The first twice-weekly scheduled flight from the US-island of Key West to Havana, Cuba, was fully booked, last month, though only nine seats were available on the little two-engine propeller plane. Today, since bookings were not forthcoming, airfares on that route were dropped with as much as 80%.
The expected floodgate of US-American tourists to Cuba turns out to be less than a trickle. Cuba, as an esoteric and exotic destination, may have some appeal to the adventurous, but vacationing America’s middle class will not find the posh luxury they crave for, no wide selection of gourmet restaurants, no strip of high stake casinos and no bustling Las Vegas-nightlife. Most of all, the visitor does not await eager welcoming service, and will only experience very meager security. Cuba today is just another Caribbean island drowned in extreme poverty.
When Castro and his junta liberated the island from an oppressive, feudal Spanish colonial agrarian regime, they instantly became the darling of European socialist intellectuals. A new egalitarian, but still agrarian, socialist state would provide equal wealth and opportunity for all. But soon, it became apparent that the new agrarian People’s Republic of Cuba was unable to feed its own people. The mighty USSR came to Cuba’s rescue. In exchange for a barrage of military might on the doorstep of the USA, the USSR was ready to send whatever the little Caribbean island craved.
De facto, Castro-socialism turned into the “revolution of anti-Americanism” and that, until today, has become its dominant political philosophy, as well as its major export product. Central America turned out to be an eager, but poor client, but oil-rich Venezuela instantly became a panacea for all Cuba’s ills.
But in spite of extensive barter trade of physicians and other professionals for a glut of cheap oil, the tide was turning. It may have been a bad omen, when even Cuban doctors could not save the life of cancer stricken Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Cheap oil could not do it either. With the 60% drop in the world oil markets, Venezuela’s economy got into a tailspin, and is spiraling into unavoidable abyss. Cuba, the island of sugar cane, even had to swallow its pride and started importing sugar. Hard up, it had no choice but to turn to its old foe, the United States of America.
With nearly two million Cuban-Americans living the good life in the deeply detested capitalist empire of the USA, such a step was not easy for the Castros. Cuban-Americans in the US did extremely well socially and economically and now form a strong political lobby in the all of the USA. They are flatly against any deal with the tyrannical socialist-fascist Castro-regime.
Nevertheless, President Obama decided that frustrated Cuban immigrants with a chip-on-their-shoulder should not dictate US-policy towards Cuba, and he allowed a grandiose new détente.
Cuba does not eagerly stimulate or welcome foreign investment and is, the least to say, very xenophobic in most of its dealings. Such attitude does not go well with the new chapter for its tourist industry.
It will take a long time before flights from the USA to Cuba will be sold out at full fare, if ever.
By Jacob Gelt Dekker, opinion columnist for Curaçao Chronicle.