A Cruise Ship Without Tourists Arrives in Havana

“The first US cruise liner to visit Cuba in about four decades arrived in Havana on Monday, May 2nd without a single tourist on board.”

This was published by the Cuban newspaper Granma. The article explained that the 700 tourist capacity of flagship Adonia of the Phantom line belonging to Carnival Company was filled with travelers in the US “People-to-People” for Cuba exchange program , 50 journalists, and senior management of the operating company of the ship, headquartered in Doral, Florida.

The Cuban newspaper said that Carnival is one of the major cruise ship operators in the world and, although the laws of the US blockade against Cuba remain in force, the company decided, for this voyage, to take advantage of the recent executive measures by President Barack Obama’s administration that opened new doors for maritime transportation between the two countries.

In prior coordination with their Cuban counterparts, they designed a week-long itinerary with cultural activities not described as tourism, and within the twelve categories authorized by Washington. This was the content of the voyage of the ship that touched Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

The restoration of diplomatic relations, which culminated in the official reopening of the US Embassy in Havana, has been one of the catalysts for the accelerated increase in visitor arrivals in the Caribbean country.

It is known that, before that historic moment, several thousand US citizens had travelled to the island despite the fact that the blockade’s measures did not allow them to do so as real tourists. Washington does not authorize them to visit beaches and other recreational centers so that they do not “bring their money to Castro.”

Many risked travelling to Cuba despite the prohibition, and the Cuban border authorities acted in complicity with such a “crime” by not stamping their passports. Thus, there would be no evidence of their entrance and departure from the island.

The rapprochement between the two nations has increased world interest in Cuba which, in turn, has developed various strategies to strengthen its tourism industry and expand its hotel capacity. It also works on several fronts to improve the quality of services to visitors.

The avalanche of US citizens who have been coming to Cuba since mid-December 2014 reaches figures that far exceed the number of US visitors to the island at any stage before the triumph of the Revolution and the breakdown of diplomatic relations decreed by Washington and the ban on travel of their citizens to Cuba.

In one way or another, the US corporate media wrote, “Tourists flock to Cuba before the Americans come.” “This phenomenon is nothing but a sign that the aim is to see Cuba now, before –as many predict– the US mega-corporations are set in the island.”

The US government’s ban on travel to Cuba by US citizens, has been in place for more than half a century, as part of the blockade. This unjustifiable hostility against Cuba has been in place since the triumph of its popular revolution against the Batista dictatorship. Now you can see it is being turned against the enemies of the Cuban government like a boomerang.

But what worries many US Americans who admire the great popular conquests achieved by Cuba since1959 to the present is that these may be affected by the temptations of capitalism, in the new conditions of non-hostile relations between the island and the world’s only superpower.

Obviously, they think that some main features of capitalist relations, such as the fracturing of society, selfishness, consumerism and corruption, could make a dent in the order of priorities that has led the country from 1959 to the present.

It is understandable that the US public –that has been for more than half a century subject to the slanderous media campaign against the political, social and economic situation of the Cuban revolution– has a distorted image of the reality on the island. This is the case, even among those who see Cuba’s unique achievements sympathetically.

Cuba has been isolated from the US capitalist system but has continued to co-exist with capitalism in the rest of the world. This has not eroded Cubans’ will to build a socialist future infinitely more democratic than that offered by capitalism, a system which Cubans already know and from which they have suffered.

This article was translated from the Spanish by Walter Lippmann for the invaluable CubaNews.

Manuel E. Yepe is a lawyer, economist and journalist. He is a professor at the Higher Institute of International Relations in Havana.