How can Canadian tourism sustain the Cuban army and one-party state

Standing on the corner of Montreal, Reinaldo Rodriguez sent a message to the Canadians.

“Canadian tourists are feeding the Cuban regime,” he told CBC News.

Since the riots swept across the island on July 11, Rodriguez has participated in a wave of protests that has swept across Canada’s 30,000 Cuban communities.

“People can’t see (money),” he said. “The same goes for the money the government makes from doctors working overseas. Cuba’s hospitals are unsanitary and people don’t have medicine.”

The protester Felix Blanco held up a slogan that read: “Integrated resorts in Cuba: 51% dictatorship, 49% foreign companies, 0% Cubans.”

Plainclothes police detained an anti-government protester during a protest in Havana, Cuba on Sunday, July 11, 2021. Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in several cities in Cuba to protest the continuing food shortage and high food prices. The new coronavirus crisis. (Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press)

Blanco grew up in Varadero, the center of the country’s sun and sand industry.

“The regime used the money to suppress it,” he told CBC News. “We can see how many police cars they have and how they plan to suppress them. But we don’t have ambulances.” (The Cuban authorities said they Lack of gasoline ambulance. )

Cuban-Canadian activists say that many Canadians do not know how much the survival of the Cuban one-party regime depends on the foreign currency tourists bring into the country, or that the Cuban government will do its best to bring Canadians there.

Even fewer people realize how much of their dollars is not going to Cuba’s undemocratic government, but directly to companies controlled by a small group of well-connected generals in the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces.

COVID destroyed the tourism industry

Cuba stated that although the number of foreign tourists to Cuba has dropped sharply this year, people with no other nationality are as far away from Cuba as Canadians. Government statistics.

Compared with 2019, overall visits have dropped by about 95%, but visits in Canada have dropped by 99.5%. (In contrast, Russia actually sent more visitors in 2021.)

This has caused great damage to the Cuban economy, because (in normal years) far more Canadians enter and leave Cuba than citizens of any other country-including Cuba itself.

On January 1st of this year, Cuba, like many countries, introduced new regulations requiring all tourists to take a negative PCR test for COVID-19 before traveling.

Cuba is an island, and few impoverished citizens can afford to leave it. When it comes to COVID, foreign tourists are its main source of vulnerability.

But just a few days later, Cuba cancelled the test requirement Exclusively for Canadian tourists.

This is not because the risk of COVID in Canada is low. In fact, Canada was approaching the peak of the entire pandemic at the time—about 8,000 new cases per day, so these regulations were relaxed. (Now there are only a few hundred per day.)

Cuba avoided the worst of the pandemic by 2020. This situation has changed in 2021; Cuba only reported 169 new cases on January 1, 2021, but by February 1, more than 1,000 new cases were recorded every day.

The Cuban government also provides PCR testing to Canadians returning home at a price that is only one-tenth of the price people expect to pay in Canada, the United States or Mexico.

Some Canadians are still very eager to visit Cuba Expanding the Atlantic Bubble Including the Caribbean islands-from Halifax to Cocoa Island, Nova Scotia requires most Canadians wishing to visit the province to stay in a Canadian-only hotel Apply for government permit.

Army and resort

In December 2019, just before the COVID outbreak, Cuban President Raúl Castro appointed Manuel Marrero Cruz as the first prime minister of Cuba in more than 30 years.

The last person to hold this position is Fidel Castro himself, who left the position to become president. The appointment of the long-serving Minister of Tourism demonstrates the importance of hotels and resorts to the Cuban economy.

With the exception of tourism, Cuba hardly needs to provide a world market compared to demand. For every dollar it earns through exports, it spends five dollars on imports. It expects tourists to bridge this huge gap year after year.

On April 12, 2021, a woman passes by a poster in Havana, Cuba. The poster shows the late Cuban President Fidel Castro, the First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, and former President Raul Castro and Photo of Cuban President Miguel Diaz Canel. (Alexander Menegini/Reuters)

Raul Castro is more in charge of Cuba’s modern resort industry than anyone. Many Cubans think Raul is more pragmatic than his brother Fidel, and Raul is in charge of the revolutionary armed forces when Soviet aid to Cuba dries up.

He used the country’s defense budget to expand into tourism and other businesses, creating the core of a business empire, which is today the largest player in the Cuban economy. There are more and more hotels near the coast of ancient Brazil, although Cuban nationals were banned from visiting before 2008 (the Cuban government lifted the ban on cell phones, computers and DVD players in the same year.)

The hotel empire led by the general

At the top of the Army Hotel Empire sits General Luis Alberto Rodríguez Lopez-Calleja, the father of Raúl Castro’s two grandsons and a member of the Cuban Politburo— -A man Some Cubans believe It is the man who truly manages the country with his father-in-law, using President Miguel Diaz-Canel as an alternative public image.

The Cuban general Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja married Raul Castro’s daughter and served as the head of GAESA, the holding company of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces. (Twitter)

Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja leads the armed forces’ holding company GAESA, which operates a series of tourism, construction, banking, aviation and ground transportation, and retail businesses across the country, including the hotel chain Gaviota, which has four and five large Some-domestic star hotel rooms.

The Cuban government also owns two other large hotel chains in Cuba, Gran Caribe Hotel Group and Cubanacan, although these two hotel chains have recently lost out to military holding companies.

Like the accounts of all state-owned companies in Cuba, the accounts of these chain stores have also been closed.

But the Cuban government has always Very public Regarding its intention to build an economic future in the tourism industry.

Current in Cuba Development Plan It is expected that by 2030, more than 100,000 new hotel rooms and 24 new golf courses will be built.

The core of the growth plan is GAESA and other companies owned by the armed forces. GAESA will spend more than $15 billion on 121 hotel projects, twice the amount expected from foreign investors and the Cuban civilian government combined.

By 2030, the Cuban military is expected to have more than 90,000 hotel rooms-more than the current number of rooms in the entire Dominican Republic, which is the most abundant country in the Caribbean.

Now, spending on investment in new hotels and real estate far exceeds Cuba’s shrinking budget for health, education, agriculture, and science. merge.

Even if the pandemic swept Cuba and the tourism industry plummeted, the Cuban Communist government could still find a Canadian partner. Blue Diamond Resorts is a Already managed About 20 Cuban state-owned hotels once again started business with the Cuban government in August 2020, opening the boutique hotel Mystique Casa Perla in Varadero.

Tourists walking on the beach in Varadero, Cuba on December 7, 2018. (Fernando Medina/Reuters)

Neither Blue Diamond nor its parent company, Sunwing, responded to CBC News’ inquiries about this article. Neither does the Canadian Cuban Tourism Board.

Richard Feinberg of the University of California, San Diego co-authored a paper on tourism in Cuba for the Brookings Institution. He said that foreign hotel chains usually have one of two arrangements with the Cuban government or military.

He said that hotels owned by the Ministry of Tourism usually have foreign companies as junior partners (usually they own 49% of the property and Cuba holds a controlling stake). He said that hotels owned by the military usually belong entirely to Almest SA, the military’s real estate company, while foreign partners only have management contracts.

Low wages, “captive” labor

Workers are provided through employment agencies that are also controlled by GAESA/Gaviota. Although a foreign company pays Gaviota an average base salary of approximately US$750 per month to workers, the worker’s salary is usually less than 10% of that amount. The rest is owned by the Cuban army.

Cuban hotel staff bring home Only a small portion of the income from similar work by colleagues in Cancun or the Dominican Republic.Guest worker from India working in a hotel Pay ten times more Than their Cuban counterparts.

Communist Party defend By claiming that the productivity of Indian workers is “three to four times higher” than the average Cuban level, it makes up for the difference in wages.

On Thursday, February 11, 2021, at the Komodoro Hotel in Havana, Cuba, a maid wears a mask to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. (Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press)

In addition, GAESA’s construction projects benefited from forced conscription labor, such as those who dig foundations under the new Hotel Prado y Malecon in Havana.

Felix Blanco pointed out another difference between Cuba’s tourism industry and other Caribbean destinations: the captured labor force. Although Mexican workers are dissatisfied with their wages and can leave and start their own businesses, “My family in Cuba is not allowed to have their own business.” Cubans who leave the $40 a month job in the tourism sector will be lucky enough to earn monthly in other economic sectors Take 30 dollars.

Feinberg said that jobs in the tourism industry are highly sought after.

He told CBC News: “Cubans quit their jobs as engineers, medical professionals, and teachers and go to these hotels because the salaries are higher, working conditions are better, and you can get international tourists.”

No way to bypass the army

Some tourists choose to avoid Cuba’s big hotels and resorts, preferring private residences and B&Bs. Even so, it is difficult for them to avoid enriching the Cuban army. It operates banks through which tourists pay personal credit cards. It operates shops selling imported food and goods.

The Cuban army controls the hotel complex in Havana and took over the Habaguanex consortium five years ago. The consortium runs shops and restaurants in Old Havana. It was previously run by the city’s official historian Eusebio Leal (Eusebio Leal) Operating.

Marriott as an American hotel company Find Last year, without enriching what was already the richest institution in the country: the Revolutionary Armed Forces, it would be almost impossible to operate on the island today.

There are disagreements on whether Canadian tourists will accelerate the downfall of Cuba’s one-party state because they are far away. Cuban-Canadians like Felix Blanco say they believe it will help.

At the same time, Feinberg said he doubted the idea that “if we can only reduce the number of stays in these hotels, we might starve to death in some way and shrink the Cuban security agency.”

He said that the Cuban government will ensure that resources flow to the agency in some way.

What is not clear is where they will flow out.Cuba’s increasing dependence on tourism has been recognized by President Miguel Diaz-Canel himself, who called it the “locomotive of the Cuban economy”. Tell The representative of the National People’s Congress said, “Every week we pay for credit, buy raw materials and invest in things that come from the tourism industry.”

“Cuba is a place that many Canadians like,” said Karen Dubinsky of Queen’s University, who has written about the lives of ordinary Cubans.

“Canadians are not stupid. They know that vacationing in a resort hotel is different from life, and of course the lifestyle of Cubans is different. Maybe Canadians can dig deeper,” she told CBC News. “If Canadians become better because of this. For sympathetic and educated tourists, that’s a good starting point.”

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