Published On: Mon, Mar 21st, 2016

Communist Cuba, no competition

Jacob Gelt DekkerLast Saturday evening, just one day before President Obama arrived in Havana, Carlos Curbelo, a 36-year-old Republican Congressman of Washington DC, came for drinks and dinner.

Carlos is the son of Cuban exiles in Florida. He and with him about one million Cuban immigrants and their descendants do not support Obama’s policy towards Cuba. (The Cuban population in the United States has steadily grown, accelerating from 737,000 in 1990 to 1,144,000 in 2013.)

“ He (Obama) is lending credence to one of the most extreme socialist-fascist regimes in the world," said Curbelo. "A totalitarian dictatorship that has imprisoned hundreds of thousands over the years, for no other reason than expressing their opinion is now receiving respect and recognition of the USA."

".….And let us not forget the tens of thousands of gay men and women who were put in prisons and concentration camps with life sentences, forgotten, just to die.”

Since the easing of relationships between USA and Cuba, last year, the number of Cuban boat refugees has nearly doubled to an expected 80,000 for 2016. For decades, Cubans have been trying to sail to the US and then dock, or swim ashore, often escorted by the US Coast Guard. Once their feet touch the beach they are given legal admission. Every night, ramshackle vessels and rafts arrive on the Florida shores. Fear that Congress may change the wet-foot-dry-foot immigration status for Cubans is now quoted as the main reason for the increase.

The Cuban Family Reunification Parole (CFRP) Program was created in 2007. It allows certain eligible U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to apply for parole for their family members in Cuba. No one in Washington DC is paying much attention to a new Cuban law that took effect in January. Last October, the Cuban government announced that it would no longer require the much-hated exit visa for anyone wishing to travel abroad. All a Cuban citizen will need is a passport and a visa for the country he plans to visit. This new Cuban policy took effect January 14th. A new phenomenon is a rapidly growing stream of the Social Security-Cuban immigrants, who return to their island, as soon as they received full US-pension and health care benefits. The package of about US $ 1,200 a month, is in sharp contrast to the US $ 19,50, the Cuban government pays its citizens, and allows them to live in splendor.

Cuba received a record 3.52 million visitors in 2015, up 17.4 percent from 2014. American visits rose 77 percent to 161,000, not counting hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans. In general, tourists are looking for the great SSS, "Special" experiences, "Service" and "Security." Cuba is rich in Spanish colonial culture and nature conservation and easily meets the “Special” experience. But “Service” in communist-Cuba is still abominable, and “Security” mediocre. The chance to get shaken down by uniformed officers is still larger than the threat of street gangs.

European tourism, since 25 years, has leveled off in the newly creates enclave resorts, where tourists are segregated from the Cuban society.

"Tourism apartheid" may appeal to some budget travellers enjoying mass-market package tours of Europe and Canada, but the spoiled US-travellers seeks far more. It may take many years before Cuba will catch up to the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Jamaica. The first wave will be cruise ship passengers who will dock in Havana for a day; that is if Cuba will provide proper port services, which is not the case yet.

By Jacob Gelt Dekker
Opinion columnist for Curaçao Chronicle

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