Cuba: What a Great Place to Visit! Never Mind the Dictatorship

     Cuba’s a great place to live and visit – that’s the word in the media.      


     With Michael Moore’s “Sicko,” a film that glorifies the Cuban health care system, just three weeks from debuting in theaters, Matt Lauer hosted NBC’s “Today Show” from Havana and praised it as a “booming” economy.


     Lauer addressed speculation that should Cuba’s communist dictator, Fidel Castro, die, there might be some sort of “impulsion” and the Cuban government would collapse.


      “In fact that didn’t happen,” said Lauer. “It looks as if the contrary has occurred. There’s stability here. Business is booming and tourists are flocking here, some two million a year.”


     Lauer didn’t emphasize that those tourists were flushing money into the dictator’s government and enjoying a Cuba that its residents don’t see. As Salon reported in 2002, tourist beaches have been cut off from everyday Cuban life. This policy of “tourism apartheid” had been around for a decade before that, Damien Cave wrote.


     That’s why it’s illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba for pleasure trips.


     “All Americans need to know that foreign-owned resorts in Cuba must pay wages – must pay the wages of their Cuban workers to the government,” said President George W. Bush in a 2003 speech. “A good soul in America who wants to be a tourist goes to a foreign-owned resort, pays the hotel bill – 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.”


     Add to that the fact that two million visitors to this island of more than 11 million pales when you compare it to other destinations.


     Even U.S. cities that aren’t traditionally recognized as tourist destinations dwarf the island nation’s visitor count:


▪ 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.


▪ Detroit, Mich., with a metropolitan population of nearly 4.5 million, had 15.9 million tourists in 2005, according to Caroline Artman, spokeswoman for the Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau. 


▪ St. Louis, Mo., with a metropolitan population of nearly 2.7 million, had 20.3 million tourists in 2004.


     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.