Varadero Is Closed to Cuban Tourists but not to Russians and Canadians

Cuban customers have seen their reservations cancelled in the blink of an eye. (R. Ferreira/Archivo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, July 2, 2021 — The complicated Covid-19 situation in Matanzas province has scuttled vacations in Varadero. Except for foreigners. The island’s main tourist destination is closed to Cuban visitors starting today according to Barbara Vasallo, a journalist with the Cuban News Agency.

Though this decision affects the summer vacation plans of thousands of Cubans, the news came on Monday not through official media outlets but through an online post by the Cubatur Travel Agency. According to the company, reservations for tourist accommodations are cancelled as part of an effort to “reduce public mobility.”

Those who had planned a trip for the first half of July have three options: a full refund, a credit which can be applied to other products or services, or a reservation for a date after October 31 at the same price (unless the customer wants to make a reservation for the Christmas holidays, in which case there would be a surcharge for dinner on December 24th and 31st). We appreciate your understanding of the ongoing need to safeguard public health,” the agency’s message read.

The pandemic has led to the return of the days of “tourism apartheid,” which was in force until 2008, when Raul Castro first allowed Cubans to stay in the island’s tourist hotels. Before then, only foreigners had access to these facilities, which were serviced by Cuban personnel.

Thirteen years later, Cubans are once again relegated to waiting on foreign tourists. Most of them are Russians, who have been seen roaming around the resort town for months, many without masks. Despite pandemic restrictions, more than 4,000 Russian have been arriving in Varadero every week since June. Not a day has gone by that Dr. Francisco Duran has not given a nationally televised briefing on Covid-19 infections, some of which can be traced to Russia.

On Monday, the Canadian government lifted travel restrictions on its citizens, who are also expected to travel to Varadero in large numbers now that visitors who have been vaccinated are exempt from Cuba’s two-week quarantine requirement. Air Canada resumes service to the island on Saturday. It joins other carriers — Aeroflot, Azur Air, NordWind, Royal Flight and the German agency TUI — which already offer flights to Varadero.

Though these measures have not caught the attention of the public, which this year has been more focused on day-to-day survival than on spending the summer in an all-inclusive resort they cannot afford, the journalist Barbara Vasallo has defended them in the face of criticism from some of her followers.

“Russians take a PCR test seventy-two hours before entering the country, most have received the Sputnik V vaccine and everyone knows the economy needs this. Or are we supposed to survive on thin air?” writes the reporter in response to a comment critical of allowing Russian tourists into Cuba.

Her rationale contradicts public health officials’ arguments that vaccines do not necessarily prevent infection or transmission of the virus. “Let’s stop being blind and relying on Band-Aid solutions, always using the economy as an excuse then blaming the public for everything that is happening to us,” reads a comment with which she took issue.

Some commentators note that, if this is about being vaccinated, Cuban visitors could be asked to get the Sovereign 02 or Abdala vaccine as a condition for travel. Similarly, domestic travellers who want to stay at a hotel could be required to take a PCR test. As you might recall, however, a result can be negative if a test is done before an infection becomes active (which is why it is repeated after five days). At least this would guarantee that every visitor gets the same treatment, regardless of one’s country of origin.

“Does this mean that domestic tourism is not important to the economy?” asks another in an obvious rebuke to Vasallo, who insists that the state must protect the only economic engine it still controls. Another writer, more despairing than irritated, observes, “Cubans are not second-class citizens within their own country. Death still comes for those who face discrimination.”


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