American tourists won’t bring democracy to Cuba
Suchlicki, Director, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies,
University of Miami
- Over the past
decades hundred of thousands of Canadian, European and Latin
American tourists have visited the island. Cuba is not more
democratic today. If anything, Cuba is more totalitarian, with the
state and its control apparatus having been strengthened as a result
of the influx of tourist dollars.
- The assumption
that tourism or trade will lead to economic and political change is
not borne out by serious studies. In Eastern Europe, communism
collapsed a decade after tourism peaked. No study of Eastern Europe
or the Soviet Union claims that tourism, trade or investments had
anything to do with the end of communism.
- The repeated
statement that the embargo is the cause of Cuba’s economic problems
is hollow. The reasons for the economic misery of the Cubans are a
failed political and economic system. Like the communist systems of
Eastern Europe, Cuba’s system does not function, stifles initiative
and productivity and destroys human freedom and dignity.
- As occurred in the
mid-1990s, an infusion of American tourist dollars will provide the
regime with a further disincentive to adopt deeper economic reforms.
Cuba’s limited economic reforms were enacted in the early 1990s,
when the island’s economic contraction was at its worst. These
reforms were rescinded by Castro as soon as the economy stabilized.
- The assumption
that the Cuban leadership would allow U.S. tourists or businesses to
subvert the revolution and influence internal developments is at
- American tourists
will have limited contact with Cubans. Most Cuban resorts are built
in isolated areas, are off limits to the average Cuban, and are
controlled by Cuba’s efficient security apparatus. Most Americans
don’t speak Spanish, and are not interested in visiting the island
to subvert its regime. Law 88 enacted in 1999 prohibits Cubans from
receiving publications from tourists. Penalties include jail terms.
- Money from
American tourists would flow into businesses owned by the Castro
government thus strengthening state enterprises. The tourist
industry is controlled by the military and General Raul Castro.
- While providing
the Castro government with much needed dollars, the economic impact
of tourism on the Cuban population would be limited. Dollars will
trickle down to the Cuban poor in only small quantities, while state
and foreign enterprises will benefit most.
- Tourist dollars
would be spent on products, i.e., rum, tobacco, etc., produced by
state enterprises, and tourists would stay in hotels owned partially
or wholly by the Cuban government. The principal airline shuffling
tourists around the island, Gaviota, is owned and operated by the
- Once American
tourists begin to visit Cuba, Castro would restrict travel by Cuban-Americans.
For the Castro regime, Cuban-Americans represent a far more
subversive group because of their ability to speak to friends and
- Lifting the travel
ban without major concessions from Cuba would send the wrong message
“to the enemies of the United States”: that a foreign leader can
seize U.S. properties without compensation; allow the use of his
territory for the introduction of nuclear missiles aimed at the
United Sates; espouse terrorism and anti-U.S. causes throughout the
world; and eventually the United States will “forget and forgive,”
and reward him with tourism, investments and economic aid.
- Since the
Ford/Carter era, U.S. policy toward Latin America has emphasized
democracy, human rights and constitutional government. Under
President Reagan the U.S. intervened in Grenada, under President
Bush, Sr. the U.S. intervened in Panama and under President Clinton
the U.S. landed marines in Haiti, all to restore democracy to those
countries. Military intervention is not necessarily a policy toward
Cuba. The U.S. has prevented military coups in the region and
supported the will of the people in free elections. While this U.S.
policy has not been uniformly applied throughout the world, it is
U.S. policy in the region. Cuba is part of Latin America. A
normalization of relations with a military dictatorship in Cuba will
send the wrong message to the rest of the continent.
- Ending the travel
ban and the embargo unilaterally does not guarantee that the Castro
brothers will change their hostile policies against the U.S. or
provide more freedoms and respect for human rights to the Cuban
- Supporting regimes
and dictators that violate human rights and abuse their population
is an ill-advised policy that rewards and encourages further abuses.
- A large influx of
American tourists into Cuba would have a dislocating effect on the
economies of smaller Caribbean islands and even Florida.
- If the travel ban
is lifted without preconditions, Americans and Cuban-Americans could
take their small boats from Florida and visit the island. Thousands
of boats would be returning to Florida after visiting Cuba with
illegal Cuban migrants and goods, complicating security and
migration issues in South Florida.
- If the travel ban
is lifted unilaterally now by the U.S., what will the U.S.
government have to negotiate with a future regime in Cuba and to
encourage changes in the island? Lifting the ban could be an
important bargaining chip with a future regime willing to provide
concessions in the area of political and economic freedoms.
- The travel ban and
the embargo should be lifted as a result of negotiations between the
U.S. and a Cuban government willing to provide meaningful and
irreversible political and economic concessions or when there is a
democratic government in place in the island.