Cuba, a ‘Paradise’ of Misery That Is Beginning To Scare Canadians

Canadians’ perception is undergoing a 180 degree turn, and not exactly towards a postcard of palm trees and mojitos

Canadian tourists in Havana’s Central Park. / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Karel J. Leyva, Montreal (Canada), 8 May 2024 — Attracted by its beaches, warm climate, the hospitality of its people and competitive prices, Canadians have traditionally considered Cuba as a tourist destination without equal. Not only a vacation paradise, but also a reliable healthcare bastion. Even Canadian political leaders did not spare their praise for Cuban medical care, fueling confidence in the services offered.

However, times have changed, a lot. Canadians’ perception of Cuba is undergoing a 180-degree turn, and not exactly towards a postcard of palm trees and mojitos. This change is due to multiple reasons that could definitively discourage travelers from choosing the Island as their vacation destination.

First, and this is crucial, Canadian government authorities have gone from encouraging the flow of tourists to Cuba to issuing warnings about the risks involved in visiting the Island. The Canadian Government is strongly asking citizens to exercise a “high degree of of caution” when considering a trip to Cuba. It should be noted that, for many Canadians, whose culture is impregnated with what is known as high-context communication — filled with euphemisms and avoiding strong statements — this is equivalent to high alert.

What do Canadian authorities communicate to their citizens? Well, they warn travelers about the serious shortage of food, medicine and fuel in Cuba. They insist on the increase in violence, assaults and financial scams, including credit card fraud and the risks associated with ATMs empty of cash.

Canadian authorities inform travelers that Cuban health care infrastructure is critically deficient, with a marked lack of medications

In addition, they warn about poor security for women, the lack of reliability in telecommunications, complications in online transactions and the prevalence of theft of bags and wallets in tourist spots, markets, public buses, nightclubs and beaches. They warn that thefts from hotel rooms and vehicles are common occurrences in Cuba and explicitly advise keeping windows and doors securely closed, not resisting in the event of robberies, and being cautious when using debit or credit cards.

And that’s not all. Canadian authorities inform travelers that Cuba’s health care infrastructure is critically deficient, with a marked lack of medications, supplies and equipment, compounded by insufficient hygiene practices, slow responses to emergencies and, to top it all off, inadequate mental health services (certainly necessary in the event of a crisis in any of the situations described above).

In fact, the Canadian government asks travelers, if they still decide to take the risk of going to Cuba, to carry their own supplies of medications due to the presence of diseases such as the Zika virus, cholera, hepatitis A, typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases.

With the additional threats of vector-borne and zoonotic diseases such as chikungunya, dengue fever, West Nile virus and malaria, personal health preparedness, they suggest, is crucial. All of these risks have been confirmed and exposed by the Leadership and Democracy Lab at Western University (London, Ontario).

To all this (and especially to the fact that it is announced by a Government in which its citizens have a high degree of trust) are added the “traveller reviews.” And I’m not just referring to the ones they leave on websites that are, of course, consulted when making a decision, but to the warnings that these travelers have been giving to their families, neighbors, friends, colleagues and, of course, If that were not enough, to the press.

Recently, the dream of an idyllic vacation in Cuba was described in numerous Canadian media outlets as a nightmare

Recently, the dream of an idyllic vacation in Cuba was described in numerous Canadian media outlets as a nightmare. Complaints range from the presence of cockroaches and dirty guest areas to children being robbed in their own rooms, to a lack of food and bottled water supplies and even a shortage of toilet paper for guests.

Canadian tourist Deanna Lang took legal action against Sunwing travel agency in Manitoba, seeking to recover C$8,000 (about US$5,830) spent on what turned out to be a disastrous vacation at the Memories Varadero Beach Resort (a well-known name: it is guaranteed that she will never forget that unfortunate stay). Additionally, Lang criticized the resort staff’s ineffective response to her complaints and the challenges she faced in communicating with Sunwing representatives during her stay.

A couple from Ontario had a similar experience earlier this year at the Meliá Marina resort in Varadero. Their unfortunate experience began right upon arriving at the hotel, the conditions of which they described as “deplorable.” The elevators were out of service, forcing the couple to use the stairs. They then found themselves in dark hallways, illuminated only by flashing lights, so they had to use the flashlights on their cell phones to make their way. The presence of cigarette butts, stains on the walls and, most alarmingly, what appeared to be blood stains on the sheets, made them feel like they were starring in a horror movie, details that they did not fail to comment on extensively to the press.

Unacceptable accommodation conditions, including issues with room cleanliness and a faulty toilet facility, led the couple to explore the resort in search of some redemption in the amenities on offer, only to find further signs of neglect, squalor and disrepair. Even when, after much effort, they managed to be transferred to another hotel, they found similar conditions, including a lack of toilet paper and running water. The couple, who spent almost 7,000 Canadian dollars on the trip, were compensated only 150 dollars.

Another experience widely reported in the Canadian press is the case of Caroline Tétrault. Caroline had the terrible luck of having to undergo emergency surgery in a Cuban hospital. Her husband, Christian Maurais, told several media outlets about all the needs they experienced, from not being able to get into the ambulance because of the defective stretcher to the precariousness of obtaining the necessary antibiotics. They had to ask family and friends for help to get medical supplies from Canada.

Christian narrated on television how he had to resort to the black market to acquire specific foods required for Caroline’s liquid diet. When asked what message he wanted to convey, he warned other travelers about the importance of researching the quality of medical services and health infrastructure before traveling abroad. Due to this experience, the couple has decided not to return to Cuba.

When asked what message he wanted to convey, he warned other travelers about the importance of researching the quality of medical services and health infrastructure before traveling abroad

I could continue listing reasons, from the political activity of the Cuban exile in Canada and the awareness work they carry out in public spaces, to the position of open criticism of the Cuban Government by senators and members of the Canadian parliament for the county’s more than 65 years of repression and its constant violations of human rights.

The truth is that when Cuba appears in the news in Canada it is no longer to praise it as a paradisiacal and warm place, but to show the horrors faced by the daring people who decide to travel there against the warnings of their Government. Horrors that can include the body of a deceased relative being mistakenly sent to Russia, while the wrong body is received in Canada.

When Canadians hear about Cuba, it is about its ties to Cuban mercenaries involved in the war in Ukraine, about its brutal practices, about the people’s desire to liberate themselves and, what touches Canadians most closely, about the already widely publicized fact that the misery imposed on the Cuban people has metastasized, and not even tourists, the jewel in the crown, are safe from precariousness, chaos and fear.

The difference is that while the Cuban people lie crushed by the dictatorship and their options to free themselves from so much oppression entail risks, Canadians can simply choose another tourist destination. Fortunately, they have the enviable luck of being able to say what Caroline’s husband declared to Radio-Canada: “Cuba is over for us.”


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