News and Facts about Cuba

The Truth About ‘Tourist Apartheid’ in Cuba

The Truth About ‘ Apartheid’ in Cuba
Kim-Marie Evans February 16, 2015

Contrary to recent headlines, Cuba is not flinging open its doors for
tourist . Although there have been recent changes in U.S.
regulations, it is still technically for an American to be a
tourist in Cuba. In fact, during a recent art-buying trip I took to
Cuba, I learned there is a term used to describe the visitor situation
in the country: “tourist apartheid.” In other words, travelers still
remain separate from the general population.

The purpose of my trip was to buy art, but the visit also allowed me to
learn more about the lives of “real” Cubans — which is very different
from what tourists see and experience. The people I interviewed
whispered their answers while glancing over their shoulders. “Who could
possibly be listening?” I asked.

The truth is that anyone can be listening.

I took a similar trip to Cuba last year. That was when I learned that
freedom is still scarce in the country. During that trip, I was followed
by a spy who somehow knew that I was carrying a book by a well-known
Cuban blogger — even though I hadn’t shown the book to anyone
and had not left it in my room. The ministry of contacted
my group leader, who made me surrender the “anti-government propaganda.”

We aren’t imagining that Cuba is an oppressive socialist regime — it is.

To get a job there, Cubans still need to be able to provide
documentation that they are good socialists. Telling an American
the story of your life could jeopardize that. So for that
reason, most names in this story have been changed. I spent my time on
the ground trying to answer my own questions about the current situation
in Cuba. Here is what I learned:

There is a huge financial divide

During a lunch at a popular tourist restaurant in Havana, a doorman
pulled me aside. Under the guise of a “restaurant tour,” he told me his
story. After completing six years of medical school and obtaining a
prominent position in the hospital, he earns $52 per month — roughly the
same amount it costs to eat lunch in the restaurant where he works. He
stays in Cuba because he loves what he does. He continues to practice
medicine because he loves what he does. When he met his wife’s family,
they were disappointed that she was marrying a doctor; her last
boyfriend had been a waiter. Right now, waiters and taxi drivers earn
more than doctors and engineers, because they cater to tourists, whereas
doctors and engineers cater to the general population.

There are two currencies: one for Cubans and one for tourists. The
tourist dollar, the CUC, is worth 25 Cuban pesos and is roughly
equivalent to one U.S. dollar. It would be reasonable to think that in a
country where the average income is 20 CUCs per month, and shelter
would be inexpensive. Not true, according to my tour guide, Julia, who
said “it costs $250 to $300 per month to live.” Those who don’t work
full-time in the tourist industry moonlight in it or become creative at
making money on the side. One artist told me, “All Cubans are capitalists.”

There is a huge information gap

When I needed help carrying a case of water to my hotel room (the same
five-star hotel where Jay Z and Beyoncé stayed), my driver was not
allowed to help me take it up in the elevator. Until recently, Cubans
were not even allowed in hotel lobbies. The rationale? A hotel lobby
offers forbidden access to international information. In lobbies, Wi-Fi
is free, and U.S. television shows blare in hotel bars.

Julia whispered to me that if she were caught watching American
television, she would go to jail. She is not a subversive; she just
really likes HGTV. And while is not restricted in Cuba, as it
is in , access costs $4 per hour.

There is a scarcity of food

The Cuban government wants tourists to believe that food is plentiful,
and for tourists, it is. At hotels, tourists are offered eggs cooked a
dozen ways every morning.

The story is very different for Cuban nationals. One woman I met (we’ll
call her Maria) told me that getting eggs for her children is
challenging. Eggs are often not available — not in a bodega (aka, a
ration market) or even on the more expensive black market. She
explained: “Sometimes the trucks transporting the eggs don’t work or
have petrol; sometimes the drivers are not working. Everything has to go
right for eggs to make it to market.”

My visit to a local bodega confirmed that what is offered by the
government is far more scarce than the authorities would have Americans

There is actually a fear of freedom

While Americans muse that the Cubans’ biggest fear is that we will
overrun their little island country with McDonald’s outlets, their
biggest fear is actually that their families will leave for the U.S. at
the first opportunity. Miguel told me that “every Cuban family has an
empty closet from someone who left.” When I asked him why people stay
when they could leave if they chose, he told me it’s usually to take
care of relatives. His lamented that his son will most likely leave as
soon as he has the chance. “Everyone wants to leave,” he said.

Political propaganda still lines the streets. This is taken from a
speech given by Fidel Castro that translates as “Faithful to our History.”

Shortly after President Obama announced the easing of restrictions on
travel, masses of Cubans took to rafts in a desperate bid to reach the
U.S. “They are worried that the U.S. will change the wet-foot/dry-foot
rule,” Miguel explained. He is referring to the policy stating that
Cubans who are caught at sea are returned to the island, but the lucky
ones who make it to shore are given preferential immigration status.

The old guard still exists

At a late-night, wine-infused dinner in an art studio outside Havana, I
had a chance to debate politics and the coming “avalanche of Americans”
with a group of artists. The conversation started out boisterous, and
the coming changes were hotly debated. While it stopped short of being
anti-American, there was a definite sentiment that U.S relations aren’t
all they are cracked up to be. As I began furiously scribbling notes,
the room quieted down. When I asked if I had gone too far with my
questions, one of the artists answered: “I think the silence speaks for

While most Cubans will freely tell you that they hope for change, some
in the artist community enjoy a certain sense of Cuban pride. Cuban
artists are allowed to travel abroad to promote and sell their art. And
as one artist described it: “When you are at an art show with others
from, say, or Guatemala, collectors are only interested in talking
to you, because you are Cuban. Fidel gave us that.”

This type of pro-revolution discourse is described by Cubans as
“dressing one’s self in the flag.”

I later learned that this particular artist is the granddaughter of one
of the most famous revolutionaries in Cuban history. She also admonished
my guide to “warn her the next time you bring a reporter around.”

The only way to truly know what is going to happen in Cuba is to spend
time on the ground. Unfortunately that is still a difficult prospect for
most Americans. The iron curtain will lift gradually, but the future
remains uncertain.

Source: The Truth About ‘Tourist Apartheid’ in Cuba –

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