It isn’t something you see every day; a Canadian tourist openly wrestling with the guilt brought upon them from their vacation to an island prison called Cuba. I would venture to say that a good number of them quietly tussle with their consciences, but after a few mojitos and a jet-ski ride, most of them put their concerns to bed and enjoy their all-inclusive vacations.
About a month ago, I read a newspaper column about the pros and cons of Canadians bringing gifts to Cubans when heading south for a vacation. The column struck a chord with me since I was two weeks shy of flying to Cayo Guillermo for an all-inclusive week of fun in the sun.
It wasn’t the first time I’d read an article questioning the intentions and impact of wealthy North Americans traveling to countries where the locals are often impoverished and the system of government is quite different from our own. Many people believe that by contributing to the tourism industries of countries like Cuba, we are supporting an oppressive regime. As we took off from Toronto’s Pearson Airport, I had mixed emotions. I work hard and was excited for a week of relaxation, but I also felt guilty – was it insensitive and thoughtless to go to a country where the people have few luxuries for a week of over-the-top indulgence?
How exactly does one justify and make acceptable a vacation at an island paradise that happens to be the personal hell for 11-million+ fellow human beings? You may be thinking that no justification exists, and that there really is no way to make a holiday on a slave plantation appropriate–Ms. Wallace, however, managed to find a way to make herself better about it.
One way I compensated for this guilt was by tipping. This was my second trip to Cuba – the first was to Holguin two years ago – and both times I spent about two hundred dollars thanking the maids, bartenders, and buffet staff that went out of their way to make our vacations enjoyable. They were kind and helpful, and I saw nothing wrong with tipping them the same way I would tip their Canadian counterparts.
Nothing like throwing a few scraps to the caged animals to make oneself feel better. It is a win-win situation: Guilt is mitigated, and the animals get a little extra food. The problem is that Cubans are not animals, they are humans, just like Ms. Wallace. And if there is anything worse than ignoring the suffering and misery of your fellow human beings, it is assigning them a status that is less than human to justify your actions.
Nevertheless, Ms. Wallace continued to wrangle with her guilt throughout her trip and wondered if her decision to vacation in Cuba was only providing support to a regime that oppresses the people on the island.
I spent seven days in Cuba, and I thought a lot about the notion that my presence there might in some way help facilitate the oppression of the Cuban people. If Canadians, Europeans and Brits were to stop visiting Cuba, would the government suddenly agree to give up socialism in favour of democracy? And who are we to say that a democratic society is the best and only way to live?
“And who are we to say that a democratic society is the best and only way to live?” Whether the words Ms. Wallace used to frame her rhetorical question were chosen intentionally or accidentally, it really does not matter; it is an obvious attempt by her to rid herself of the guilt by making freedom and slavery moral equivalents. If we, as free humans, do not have the right to stand against the atrocities committed against the Cuban people, we also would not have the right to stand against women being stoned to death for not wearing a veil, or children being kidnapped and sold into slavery, or entire ethnic groups being exterminated. If we do not have the right to stand for the freedom of the Cuban people, we do not have the right to stand for the freedom of anyone, including ourselves.
At the end of her chronicle, Ms. Wallace summarized her guilt-trip (pun intended):
At the end of the day, our tips and gifts won’t profoundly change the lives of Cuban people. But they are appreciated and, just like they are here at home, they have the power to make someone’s day a whole lot brighter. It’s hard to find something wrong with that.
Ms. Wallace is correct in stating that the tips and gifts she gave to the Cuban slaves that waited on her will not profoundly change their lives; thanks to her cash and her moral blindness, Cubans will continue to live under the yoke of tyranny as slaves to the regime, waiting for some tourist to throw them a scrap. Ms. Wallace may think it is hard to find anything wrong with that, but it is obvious she is not looking too hard.