The ‘People-to-People’ business in Cuba

The glossy travel brochure came from a major American university, offering a seven-day trip to Cuba, mostly Havana, with a side trip to Pinar del Río for the tobacco-cigar thing and the Viñales Valley. Only $5500 (single rate $6800), apart from air fare and the costs of a Cuban visa, Cuban departure tax, mandatory Cuban health insurance, passport fees and personal expenses. Such a deal–especially for the host consortium, i.e. Castro, Inc.

I must admit the promotional approach is first-rate: colorful, inviting photos and everything described in the most sanitized and appealing way possible, as if this were a visit to a Caribbean Switzerland. Naturally, predictable boxes are checked: Hemingway, classic cars, the Potemkin showplace of Old Havana, the Saratoga Hotel, the trendy paladar La Guarida, Colón Cemetery, Tropicana and so forth, all climaxing with a visit to the Museum of the Revolution on the final day (to get the real low-down on Cuban history, presumably).

Assorted, uh, people-to-people contacts include Castro government apparatchiks, an architectural historian (perhaps a real one, unlike Eusebio Leal), official artists and performers, a museum director, and a Havana University professor. One can well imagine none of them will utter a discordant note but follow the approved script, which is no doubt why they’re in the “contact” circuit.

I need not tell anyone here that absolutely no hint is given that Cuba has been oppressed by an iron-fisted totalitarian dictatorship which controls the tourist sector for nearly 60 years, or that it is a highly dystopian society whose inhabitants are mostly interested in what they can get from Cubans abroad or how they can leave the country themselves.

I will not single out the US university involved because there are many such institutions blithely doing the same thing (this one has been at it since 2012). One could argue this is a case of useful idiocy, but while that exists, I’m inclined to think it is rather less common than a mixture (proportions vary) of indifference, amorality, hypocrisy, bigotry, political correctness, fashion victimhood and selfish pleasure-seeking. Needless to say, this sort of thing would never be done with a place like apartheid-era South Africa.

Really, though sometimes I think we (“those people”) could have done a better job of presenting our case, I expect we never had a chance no matter what we did—and we’ve probably done as good a job of getting the truth out there as could reasonably be expected, or close enough. The fact is one can’t make people care when they not only don’t but won’t. It is what it is–and the world is full of it.

1 thought on “The ‘People-to-People’ business in Cuba”

  1. American institutions that traffic in this sort of tourism typically have great pretensions to being champions of social justice, yet with Cuba, all that goes out the window or is deemed irrelevant. The dissonance is so blatant that the phenomenon is practically a psychiatric disorder, but the afflicted find it quite reasonable and even righteous. And yes, at least some of the perpetrators probably believe that what amounts to collaboration with Castro, Inc. is good for Cuba, just like Obama’s “normalization.” It’s mind-boggling, but that mentality is rampant, and it’s not likely to change much in the foreseeable future. As I’ve said, we never really had a chance with outsiders, not least because they presume to “get” Cuba better than Cubans.

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