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    The Dark Side Of Tourism in Cuba

    The Dark Side Of Tourism in Cuba

    14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Viñales, 27 June 2018 — At the entrance to Calle
    Obispo a guide explains to her customers the restoration works in the
    historical center of Havana. A few yards away, the line to exchange
    currency is full of foreigners and in the corner bar one hears English,
    French and German. Tourism is shaping the face of several areas of Cuba
    and becoming a problem for their residents.

    “In this neighborhood you can’t even walk,” complains Idania Contreras,
    a resident of Obrapía Street in Old Havana and a law graduate. “At first
    people were happy because the area improved economically, but little by
    little the tourists have been taking over all the spaces and this is
    less and less like a neighborhood where people live.”

    As a consequence of the increase in tourism, prices have also
    risen. “Now buying fruits in the markets is a headache because they are
    hoarded by the people who rent to tourists,” adds Contreras. “A
    pineapple never costs less than 20 Cuban pesos because the private
    restaurants in the area can pay that amount, because they sell the
    tourists a piña colada for three times that price,” she explains. In her
    view, those mainly affected are the citizens themselves who can’t afford
    these prices.

    Contreras, who worked for a few months in a real estate management
    office, says housing prices are also up in the area. “The price per
    square meter has exploded around the Plaza de la Catedral, the Plaza de
    San Francisco and the streets where it is most profitable streets.” She
    also says that these areas are beginning to look like the center of
    Barcelona or Venice, where fewer and fewer families are living.

    However, she acknowledges that “the problem has not yet reached the
    point of other cities in the world that receive many more tourists,” but
    she is concerned because there are no “public policies to alleviate the
    problems we are already experiencing.”

    Contreras’s biggest fear is that there is only talk of the positive side
    of tourism, while some streets in the area are already showing symptoms
    of congestion and tourism activity aggravates the problems of waste
    treatment and water supply.

    Several regions of the island face the challenge of absorbing an
    increasing number of travelers despite the precariousness of their
    infrastructure. Among the areas most affected by the avalanche of
    visitors are the Viñales valley, the city of Trinidad, the Varadero
    resort area and the Cuban capital.

    “It is very difficult for a Cuban to rent a room because homeowners
    prefer to rent only tourists,” warns Gustavo, a handicraft seller near
    the Casa de la Trova in the city of Trinidad, which was declared a World
    Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988 and is now an obligatory stop on many of
    the package tours.

    “This whole area is focused on foreigners,” he says. The salesman, born
    on the outskirts of Trinidad, believes that there are many people who
    benefit from tourism, but on the way he has lost the city he knew as a
    child. “Now it has been commodified and everything has a price, even
    people,” he laments.

    In all the tourist hubs, along with an increase in private businesses
    there is also an increase in prostitution. “At night the discos are full
    of yumas, foreigners, with young girls and it is a really pitiful show
    for our children,” notes Gustavo.

    “[Tourism] is more positive than negative because 30 years ago this city
    had old and beautiful houses, but nothing more,” says the seller despite
    his reservations about this economic sector.

    Carlos and his two children live on the road to Viñales. Coming from a
    family of farmers, they now sell fruit at a stand by the side of the
    road. “Most of our customers are foreigners coming and going from the
    Valley,” says the farmer. He hasn’t gone into town for two years
    because, he says, “you can’t take a step with so many tourists.”

    The winding road that leads to Viñales also suffers with the increase of
    vehicles. “It’s a rare week that there is not an accident in this
    section,” recounts Carlos while pointing to one of the curves near his
    house. The number of travelers interested in the area seems to have
    grown, but the seller points out that the streets and roads remain the
    same and that no expansion has been undertaken.

    Carlos’s closest neighbors have a thriving business that offers
    horseback rides to travelers. They gain much more from
    these “ecotours” than they could sowing beans or tobacco, another change
    that is due to the avalanche of visitors. “Before this was predominantly
    a farming area with strong traditions, but now everything is being
    lost,” he says.

    A few yard away, a tobacco drying shed stands with its gabled roof and
    its walls made of logs. In the interior, a peasant shows a dozen
    tourists how the leaves re dried. “This shed has been set up for groups
    who want to see how the process is done, it’s pure showcase,” says
    Carlos. “In this town everything is already like this.”

    Source: The Dark Side Of Tourism in Cuba – Translating Cuba –

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