Cuba, “The Forbidden Island.”

First Published: 1999-04-13

by Rick Lowe

While America leans toward a more sensible policy for Cuba and her people questions continue to arise as to what effect this might have on our economy when Fidel is gone and US citizens can travel there with no constraints.

The best I can make of it, there are four schools of thought on what impact a free Cuba might have on us:

      1. Dramatic
The prevailing local view seems to be that the consequences will be severe and our major industry will again go into the proverbial “tank.” With Cuba being so “cheap” as far as vacation spots are concerned, and a country that seemingly has so much to offer. The curiosity to just see the place will out weigh anything we can offer. My father still tells stories, with wide eyed enthusiasm, of the many trips he had to Cuba in her glory years. When I visited Cuba about ten months ago, I was struck with the interesting architecture, numerous large public parks, and the apparent friendliness of the people. The very detracting features were the obvious poverty and uninhibited prostitution. Two things that Senor Castro-s socialist policies were to fix. Unfortunately, with the benefit of time, we see that both problems were exacerbated.

This abject poverty has also forced people to maintain their vehicles far past what we might consider a useful life. Any antique car and motorcycle enthusiast would have a field day in downtown Havana.

A coat of paint on the beautiful buildings wouldn’t hurt either. One can see how this curiosity would be piqued with the possibility of visiting Fidel-s experiment. American-s would undoubtedly want to see this beautiful wonder that they have been denied the privilege of visiting. A tourist destination that the European-s and Canadian-s have been enjoying for forty years.

This curiosity just might be the pebble that sends significant ripples through one of the staples of our economy.

2. Near Term Shock with a Return to Normalcy for our Hotels
Speaking at the Rotary Club of East Nassau recently, Mr. Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, our Director of Tourism offered the perspective that the curiosity with Cuba would cause an initial shock to our system, with a fairly prompt return to normalcy.

To paraphrase Mr. Wallace, there would be a mad rush to see this country that has been locked away from Americans for many years. However, once there and they experience the poverty, and the economic mess the country is actually in, they will return to sites like ours fairly quickly.

It wasn-t suggested that we can just rest on our laurels, but the feeling that the significant long term effect might be minimal was my interpretation of the Director General’s presentation.

3. How will the Cruise Lines be Effected?
Another opinion is that with reports of the Jamaican government privatising the Montego Bay airport and coupled with their development of a cruise dock right next door, our cruise passengers will be hit fairly significantly when “the Forbidden Island” opens.

A cruise to Cuba would negate the need for a hotel room and passengers could view the island by day and enjoy the amenities on ship in the evening. One can agree that this may have a significant impact on our cruise visitors, at least initially.

4. It Will be a While
The January 2nd issue of The Economist seems to take the view that the political turmoil that might result after Mr. Castro moves on might take years to settle:

      “However Mr. Castro departs, his successors will immediately face not only pent up demands at home, but also demands for the return of property seized by the Castro government, or for compensation. Ownership of oil refineries, hotels, farmland, nickel mines – all currently run by foreign investors – is claimed by American citizens or Cuban exiles. Many houses now occupied by several families, and many buildings that have been turned into schools or hospitals, once belonged to people who are now living in Miami. For this reason alone, the return of the exiles from Miami is dreaded by many Cubans. Their anxiety has been ruthlessly exploited by the regime, but it is real nonetheless.”

“Forty years of being dominated by one loquacious, erratic man has left Cubans with a ruined economy, disintegrating public services and an uncertain future. With no plausible political heirs in sight, no credible opposition and an exile community itching not only for return, but revenge, Cubans are right to fear chaos or even civil war after Mr. Castro goes. Not much of a legacy, nor much to celebrate.”

If the views of The Economist are correct, we may have several years left before we feel any dramatic effect of Cubas eventual return to freedom from American sanctions. There is also the feeling in our local Cuban population that there might be retribution after the fall of Mr. Castro. It was suggested that this might happen because: “People don-t easily forget! Those who have murdered over the past 40 years may expect direct retribution… who knows how much and for how long. One thing for sure, we will surely have to face the reality that one of the most beautiful countries in the region will be our biggest competitor for that prized tourist dollar in the years ahead. Cuba Today.

Recent events in Cuba when four “unpatriotic citizens” were arrested for “inciting sedition” and “counterrevolutionary activities” because they have been publishing information that their “loquacious, erratic” leader found offensive makes one wonder if… not when the Cuban people will be as fortunate as we are.

Considering the foregoing, I tend to agree with the Economist, but for the sake of the Cuban people I hope an individual emerges that can keep the lid on the chaos that could result. The recent developments in our tourism sector are impressive, but as a nation we have to ensure that our tourists are made to feel more welcome than in any other nation in the region if we are to remain successful, particularly when Cuba opens up. I have every confidence we can.

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