This edition of Horizon & Beyond is very different from what we bring to you on a regular basis every season since 2014.
On my recent trip in July to Cuba I learned so much about the country that I feel the need to share all this with you. It starts a very long time ago and while the country’s future is still uncertain and full of obstacles, it is full of fascinating history.
Let me start with the legendary Che Guevara.
How many of you know his life story apart from the cliches ? Did you know about all his restless, idealistic and infinite efforts for a better Cuba and Latin America? This issue will give you the detailed story you should know to get the full picture about Ernesto Che Guevara, from his young age and education till his sad ending, much too early in his life, a life that even 1,000 people combined could not have lived the same way. Read on and you will know why and how this man was thinking about humanity.
Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean was already colonised on the fourth millennium BC and was inhabited by various Mesoamerican cultures prior to the arrival of the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus in 1492.
Colonial Cuba was a frequent target of buccaneers, pirates and French corsairs seeking Spain’s New World riches. In Havana, the fortress of Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro was built to deter potential invaders, and you can still visit it today, among so many other historical places. This is what so many tourists come for, diving into the past, the history of glorious days and the revolution.
During the time of the so-called “Rewarding Truce”, which encompassed the 17 years from the end of the Ten Years’ War in 1878, fundamental changes took place in the Cuban society. With the abolition of slavery in October 1886, former slaves joined the ranks of farmers and urban working class.
Man truly achieves his full human condition when he produces without being compelled by the physical necessity of selling himself as a commodity.— Che Guevara, Man and Socialism in Cuba.
Touring through Cuba for three weeks gave me a good insight of what the country is today, the not so pleasant sides of life of the Cuban people, the problems they are facing and the hopes they have.
Tourism is the most dynamic sector of Cuba’s economy, in 2015 the ONEI office reported a total income from tourism of $ 1,94 billion. In response to the rapid rise in the number of tourists to Cuba, the island announced the construction of more than 100,000 new rooms by the year 2030 as part of the National Plan for Economic and Social Development.
Some four million tourists visited Cuba in 2016 and have contributed to $ 3 billion to Cuban coffers. In the first half of the year 2016 a growth of 15% compared to the same period in 2015 was registered.
The not so bright side is that Cuba is now experiencing a drastic hotel room shortage and skyrocketing hotel prices. Recently posted rates from three to five star hotels in Old Havana show an increase of over 125% since the end of 2014. Hotel prices in Cuba make it one of the most expensive cities in the world for hotel accomodation and what is offered for the price.
All figures are based on data from the Ministry of Tourism state-owned facilities, and Cuba’s emerging private rooms for rent are not included. Airbnb added about 4,000 private rooms to its Cuba website over the last year.
The Cuban tourism ministry is projecting 4,1 million visitors to arrive in 2017. Canadian tourists still represent the greatest number of tourists visiting Cuba, the Cuban expat living abroad is the second largest one, followed by Europeans, Mexicans and Argentinians.
With Alitalia launching direct flights from Rome on November 29, 2017 twice a week on Tuesdays and Saturdays on the airline’s flagship Boeing 777 aircraft this will be another milestone to increase easier access to Cuba from Europe and for Italians.
On August 31, 2016 JetBlue started routes to the smaller airports of Santa Clara, on October 1, 2016 to Camaguey followed by November 3, 2016 to Holgun, and is of course flying to the capital Havana, which makes it the fourth destination to be reached from Fort Lauderdale in an hour fifteen minutes. Flights by JetBlue from other points of departure in the US are available too.
With all this development my concern is how will all Cubans profit from this? Until the government is not ready to share the growing number of income from tourism and keeps the standard at a certain level without proper training of the staff, I am afraid the vision could be a short sighted one or in other words a very long one for a better outcome.
“ This is not a matter of how many pounds of meat one might be able to eat, or how many times a year someone can go to the beach, or how many ornaments from abroad one might be able to buy with his current salary. What really matters is that the individual feels more complete, with much more internal richness and much more responsibility.”
This is what the Cuban people need today, the possibility to earn a decent living, receiving the reponsibility to make the best out of their life and country with the support of their government!
Hasta la Victoria Siempre