“Tourism only fuels the [Castro] regime's repressive machinery.”
— Sirley Ávila León
A U.S. tourist, returning from Cuba on an educational excursion, urged readers to “GO! Go for the history, old cars, art, music, beaches, marine life, beauty and people. Mostly, go for what you’ll feel in your heart.” Similar enthusiasm was expressed by visitors to Nazi Germany. In the foreboding years prior to World War II, foreign dignitaries, entrepreneurs, celebrities and tourists hobnobbed with Hitler and Nazi leaders.
Guests of the Third Reich, such as Charles Lindbergh and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, may or may not have been privy to Hitler’s draconian laws and violent persecution of Jews. Nonetheless, knowledge of ongoing atrocities against Germany’s Jews, and other perceived enemies of the Reich, was widely reported in U.S. newspapers of the 1930s. The substantive coverage of Hitler’s abuses did not dissuade pleasure-seekers and unscrupulous corporations from flocking to the Nazi state lending it legitimacy and revenue. Likewise, modern-day travelers to Cuba disregard the heightened repression, arrests and murder of defenseless Cubans, foreign nationals and journalists, and are willingly seduced by an illusion astutely crafted by Castro propagandists.
President Obama’s normalization speech, on Dec. 17, 2014, was premised on the false belief that the Cold War had ended and that an injection of tourism and commerce dollars would empower the Cuban people. In the case of China and Vietnam, rather than ameliorate egregious human rights abuses, U.S. financial resources further entrenched despotic rule in both authoritarian nations. Strikingly, decades of global trade and tourism with Cuba has not produced authentic reforms inducing greater individual liberties and legal protections.
Possessing cell phones that are censored, and operating small businesses whose licenses can be revoked, assets confiscated, and vendors jailed at the whim of Cuban authorities, does not constitute freedom. Entrepreneurs with connections to regime officials operate the “private” restaurants and lodgings, which are also subject to high taxes, extortion and surveillance.
The advertised “Potemkin village” tour is designed to fool foreign visitors. Tourists are shown the very best resorts, restaurants, hospitals and schools that the average, impoverished Cuban cannot access due to an enforced system of economic apartheid. The cultural education imparted during these tours are tinged with inaccurate Marxist interpretations of Cuba’s history fomenting misconceptions.
Visitors are taken to Havana’s notorious La Cabaña fortress, but the tour guides make no mention of the thousands of innocent Cubans executed within its walls and hastily thrown into mass graves.
In Cuba, the entire tourism industry is run by the military through GAESA, one of Castro’s monopolies. After Castro pockets the majority of the profits, the Cubans subcontracted by foreign companies receive a scant percentage in Cuban pesos. The Cuban military uses tourism money to finance domestic repression, global terrorism, drug-trafficking, weapons-smuggling and other illicit activities. The coveted bank credit and tourism dollars ensures the perpetuity of the Castro dictatorship.
On January 29, 2015, a top Cuba scholar, Jaime Suchlicki, wrote: “… an infusion of American tourist dollars will provide the regime with a further disincentive to adopt deeper economic reforms.” As predicted, during the Communist Party Congress in April, the Castro brothers reaffirmed their loyalty to revolutionary communist ideals and declared illegal the accrual of property and wealth; effectively putting a stop to future “reform.” The fact that, at least, 43,000 desperate Cubans abandoned the island in 2015, and thousands more continue to emigrate since January of 2016, indicates that many Cubans consider Obama’s Cuba policy an unethical partnership with the oppressive dictatorship, which presents no optimism for political or economic improvement.
Obama’s rapprochement has not empowered Cuban society. Every dollar that tourists spend in Cuba exclusively strengthens and enriches the billionaire Castro family and literally hurts the Cuban people. Worse yet, as in Nazi Germany, tourists unwittingly become tools of the regime. Communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union was toppled, not by tourism and commerce, but by economic ruin, a globally sustained dissident movement and persistent sanctions.
A humanitarian or religious visit, whereby the seeds of free expression are scattered and left to germinate, is the type of visit that will make a true and lasting difference in the lives of Cubans.