Trouble in Paradise: The Impact of Tourism on Cuba

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Cayo Coco is a popular tourist destination, and has been for the past two decades. Consisting only of hotels and resorts, the Cuban offshore island does not offer its visitors the most authentic, cultural glimpse into the way of life of native Cubans. It does, however, promise golden sands, crystal clear water, and all the luxury one would expect of an all-inclusive tropical holiday. While most holiday makers indulge in the all-you-can-eat buffets and fishing excursions, the hotel staff are given a glimpse of everything they, as locals, are deprived of.

Credit: Anna Mussard

On my trip to Cayo Coco, one member of staff told me that locals are fined 4,000 Cuban pesos (approximately £3,189) if they are found catching lobster for private consumption. I heard this as I sat across from my family, who had paid £15 each for fresh, whole lobsters. Food rationing and low salaries are still in place for these workers as a long-term effect of the US embargo. What these locals could have provided for themselves, in raising their own cattle or fishing to help feed their families, will instead go to tourists who seek a photo opportunity with their catch of the day.

Of the few things that are taken more seriously than this in Cuba, one is the possession of beef. Even a family who raises their own cattle is not allowed to slaughter, eat or sell its beef without state permission, which itself is extremely difficult to obtain access to. All this is in spite of the fact that holiday makers in Cayo Coco have unfettered access to beef in hotel restaurants and buffets. This segregation of local and tourist law is so apparent that Cuba has one currency for tourists and another for locals.

Some aspects of life for locals are becoming more liberal, such as unfettered internet access. Only ten years ago tourists were not allowed access to the internet, or to bring laptops into the country. As it stands in 2019, organised internet use is authorised for both tourists and locals.

Credit: Anna Mussard

Cayo Coco is kept segregated from mainland Cuba. As a tourist witnessing the reality of Cuban life for a day trip excursion to the nearest town, compared to the shiny exterior of an all-inclusive luxury resort, you can see why. The town called Moron, where many of the hotel staff live, was the most authentic glimpse I had of Cuba. It was not, however, the shining example of how a country profits from tourism. Here I saw first-hand the poverty the hotel staff had been hinting to. The derelict blocks of flats, and dusty streets depict that tourism is not always beneficiary for both tourist and local.

Although tourists may believe their business is bringing wealth and prosperity to the country, they are shown a liberal and luxurious version of Cuba. Not only does this not exist for those who live there, but locals are reminded of all they are deprived of through the unimpeded activities of tourists.

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