In tune with the new airs of delayed economic reforms that General Raul Castro aims to promote, under one of the measures made public on Monday 9th May, Cubans on the island can take holidays abroad.
On the street it has been the story of the year. It displaced the Brazilian soap opera, the gossip about the neighbour’s infidelities, even the constant criticism of government mismanagement.
But it’s not that easy. It’s not like we can take money from the bank and go to shoot some photos in Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid or on the Champs Elysees in Paris. Many prefer the Big Apple, Miami Beach or Los Angeles. But Cubans governed by the Castro brothers are unable to travel as tourists to the United States due to the embargo in place since 1962.
Initial reactions in Havana were of acceptance. In a butcher’s in La Vibora a discussion formed on the subject. “I can never go travelling. Where would I get the money? I do not even know Varadero. But it’s okay for those who can to travel”, said Alfonso, an old retiree.
There are also doubts and suspicions. “Who can travel? Would destination countries grant visas? Could everyone leave, including dissidents?”, asks Maritza, a lawyer.
There are a lot of things to talk about. We would have to see, for example, if the blogger Yoani Sánchez was allowed to leave Cuba. A week ago, for the fifteenth time, she was denied permission to leave, on this occasion to go to Spain and Denmark.
I do not believe prominent opponents such as Elizardo Sanchez, Martha Beatriz Roque, Oscar Elias Biscet and Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, among others, can travel without restrictions or controls to conferences and symposia.
Hardly anyone in Cuba with savings can afford the pleasure of spending two weeks in Cancún or Marbella. It is true that more than 72 thousand Cubans, from 2008 to date, have been guests in hard currency hotels across the island. Which are not cheap. For a family of four, the three-day stay could cost more than $1,200. Seven years of a worker’s salary.
And to cross the Atlantic is another matter. In low season, a one way ticket, at minimum, costs 400 euros to Spain or Italy. If you add up the costs of accommodation and food, you will see that they must carry in their saddlebags between 4,000 and 5,000 euros to see Barcelona play with their magic touch at Nou Camp or visit Venice with its canals, gondolas and palaces.
I presume that only an elite could go travelling. They know of whom I speak. High-level managers, trusted ministers or ‘olive green’ businessmen. It is rumored that plans are under consideration for affordable tourist packages among nations belonging to the ALBA, the group of partners consisting of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador.
To ordinary Cubans, these destinations are the same. “Hey, socio, the problem is getting the chance to hop on a plane and take a breather. It’s all the same if it’s Quito, La Paz or Caracas. If it’s all true, I will save money. Who would have said it, an ‘asere‘ (marginal) going on holidays”, says a mulatto while waiting for the bus.
Now, the worry will be shifted to the immigration authorities of the countries where the Cubans decide to spend a vacation. It is already known that to emigrate has become one of the favorite passions of the Cubans.
In Paris, Rome or Madrid they will be using a magnifying glass to ensure that all tourists from Cuba take the return flight. The ability to travel could facilitate defections to the USA. Because of the Cuban Adjustment Act, in force since 1966 in the United States, all Cubans who set foot on U.S. soil are automatically granted residency.
The sightseeing tours could become a new incentive for legal entry to the northern neighbour. Countless are the Cuban families that are divided for 50 years. The process of emigrating to the United States, from the parentage of the third generation are complicated and lengthy. José Ortiz is one of them. He spent 12 years wishing to leave.
He has tried everything. From jumping into the sea in a rickety boat and marrying a foreigner, to paying under the table for an Ecuadorian visa to allow him to jump to Miami. Without success. Maybe now the government of Raul Castro will put it in his hand. “It would be a long way and cost lots of money. But a safe way, without the danger of becoming a snack for the sharks”, says Ortiz.
We must wait to see if the new regulations do not become a way to abandon the country. If currently across the pond there are relatives to pay up to 10 thousand dollars to bring over relatives in an illegal and dangerous manner, it is conceivable that they will take advantage of this opportunity to get their family members away from the unpredictable Castro regime.
The new measures are likely to have restrictions. The regime will ensure that the dissidents continue to shout from home and not abroad.
10 May 2011