an Austrian tourist, Johnn Eberl, aged 63. Photo by Vicente Brito, Escambray newspaper from Sancti Spiritus.
The state of a Transtur bus, carrying 30 European tourists, after a crash. The crash happened on April 2, 2016, at the Jatibonico exit going towards Ciego de Ávila, leaving 2 dead and 28 injured. The two who died were the driver, Alkier Barrera Medina, a 36-year-old Cuban national, and an Austrian tourist, Johnn Eberl, aged 63. Photo by Vicente Brito, Escambray newspaper from Sancti Spiritus.

Iván García, 11 July 2016 — Fernando, owner of a private business to the east of Havana, bought his ancient black Moskvitch during the difficult years of the Special Period, when the proprietor, a national labour hero, found himself obliged to sell his cane cutting business to feed his family.

The Soviet era car should have gone to the scrapyard years ago. Moreover, the Russian factory which made the vehicle went bust in 2002. But in Cuba, the obsolete Moskvitch refuses to die. Continue reading “Traffic Accidents: The Fifth Highest Cause of Death in Cuba / Iván García”

A Lighter Version of Cuba’s Special Period / Iván García

Photo: Ernesto Perez Chang, Cubanet.
Photo: Ernesto Perez Chang, Cubanet.

Iván García, 23 July 2016 — It was announced on Friday, July 8 that Cuba had experienced an economic recession in the first half of this year and that there would be cutbacks in fuel consumption. If the country had a stock exchange or a convertible national currency, their fall would have been dramatic.

It was a black Friday in Cuba, where there is not even a semblance of Wall Street and the local currency is nothing more than paper. Businesses and direct investments that increase GDP are scarce. Prominent businesspeople and well-known multinationals survey the scene like birds of prey yet do not dare to swoop down on their targets. Continue reading “A Lighter Version of Cuba’s Special Period / Iván García”