A tale of two Canadian Tourists

This is a tale of two Canadian tourists. One of them has a semblance of a conscience, while the other has no conscience whatsoever. This dichotomy is unfortunately tilted heavily towards those with no conscience. For too many Canadians, thinking about miserable, enslaved, and starving natives takes all the fun out of their all-inclusive Caribbean vacation. Nevertheless, although some Canadians are too arrogant to accept the documented atrocities of the Castro regime and must see them for themselves, it is heartening to see that some are willing to admit that Cuba is nothing more than a slave plantation.

First, the Canadian tourist with some conscience:

Home is sweet – compared to Cuba

There’s nothing like a trip abroad to make you appreciate home. And after a recent sojourn in Cuba, I’ve come to appreciate things formerly taken for granted in Canada: things like fully stocked grocery shelves, freedom of the press and toilet paper in abundance.

I set out on my first visit to the small, Caribbean island with a certain political curiosity. I wanted to see the country before Fidel Castro died. What was it like for people there? Did the revolution improve the status of women? Were they healthy? Were they happy?

Cuba has always had a special place in the hearts of activists as the tiny country that pulled off a revolution, stood up to the United States and kicked out all of the foreign companies leeching off the land.

There’s a leftist romanticism about the place, one of the last strongholds of socialism, but in reality, it’s not that glamorous.

They have a horrible human rights record and the prestigious distinction of being one of the few countries in the world that refuses to let human rights observers into their prisons.

The average Cuban makes less than a dollar a day, Internet is heavily monitored (if you can get it) and there are only four national TV channels, all state-run.

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For me, Cuba has always represented change – the possibility and more importantly the reality.

But social change is supposed to give people more freedom, strengthen democracy and improve lives.

I went to Cuba with an open curiosity, only to return with more questions.

Sure, Cuba’s defenders will point to the successes, mainly literacy, free health care and education. But do you really need a dictatorship for that?

What good is phenomenally high voter turnout when there’s only one party to vote for?

What’s the point of organizing a revolution to replace one dictator with another?

And here I present to you the Canadian tourist with no conscience whatsoever:

Make Cuba your first choice for relaxation

When we decided upon an all-inclusive vacation, Cuba was definitely our first choice. To me it held everything in a holiday – sun, beach, pool and a chance to explore another country, one steeped in history and culture.

We stayed in Varadero, a small peninsula dotted with beautiful resorts. Varadero is capitalism at its finest, surprising really, on this small communist island.  Police or military presence was not obvious, although we did clear a checkpoint as we entered and left our resort area.

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Our days quickly took shape, a leisurely breakfast at the buffet, a good book at the pool, lunch at the snack bar, happy hour at the pool, a walk on the beach, and a lovely dinner…We became experts at ordering fabulous cappuccinos in our favorite piano bar.

A good friend who stayed in Varadero last year, highly recommended the Havana tour but without the Tropicana inclusion. This was a good idea as the length of day was just perfect. We started bright and early for Havana and our tour guide, a university graduate, was as brilliant as he was charming. We learned about the history of Cuba, the issues around Guantanamo, the revolutionary hero Che Guevara , Fidel and Raoul Castro, hand-rolled authentic cigars, Habana Club Rum (vitamin R), free education, and a love of baseball.