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More than Cigars: Cuba and its Complications with Tourism

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Point Park chapter.

Narcos, a Netflix series centering around Pablo Escobar and the international drug trade, had a thought-provoking idea which goes along the lines: “God gave Latin America the most breath-takingly beautiful landscapes in the world, but to even it out with the rest of the world, He also gave it the ugliest souls”. It’s a powerful statement, and it hits close to home. Taking into consideration the absurd amount of corrupt Latin American leaders: Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Kirchenism in Argentina, Pablo Escobar in Colombia, among others, corruption in the government has become an unsettlingly accurate reality.

As a Venezuelan citizen whose family is suffering through the Venezuelan crisis, I feel personally drawn to speaking out about political injustices. If you aren’t exactly sure what’s going on in Cuba, here’s a little rundown.

Castro’s Rise to Power

To give a bit of historical context, in the year 1959, a man named Fidel Castro led a revolution that overthrew the military dictatorship of another man named Fulgencio Batista. He sold the socialist idea to the people of Cuba, promising them the dismantlement of an elitist society.

This sounds all too familiar to the owners of Venezuelan passports like myself. Hugo Chavez, former president of Venezuela, manipulated the public when he launched his presidential campaign in 1998, playing to the weaknesses of previous leadership. He sold an idea and thrived off the naivety of the ignorant and unfortunate; Venezuela and Cuba are closely interrelated when it comes to its leaders’ political and socio-economic goals.

Hugo Chavez openly supported Fidel Castro’s regime, calling him his mentor and calling his regime a “revolutionary democracy.” Ironic how the same country that is oh-so-supportive of Castro’s communist regime is expected to reach an inflation rate of 30,000% and cannot provide any more passports to its citizens due to an ink and paper shortage. It seems fundamentally wrong to dismiss the unaffordable costs of living, highest international crime rates, and constant phone calls from family members asking for medicine and clothes. Although Chavez passed away in late 2012, and these pathetic mayhems can be blamed on new Venezuelan leadership and lowering oil prices, the atrocities were just the same during his rule–only less pronounced. I believe that any well-versed, cultured individual would find it unethical to travel to such a tragedy-ridden country to enjoy gorgeous beaches and experience a so-called ‘cultural’ awakening. Injustice trumps all the above.

The next step for Fidel Castro was to nationalize all US owned businesses, following the Marxist-Leninist course of action. This prompted an US embargo (prohibition of commerce) and the obliteration of all diplomatic relations between the two nations. 

Realities of Growing Up in Cuba

To put in plain terms, Cuba is under a communist dictatorship. The dynastic Castro regime has ruled since 1959, fulfilling all the requirements for the infamous title of ‘dictatorship’. The Castros have deprived the Cuban population of virtually every right they have as human beings. They have violently bullied, manipulated and essentially stripped Cubans of their freedoms. Here are a few examples:

Internet and Salaries

If you thought the American FCC’s attack against Net Neutrality was bad, it holds no competition to Cuba’s situation: this island has essentially no internet access. About 5% of Cubans get internet access at home, and it is important to note internet access is provided by a single, monopolizing, government-owned telecom company, Etecsa. This means access is severely limited for Cubans, completely erasing the possibility for access to opposition sites, or anything that shows dissent against the Castros. The lack of transparency is so prominent that the Cuban government doesn’t publish poverty and health statistics on official reports.

Freedom of Speech

Although on paper the Cuban Constitution recognizes freedom of the press, it also illegalizes private ownerships of mass media, an eerie echo of some of the world’s worst dictatorships.

There are countless occurrences of direct violations of the right to express an opinion in Cuba. In 2011, Yoani Sanchez’s book “Cuba Libre” was prohibited from entering the country at the customs border. When she complained, she received a letter: “[The concept behind] ‘Free Cuba’ transgresses against the interests of the nation… it argues that certain political and economic changes are necessary… in order for its citizens to enjoy… well-being and attain personal fulfillment”. 

In 2015, Danilo Maldonado Machado was thrown into jail for 10 months after painting the names of the Castro brothers: Raul and Fidel, on the backs of two pigs. His plan was to incorporate them into an artistic performance but was arrested before he could release them, though never formally brought before a judge. 

In 2016, the human rights movement Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) had a memorial service for its former leader, Laura Pollan. The memorial was cut short since its attendees found themselves arrested and throw in jail. Laura Pollan’s daughter of the same name pins the responsibility for her mother’s death on paramilitaries who gave them a terrible beating back in 2011. “I saw photos later of somebody pressing my mother against a wall, scratching and biting at her wrist. Soon after this, she fell ill, and died in hospital,” Laura told Al Jazeera. “There’s no way of proving this for sure, but the government was scared of my mother. They knew she could move people.” The Ladies in White already have plenty of experience when it comes to violence perpetrated against them.


You hear the punchlines in mainstream media. In Pitch Perfect 2, Flo, the Bellas’ Latina character played by Chrissie Fit, makes a comment about how she will be deported, which will be followed by her attempt to return to the US. She ultimately says she will die at sea. These disguised light-hearted gags present a very truthful jab at the estimated 2,400 Cuban migrants who attempted to reach US shores in late 2015-early 2016.

Taking this painful history into consideration, it’s clear Cuba is built on the exile, tears, blood, and, essentially, deaths of thousands. We’ve heard this story over again with the establishment of a variety of the world’s nations: the American Revolution didn’t have 25 battles for nothing. The significant difference here is Cuba still undergoes the inhumane incarceration today.

 Effects of Tourism

Some may argue tourism is virtually helping Cuba’s economy. Critics say Trump’s decision to reverse Obama’s Cuba policies could harm the independent, small businesses which cover most of the touristic endeavor: Air B’n’Bs and taxis could find themselves out of business. Yet, evidence proves that an increase in tourism does not necessarily mean increased prosperity. In 2016, Cuba reached its peak with tourism boom that consisted of 4 million tourists, but nevertheless found itself a victim of negative economic growth.

Most unequivocally, Cuban citizens themselves are prohibited from the same services as tourists such as getting on sailboats, having double-citizenship, and living in Havana without a permit. In other terms, the government prioritizes the tourist population over their own.

Arrogance behind Tourism

I don’t have the power to control anyone who decides to visit Cuba for tourism or otherwise. I don’t plan on actively protesting those who decide to visit, but I will stand for the ideal that one needs to question how their visit will affect the country’s surroundings, and whether they feel comfortable about following through with it. Supporting the dictator-run country economically is turning a blind eye to the current political situation affecting their citizens; Providing money to any government-affiliated structure essentially funds a dictatorship. If this can trigger a willingness to recognize the disguised arrogance behind the decision to buy that plane ticket, then my job here is done.

Vanessa Vivas

Point Park '21

Third-Culture Kid. Raised in the midst of Venezuela and Qatar. Currently: living in Pittsburgh  
Rebekah Mohrmann is a Senior Sports, Arts, and Entertainment Management major and Multimedia minor at Point Park University. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @rebekahxmarie.