Tuesday, January 23, 2007
No doubt you would have come across these figures in the past: despite the US commercial embargo, more than 2.3 million foreign tourists visited Cuba in 2005, compared to about 742,000 a decade earlier.
Most are from Canada, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom and Italy.
Plenty of Australians have visited, too.
And almost everyone returns home totally blown away by the experience - the physical beauty of a delapilated Havana, the music, the cigars, the friendliness of the people ... Entirely understandable. Tourists often see only what they want to see.
So, here is another take.
It's from Chris Welsch, a reporter with the US McClatchy Newspaper Group, writing about the reality behind the dual economy that is fueled by tourism and openly encouraged by the Castro regime:
"Some of the inequities created by dual economies are bitterly sad.
"Sitting at a restaurant in Havana's Chinatown, I watched two middle-aged, snaggle-toothed, potbellied British men - I am being kind - walk in with two teenage Cuban girls who probably would be modeling if they lived in Miami.
"The official government pay rate in Cuba is about $25 a month. Cuba's young women can earn more in an hour in bed with a tourist than anyone else can earn in a month of 40-hour weeks."
As I said, tourists often see only what they want to see.