Domestic Tourism, the Faces of Deceit / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

Cuban guests can only observe foreigners enjoy yachting trips.  They are prohibited from this activity (photo by the author)
Cuban guests can only observe foreigners enjoy yachting trips. They are prohibited from this activity (photo by the author)

cubanet square, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 16 June 2015 — To judge by the avalanche of television programs that in recent weeks have been dedicated to so-called “domestic tourism,” in Cuba all families have adequate income to become a major market for the island’s hotel groups and resorts.

Several Round Tables with the participation of ministers, vice-ministers, and company heads, all tied to the tourism sector, plus extensive reports on the Cuban Television National News detail the offers for this summer, present promotional campaigns in hotels and shopping centers and exhort the “Cuban family” to make reservations as soon as possible due to high demand.

The propagandistic marathon gives the sense that the economies within our homes are booming and that this country, replete with multitudes living below the poverty line, only exists in “enemy propaganda.”

As anyone can find out if he wants to, within those same tourist centers “open to everyone,” it is difficult to find guests from our own backyard. Nevertheless, at the doors of the hotels one can collect statements from people who not even in their dreams are permitted the fantasy of “vacationing” on equal terms with foreigners.

Although many may seem to be indigent or to owe their poverty to a slight entrepreneurial spirit, talking with any of those vendors and hustlers who abound in the streets of Cuba can reveal to us that it is those same men and women, workers and professionals, who once believed in that perennial “sacrifice for the future” demanded by those same government officials who today, when speaking of vacations and complete availability in the midst of the daily miseries, inoculate them with a sense of personal failure.

Manolo, a street vendor with whom we spoke on a corner of Paseo del Prado tells us: “I worked my whole life, I was at the sugar harvest when needed, I was in all the mobilizations and I was in the vanguard for many years, and I have nothing. (…) My pension does not cover my needs, like almost everyone. How am I going to plan a vacation? Only one time, in 1983, could I go to a house on the beach in Guanabo, a week, and now I don’t even remember why it was. Vacations are for the rich, and in this country almost everyone is poor, so I don’t know what they’re talking about on television. Well, there they say anything. My son tells me that if I want to consume everything they talk about on the television, I have to put a basket underneath it, because they only exist on the news.”

Manolo’s experience is similar to that of thousands, maybe millions, of Cubans. Collecting testimony about the matter is not hard, and this makes it much more dramatic.

German, another old retiree who sells plastic bags in the streets of Old Havana, could give the impression that he wasted his time when young and that he did not exert himself to achieve greater welfare in his old age; however, like any decent Cuban he believed in work as the only source of prosperity and currently he feels cheated. Vacation in one of the tourist facilities promoted as a vacation destination by the government itself is a true luxury: “What do I do then? It is better not to even think of those things. (…) I never pay attention to what they say on television. They have their country and we, ours,” German tells me.

In cahoots with the journalists who lend themselves to hiding the true reality in a country where the word “vacation” has become empty of all meaning, government officials have the audacity to speak of “affordable prices,” of “overbooking” and “high demand” in a scenario where the entire year’s salary from an honest professional’s job is not high enough to even provide the enjoyment of one day in hotel in Cayo Coco or Varadero, two of the destinations that, according to the official press and the highest tourism authorities in Cuba, “are among the most in demand by the domestic tourist for the coming months of July and August, a time when Cubans comprise 45 percent of those vacationing.” The statistics from MINTUR, contrasted with Cubans’ hard day-to-day reality, are offensive.

A brief visit to any of the internet pages where businesses like Cubanacan or Islazul promote their summer products, aimed at the “domestic market,” show how “cheap” the offers can be even for those same official reporters who barely receive more than 20 dollars for their work.

A basic room in a low or medium level hotel costs, for only one person, between 25 and 70 dollars per night, without counting that the so-called “domestic tourist” does not receive the same treatment as a foreign visitor so that there exist payment and service options totally closed to Cubans. For example, outings on yachts or any motor boat are off limits for even the few Cubans with enough purchasing power (and who, of course, are not relatives of high military officers or leaders); so are those vacation packages that include underwater fishing or big game hunting in preserves devoted only to the country’s upper echelons.

Doctors and health specialists who return from missions abroad where they are paid in dollars, people who live on considerable remittances from relatives in exile, prostitutes, smugglers and corrupt leaders make up that mass of citizens favored by the changes in the policy of access to tourist facilities. A minority that the Cuban government insists on turning into the best face of that capitalist-socialism and into a shield in order to hide the accumulation of lies that constitutes that old populist discourse that, in current circumstances, no longer is suitable but that constituted that sad and skinny losing horse called the “Cuban Revolution” on which they obliged us to bet in a race they always knew was lost.

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Translated by MLK