Before the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro’s rise to power in 1959, Cuba was a popular tourist destination for Americans. Now, only those over the age of 60 can remember a time when the governments of the United States and Cuba were on speaking terms.
In recent years, the Obama Administration has made efforts to improve relations with the neighboring country, including easing the economic embargo—though not lifting it—and allowing Cuban Americans to visit and send money to their families. This has been progressed in part by Raúl Castro taking over as president of Cuba. He has expressed interest in working with the U.S., something his brother never did.
In the wake of these changes, it is also much easier for the average American citizen to travel to Cuba. In the past, it was nearly impossible to reach Cuba without going through another country first. However, it was not the Cubans attempting to keep out American tourists, but rather the American government trying to keep American tourists out of Cuba in order to prevent the spread of communism.
Even now, with the Cold War long over, tourists must travel with a tour group, which will keep them busy with a multitude of activities every day, leaving barely any time for individual exploration. Despite this restricted travel, it has been reported that a half million Americans now legally travel to Cuba every year. This number is expected to grow in the coming years. The nation’s best year for tourism to date was 2013. Tourism is once again becoming an integral part of the Cuban economy.
A typical job in Cuba pays $16 a month. Someone with a well-paying career, like a doctor, will make $30 a month. Now, with an increase in tourism, working at a hotel is a coveted position. One waitress who serves in a hotel restaurant said that on a good night she will make roughly $15 in tips, which is enough to eat three meals a day, pay the electricity bill and purchase a new pair of shoes.
While some believe that the money coming in through tourism in Cuba will trickle down and benefit all Cubans, there is concern among many that it will only serve to create an economic divide between the “haves and the have nots” similar to pre-revolution Cuba. Though the Castros have been promising for years to create a socialist society that still allows for a somewhat capitalist economy with privately owned businesses and competition, changes have been slow to come about. The typical Cuban town is a mix of old, dilapidated buildings with propaganda posters of Fidel Castro in the windows and new, nicer businesses that attract tourists and Cubans who possess more money to spend than the average citizen.
Despite the fact that change may be slow, there is no denying that it is coming. The majority of Cubans are optimistic about the future of their country and their own livelihoods. Even simple sugarcane farmers express excitement that the world is paying more attention to Cuba, citing recent investments from Canada into Cuban sugarcane. The country’s hope and optimism lies in the possible end to the Castro era and the U.S. embargo, which they feel would create the new, prosperous Cuba that is just out of reach.
– Taylor Lovett