Thinking about how to best explain to Americans why they should not travel to Cuba, I remembered an article the wonderful Carlos Eire wrote for a Cuban Internet group a few years ago. I contacted him for permission to share the article here at Babalu, and he very graciously not only gave his permission, but also updated the article to reflect the current reality in Cuba, which sadly, as you all know remains basically unchanged.
“If you care about human rights.” If it mattered how the native population was treated in apartheid South Africa, then it has to matter how they are treated in Cuba. If not, then all who supported that boycott are hypocrites. Decide Americans, which has more value, a beach vacation drinking Mojitos in the sun, or the human rights of eleven million enslaved people.
The following, Carlos Eire’s updated answer to an inquiry about travel to Cuba, is to me the most lucid writing I’ve read on what Americans should think about when it comes to visiting the island.
A huge thanks to the incomparable Carlos M. N. Eire for this:
Yes, you can go there. People always find ways of traveling to “forbidden” places. Some traveled freely to the Third Reich too, and to South Africa when apartheid was still practiced. If it were at all possible, some would undoubtedly take tours of hell, too.
There are all sorts of ways to sneak into Castrolandia, via other countries that have dealings with it. All you have to do is to fly somewhere where they have flights to Revolutionstan hop on one of their planes. But that is illegal for Americans. So just be sure to remind the Cuban authorities not to stamp your American passport once you get there. They are very used to that request. The only legal way for Americans to travel to Cuba is with a humanitarian or educational program. However, you should know that all of these programs have to pay their pound of flesh to the elites of Revolutionstan, and that much of the humanitarian aid is snapped up by the corrupt officials who run the island..
If you really want to go, here is something you must keep in mind: As a tourist in Cuba, you will be supporting an economic and political system that practices apartheid and discrimination. As a tourist, you will have access to hotels, restaurants, beaches, transportation, food, drink, and all other sorts of merchandise and amenities that are strictly off limits to 99.99% of the Cuban population. Until very recently, Cubans were not allowed to set foot in tourist hotels under any circumstances, or to use the beaches or pools, etc… unless they worked there. Raul Castro loosened up on this draconian apartheid, just a little bit. It is now “legal” for Cubans to step into tourist hotels, but good luck to you, my friend, if you are Cuban and dare to do that. The apartheid is still in practice, even though it has been removed from the books by sleight of hand. And to work there, you have to kiss ass and play the game the governing elite want you to play. You also need skin that is not too dark. African Cubans tend to be discriminated against by the white elites who run the island. If you are lucky enough to land a job in a tourist facility, as a Cuban worker you will also only earn about 17 dollars a month, even though the European hotel chain is actually paying out about 10 dollars an hour for your labor. The military junta that runs the island skims the profits. And forget about tipping. It is illegal for Cubans to accept tips or gifts from foreigners.
Ask yourself: what is the difference between an old-fashioned slave plantation and Castrolandia? Think about the slave labor that built the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., which made the slave owners fabulously wealthy, and then about the slave labor of Cubans who toil in all of the carefully segregated tourist facilities of Revolutionstan, which makes the old white Cuban men who run the tourist industry rich. Anyone with an active conscience should eventually see the similarities. The masters of the slaves who built the Capitol got paid the going rate for labor, while their slaves got nothing at all, save their meals, which you can bet were less than gourmet quality.
Oh, but they have free medical care in Cuba, you say.
Well, think it through: the Capitol slaves got their wounds treated, along with all their other ailments. No one wants an unhealthy, unproductive slave. Slaves are investments.
Oh, but in Cuba they have free education, you say.
Well, think that one through too: slaves who toil in the tourist industry need certain skills, like reading and math. You can bet that the slaves who built the Capitol also got a “free” education in the skills they needed to haul the stones and put them in place. In Cuba the privileged elites who profit from everyone else’s labor not only boast about this sort of exploitation as “free education and medical care,” but actually argue that the only way to deliver these “free” benefits to the people is to deny them their most basic human rights.
Have you any idea how repressed the Cuban people are?
No freedom of speech.
No free press.
No freedom of assembly.
No free enterprise of any kind.
No freedom to travel outside the island.
No freedom to change residence within the island.
No labor unions.
No negotiating with the only employer, which is the government.
No access to all facilities used by tourists.
No access to boats of any kind, unless you are employed by the ministry of fisheries.
And so on…. that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
You ask how you can start exchanging emails with Cubans. Tough luck, my friend: 99 percent of the Cuban population is forbidden access to computers and the internet. Good luck finding someone who is not a member of the ruling class who will exchange emails with you. And good luck getting any honest replies from them.
Before you embark, please note that you can be arrested and imprisoned if the authorities decide that you are merely capable of causing trouble. Suspicion alone can land you in jail. And you can be held in jail indefinitely without any specific charges pressed against you.
Also keep in mind that foreigners can be arrested and held in prison if they are suspected of being agents of a foreign state. This happened to Alan Gross, an American, a few months ago, for distributing laptops and cell phones to Cubans. He has yet to be freed.
Go, then, at your own risk.
Your body will probably be safe, and you will find plenty to eat and drink, unlike the vast majority of Cubans. If sex is what you crave, you will certainly find no shortage of men, women, and children who will eagerly exchange their dignity for a few coins and fulfill your every fantasy, no matter how kinky.
Go, then. But know this: your soul will be in peril, along with your conscience. If you care about human rights.