When tourists run out of bread and pasta, what are Cubans left with?
If the blue of the sea remains at the rendezvous, the buffets of all-inclusives are becoming thinner, revealing like a game of mirrors the difficulties of solving the problem. supply that Cubans live on.
Tourists enjoying a day at the beach.
C' is in one of the hotels on Cayo Coco, a small island off the coast of central Cuba, where Paul Masse, a resident of Granby in Quebec, stayed last January.
Despite the beauty of the place, known for its white sand beaches, and the friendliness of the staff, he has very bad memories of this trip.
They are so warm in Cuba, that doesn't even make sense, but that's where it ends: beauty! After that, there is nothing! says the man who is not yet on his first trip to the island.
< p>“On two occasions we were refused entry to the cafeteria [buffet], because half of the dining room was closed. There was not enough food and there was a shortage of staff.
—Paul Masse, tourist
Added to the inconveniences surrounding the food was the poor state of the hotel and its facilities. Everything is falling apart: the cement is broken, it's rusty and the plumbing is archaic. We ran out of water! he says. To top it all off, he and his wife waited six hours in the non-air-conditioned airport because the plane that was supposed to take them home had to detour for gas.
Joined directly at their hotel in Cayo Coco during their stay, Alain and Manon have a much more pleasant stay. The five star hotel they are staying in has just been built and when it comes to comfort and upkeep the couple have nothing but good things to say.
On the other hand, the buffet is less stocked than during their previous trips to Cuba.
“Of course you don't come to Cuba for the food, but this time there are deficiencies, it's obvious! »
— Alain, tourist
We had no cheese for several days. Other tourists told us that they ran out of bread before we arrived. There were fries; now there is none. The same things are not always missing. Nothing to complain about, they agree, but it's pretty redundant. There are not many varieties.
Anne-France Lambert is a travel consultant at Simon Pelletier.
The advisor at Voyages Simon Pelletier, Anne-France Lambert, is not surprised by this kind of comment.
There are customers who come back and let us know. We are mainly talking about flour-based products such as pasta and bread. We also talk about soft drinks, but it's not every day, she explains. That's about two or three days out of a week's vacation.
She also warns her clients in advance so that they can make an informed choice.
Most want to go back when I explain the situation to them, because they want to enjoy the beach and good prices for a week, and they don't mind too much food, she said. But others don't want to go there anymore, so I redirect them to Mexico or the Dominican Republic.
In downtown Montreal, Cuban music resonates in the dance studio of Tito Cardenas Rodriguez. For this Cuban, who arrived in Canada a little over 10 years ago, if there is a lack of bread and pasta for tourists, the shortages affect above all Cubans, including his mother.
Because in state stores, where previously there were basic products sold at low prices, today there is no almost nothing.
My mother has to buy eggs on the street from people who sell them on the black market or go to currency stores, where you can buy in dollars or euros, but the products are much more expensive there, explains- it.
And who can pay in currency? he points out. If my mother can, it's because I send her $100 or $200. Cubans outside the country send a lot of money to their families, but we are considered traitors because we left the country. I, however, left legally!
Tito Cardenas Rodriguez, originally from Cuba, is a Cuban dance teacher in Montreal.
The one who was, in the past, a leader of communist youth, and even a party official, is not kind to the regime in place. Tourism improves the life of the leaders, but not the life of the people, he laments. So whether there are more tourists or not, what impact does that have on my mother's situation? She was short of food 10 years ago, and she still is!
“I understand Quebecers wanting vacation, they work a lot and they also deserve their place in the sun. But does every tourist know that they support the dictatorship? A dictatorship that constantly violates the rights of its people?
—Tito Cardenas Rodriguez
Worse still, I can't even go back to Cuba anymore, he protests. The regime has just passed a law that makes anyone who demonstrates or writes against the regime on social media liable to imprisonment. I can't take the risk.
What shocks me, he continues, is that the Canadian government never dares to talk about dictatorship when talking about Cuba; even the media dare not criticize her.
The streets of Havana.
Cuba is an island. The country therefore imports a large part of what it consumes, recalls Violaine Jolivet, professor of geography at the University of Montreal, who has been interested in the situation in this country for twenty years. years.
However, we are today in a moment of very strong economic crisis linked to a rather delirious inflation, in particular on basic necessities, she explains. And the arrival of the pandemic has exacerbated this situation, because international relations have been put on hold and tourism, which represents a large inflow of money for the Cuban government and for part of its population , has fallen sharply.
Indeed, international tourism is Cuba's second largest source of income, behind medical services. It allows the entry of currency needed to purchase imported products, but tourism is struggling to recover from the pandemic.
“Cuba had 4.6 million international tourists in 2017. The island has no recovered since only 40% of tourists. They were only 1.7 million in 2022, less than the Cuban government hoped. »
— Professor Violaine Jolivet
Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Montreal and Cuba expert, Violaine Jolivet.
And Canada is an important player in this equation, since it is the first supplier of tourists to Cuba, recalls Professor Jolivet. This is explained by geographical proximity and historical ties between the two countries. That's about 30%.
To the fall of tourism is added the American embargo. Lightened under Barack Obama, it was hardened under Donald Trump, his Republican successor. One of the first things he did was to toughen the terms of the embargo, particularly on the currency issue, by reducing transfers from migrants to their families back on the island.
The Biden administration, however, announced last May the lifting of a series of restrictions on Cuba, including on immigration procedures, money transfers and air connections.< /p>
Furthermore, inflation was also propelled by the unification of the two currencies, the Cuban peso and the convertible peso, aimed at tourists, in January 2021. < /p>
For example, rolls have gone from 10 to 30 pesos, and that's how it is with several basic necessities, explains Violaine Jolivet. The Cuban government, aware of the difficulties of supplying Cuban households, has also extended until June 2023 the lifting of certain customs restrictions for imports between individuals. Family members or friends, so-called mules, can therefore bring in food.