Cuba: What a Great Place to Visit! Never Mind the Dictatorship
Cubaâs a great place to live and visit â thatâs the word in the media.
With Michael Mooreâs âSicko,â a film that glorifies the Cuban health care system, just three weeks from debuting in theaters, Matt Lauer hosted NBCâs âToday Showâ from Havana and praised it as a âboomingâ economy.
Lauer addressed speculation that should Cubaâs communist dictator, Fidel Castro, die, there might be some sort of âimpulsionâ and the Cuban government would collapse.
âIn fact that didnât happen,â said Lauer. âIt looks as if the contrary has occurred. Thereâs stability here. Business is booming and tourists are flocking here, some two million a year.â
Lauer didnât emphasize that those tourists were flushing money into the dictatorâs government and enjoying a Cuba that its residents donât see. As Salon reported in 2002, tourist beaches have been cut off from everyday Cuban life. This policy of âtourism apartheidâ had been around for a decade before that, Damien Cave wrote.
Thatâs why itâs illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba for pleasure trips.
âAll Americans need to know that foreign-owned resorts in Cuba must pay wages â must pay the wages of their Cuban workers to the government,â said President George W. Bush in a 2003 speech. âA good soul in America who wants to be a tourist goes to a foreign-owned resort, pays the hotel bill â that money goes to the government. The government, in turn, pays the workers a pittance in worthless pesos and keeps the hard currency to prop up the dictator and his cronies. Illegal tourism perpetuates the misery of the Cuban people.â
Even U.S. cities that arenât traditionally recognized as tourist destinations dwarf the island nationâs visitor count:
âȘ Baltimore, Md., with a metropolitan population of more than 2.5 million according to the 2000 U.S. Census, had a little more than 12 million tourists visit in 2005, according to Sara Hisamoto, public relations manager for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.
Two million tourists for an island the size of Cuba is barely a drop in the bucket. A better comparison might be the Bahamas, a nation made up of several islands with a population of only 305,655. It had 4.7 million visitors in 2006, according to The Bahama Journal.