The Price of Change
The Impact of Tourism on Cuba
Commentary by Steve Anchell
© 2016 Steve Anchell. All rights reserved.
As someone who has traveled legally to Cuba and led twenty-five workshops since 2001, I can attest it is almost as easy for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba today as it is to visit Mexico. Almost, as there are still regulations in place, paperwork to be filled out, and forms to be signed. But these have become mostly superfluous. The “watchdogs of the border,” as U.S. Customs and Immigration likes to refer to itself, has turned over its responsibility to the airline industry. As a result, in order to purchase a seat on a charter airline all you need do is sign an affidavit that says you’re traveling for education or research.
Previously you were required to travel with a group, and the group was required by Cuban law to spend a percentage of its time visiting memorials and museums dedicated to the Revolution. Even though these requirements are still in effect there is no one on the Cuban side checking to see if they’re being met. You can literally spend your visit partying at the many private clubs that have sprung up in the last few years.
Cuba needs tourist dollars to pay for health care, education, and infrastructure for its own people. But in order to accommodate the volume of tourists required to pay for these programs new hotels must be built and the already scarce food supply must be used to feed them. What this means is that the limited resources are being earmarked for hotels, restaurants, and resorts that cater to tourists. If there is a shortage in say, tomatoes, the Cubans must do without.
Cubans find themselves in a double-bind. They need tourists to provide hard capital, but they need the hard capital in order to feed and house the tourists. There is no easy solution. The best is to hope that this is only a short term hardship that will end when real foreign investment capital is allowed to enter the country. Not only by lifting the embargo on the U.S. side, but by the Cuban government allowing that investment to take place with reasonable assurance that the investment won’t be appropriated by the government. In the meantime, the tourists are pouring in and the Cuban people are tightening their belts and working overtime.