CUBA: Shades of East Germany ?

John Heelan says: WAISers might be interested in the following article (2/21/05) about Cuba written by El Pais Havana correspondent, Mauricio Vicente. [my translation].   Reading it reminded me of visiting East Germany in the early 70s.

Tourism "contaminating" Cuba:  Castro restricts contact between employees of the tourist sector and foreigners.

The Cuban Minister of Tourism (Mintur) has vindicated those who claim that Cuba is serious about slamming the door.   In the middle of the current process of centralization and return to the absolute state monopoly, Mintur has imposed a diktat that regulates the relationships of more than 100,000 Cubans who work with "foreign personnel" in this privileged sector.    They are prohibited from accepting gifts and invitations "of a personal nature" or participating without permission from "empowered authorities" in dinners or fiestas "generated by foreigners", as well as having to abstain from "propagating or emitting opinions that are detrimental to the prestige of the country".

Mintur's Resolution #10 was approved in January and controls everything that is controllable.  Its first article demands that the employees " limit" relations with foreigners "to those strictly necessary",  and further to comply with a series of "ethical, moral and professional principles".   Among them is "to maintain a conduct based on loyalty to the country", "to maintain permanent vigilance for anything done or (potentially) damaging to the interest of the country" and to reject "remunerations, gifts, handouts, accommodation or services that might infringe dignity and respect and create commitments outside the healthy spirit of collaboration" between the parties.

In addition, the document, comprising 10 chapters and 22 sections, demands "discretion and rationality in the use and transmission of available information", forbids negotiating with "any foreigner" to obtain study grants, overseas travel invitations and establishes the obligation "to declare in writing to the immediate superior any gift received from a foreigner linked to work". The superior will decide the "use" of the gift and even decree that if the present is "electronic equipment" or "video" it will be "assigned for common use within the Ministry".

The standards will be observed as much "inside" as "outside the country" and it is even advised that any negotiations Cuban businessmen may do with foreign partners they should be carried out "always, where possible, in the presence of a witness".  Although the Resolution has been received by leaders of the (tourist) sector, the management of some hotels say that their workers still have not be told about its contents. Those who have wangled a copy have viewed the regulations with a mixture of feelings. "Me, with disbelief and depression!", said the manager of a hotel bar in Havana.  "Think about it!  If I applied it, I would not be able to discuss it with you"

In the judgement of analysts and diplomats, the new regulation is overall a "symbol" of current times and, whether or not it is applied, it is important to the sector.   Some 200,000 Cubans are linked to tourism, directly or indirectly- 9% of the working population- and for years this industry has been the most dynamic in the economy, providing the primary source of Cuba's income.  In 1990, it was 4% of the Balance of Payments, today, almost 41%.

Development of tourism, along with the admission of foreign investments and the authorisation of private initiatives, was one of the authority's ploys to escape  the crisis after the debacle of the socialist world. However, corruption and inequalities arrived with the reforms.  In recent years, coinciding with a sure recovery, freedoms were being curtailed and there has been a return to rigorous centralisation by the State.

Randy Black says: My view of the El Pais story is that it is pretty much fiction, although interesting reading. And is does remind one of the USSR or its satellites prior to 1989. While the local government may indeed forbid this or that, the reality is that the worm has turned and Cubans simply will ignore the edict if it suits them. Is someone gets on the wrong side of the edict, a bribe will be paid and the matter will be forgotten.
In fact, bed and breakfasts, home visits by tourists, students and educators, philanthropical groups and business visitors have an enormous impact, far beyond the organized tourist industry in Cuba. Thousands of foreigners rent Cuban apartments for their vacations via Internet-based registries, where one may also arrange home stays with Cuban families, home dinners in the homes of the average Cuban workers and more.
Two Feb. 20 features by the Dallas News’ bureau chief in Cuba outline the huge potential of Cuba that will obviously follow Castro’s eventual demise. The writer has lived in Cuba for several years, having been one of the first American news bureaus to be allowed to open up an office in Havana.
An excerpt: Cuba and the U.S.: Waiting for the buy-in
Location, location, location: A mere 90 miles from Florida

By Tracey Eaton / The Dallas Morning News (2/20/05)
Havana – Just 90 miles from American shores yet impossibly out of reach is a cash-starved nation awash in billions of dollars in real estate. The largely untapped Cuban market, with exquisite mansions, majestic colonial homes and virgin beaches, is a potential gold mine for U.S. developers and builders. And it could be a powerful economic engine in the rebuilding of Cuba in the post-Castro era.

 RH: It is not the article which is fiction (El País is a serious newspaper), but the implementation of the decree may be. I visited most communist countries in the bad old days, and this prohibition was strictly enforced.  Cuba may be a different story.

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: February 28, 2005