14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 May 2019 — Things have become complicated for the independent tour guides in Havana in recent weeks. Accustomed to operating for years without a license, they see how the authorities are now trying to curb their activities to protect the monopoly of state companies, such as Cubanacan or Havanatur.
“We must avoid all streets near the cruise terminal, but the truth is some days are more complicated than other,” a freelance guide who prefers not to reveal his name tells 14ymedio. According to his testimony and that of another of his colleagues, in the last month several colleagues have been arrested and taken to the police station at Cuba and Chacón streets or fined by the authorities.
“It has already happened to me twice, encountering the police with customers along the routes. It’s a terrible shame, but I tell them all the truth, that we are in a legal limbo and that’s why they can stop us,” explains the guide, an English language graduate from the University of Havana who prefers to work on his own.
The lack of government issued licenses for tourist guides prevents the practice of this specialty within legal channels, as professionals would prefer. “Many of us do not have a license because it does not exist, I, in particular, have a photographer, and when the police ask I always tell tourists that they hire me to accompany them on their tour and take pictures of them. So far it has worked for me but some of my friends have had problems with this ruse,” he says.
The profession of dance teacher is another of the licenses most requested by those who, in reality, use the license to act of a tour guide on the main streets of Havana.
Luis, driver of a luxury car that offers tours from Old Havana to the Plaza of the Revolution says that “the guides are tremendous targets. They are detained, they are fined, and then fined again. When they are fined for the third time, they are given a warning notice and that means they have a criminal record and it is impossible for them to travel in areas where there is tourism.”
The history of the raids against the guides runs by word of mouth among those who make a living in the Historic Center area. A parking lot attendant from the Lonja del Comercio attributes it to the fact that the cruise companies that arrive in Havana are receiving fewer reservations for tours and have complained because “the guides picked up clients from the cruise when they exit through Customs.”
The attendant admits that although there are many professionals in the business, there are also “many scammers” who take advantage of the situation and are not prepared for the job. “A few weeks ago here there was a big raid, they took about 20 in a trip, they grabbed everyone, small-time jineteros (male prostitutes) and guides who have been doing this for years,” he says.
Today we reached 2 million visitors, 12 days earlier than year, we will have a Foreign Administration Workshop, in the afternoon a Cuba-Spain Business Forum, tonight the gala at the Alicia Alonso Theater and tomorrow we will inaugurate FITCuba 2019 at the Palace of Conventions. pic.twitter.com/qBVJYTYAaT – Manuel Marrero Cruz (@MMarreroCruz) May 6, 2019
According to official figures, the Island has received two million international visitors since the beginning of 2019 until May 4. The Minister of Tourism, Manuel Marrero, published the data in his Twitter account and said that this shows “a higher rate” of arrivals compared to the same period last year.
The official press highlighted on Monday that the United States remains the second “origin market” despite “the [United States] Government’s policy.” By the end of April, 257,500 Americans had arrived in Cuba, 55% in cruises,” an option that continues to rise and grows 48% this year,” while arrivals by air grows 45%.
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