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Cuba are you ready?

Dear Editor,

For the past three weeks I travelled through Cuba, exploring the landscape, culture and most importantly, the people. Throughout the trip one question seemed to be floating around in the minds of not only native Cubans, but also tourists. "What will happen in the next five to 10 years?" Will the revolutionary gates, which have been closed for the past 55 years from the United States, open? And if that happens will Cuba become just like the other Caribbean Islands?

Although this may be a questionable conclusion, after my travels through Cuba, after visiting multiple nationalistic museums and most importantly, speaking to the people, I have realised that the true reason for the spark of this revolution was because of the American presence.

My reasoning for this conclusion dates back to the American exploitation of Cuba and its citizens to benefit large American corporations. Two men, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro have definitely left there in the Cuban minds. Everywhere you go, you are guaranteed an anti-imperialistic billboard, or a monumental portrait of Che. Even after 55 years, all the revolutionary aspects are still there except for the spirit. Che is seen more as a deity than as a revolutionary fighter, and today more importantly, as a souvenir figure.

After many different encounters with people from all over Cuba I have realised one thing – the Cuban mentality is not ready for American tourism. The mentality issue can be explained when looking at the standards of living among these people. Where the average salary per month is between 20 and 300 CUC, which is almost equal to the dollar. The Cubans working in the service industry lack motivation, which results in poor service. Poor service, or simply a lack of interest, is something I encountered quite frequently throughout my travel.

Due to the low living standards tourists are often harassed for their money, and who can blame them? Where they have no real clothing stores, grocery stores or private cars, and tourist drive around in their modern rental cars, in designer clothes, spending 20 CUC like it's nothing may stir some dislike within the Cubans. This may have a heavy impact on American tourism if the gates open.

The main type of tourism found in Cuba today is the all-inclusive, budget tourist. These all-inclusive resorts provide a ton of activities, as well as all you can eat buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So, why would the tourist leave and spend money elsewhere when everything they need is in their hotel? These all-inclusive resorts are government- owned (and sometimes managed by a foreign company, which positively impacts the service), which makes it difficult for Cubans to start private hotels.

For the daring tourist, who may decide to stay away from these all-inclusive resorts, you find "Casa Particulares" these are people who may have a friend in the government, in which case they are able to earn slightly more than the average income. These people are then able build an extra room to their house, which can be rented out to tourists. I had the opportunity to do both. Where staying in an all-inclusive resort may have felt luxurious, being pampered by a Cuban family and being welcomed into their home is a contrasting experience. The price difference between the two is not really substantial. Real luxury resorts are not yet to be found in Cuba.

In conclusion, it will take a generation or two for the Cuban market to be ready for the American tourist.

Bodine Beentjes

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