Tag Archives: cuba tourism

More tourists for Castro, less food for Cubans

Cuba’s Surge in Tourism Keeps Food Off Residents’ Plates

The New York Times

In Viñales, a lush valley about 100 miles from Havana, cabdrivers are charging stranded foreigners $10 to sleep in the back of their taxis.

In Varadero, a popular beach town, tour groups are being rerouted to resorts two hours away, which Americans are not really supposed to be visiting. And upon arrival in Havana, tourists sometimes face five-hour delays, because the airport lacks the mobile staircases needed to disembark and the conveyor belts to process luggage.

“It’s funny, it’s like Americans are rushing to Cuba before Americans rush to Cuba,” said Tony Pandola, a tour guide here.

The sharp increase in American travel to Cuba is putting a strain on private and state businesses on the island, leading to some shortages and an abrupt rise in prices that will only steepen as more Americans take advantage of relaxed travel regulations, industry experts said.

State hotels have already increased prices by nearly one-third, as demand for lodging far exceeds Cuba’s ability to meet it.

Continue reading More tourists for Castro, less food for Cubans

British tourist denied ‘last goodbye’ with dead wife in £20k Cuba medical bill row

Sheila Dumbleton with husband Ray
Sheila Dumbleton with husband Ray

Birmingham Mail

En español Marti Noticias

Widower talks for first time of ‘hell’ at losing Sheila Dumbleton during dream holiday on paradise isle

A grief-stricken pensioner said his wife was “left to die” in a Cuban hospital – because they could not pay a £20,000 medical bill.

Ray Dumbleton said he was even banned from saying a last goodbye to his beloved Sheila, his soulmate of 34 years, as her body lay alone .

The 67-year-old, from Frankley , said his ordeal was like “hell on Earth”.

He said: “If you think of a World War Two scene, then that might just start to come close.”

Sheila died in hospital in Holguin, Cuba, after falling ill on the sixth day of what had been planned as the couple’s ‘dream holiday’.

Despite taking out ‘gold cover’ travel insurance, she was unable to claim for her medical treatment and was left with a £20,000 medical bill.

Now, her distraught family have been ordered to settle her medical bill to pay and must also find an extra £7,000 to bring Sheila’s body home.

“It felt that, as soon as the hospital knew we couldn’t pay, they left her to deteriorate,” Ray said.

“All the doctors kept saying to us was ‘payment, payment’ but we didn’t have the money to give them.

“The conditions in that hospital were horrendous – something I find hard to put into words. There were dead bodies left uncovered. It was as if they didn’t care about people’s dignity. They wouldn’t even allow me to see my wife’s body and pay my last respects to her. They just kept saying it was Cuban law. I will never get that chance again. They have broken my heart, I kept saying: ‘Forget Cuban law, I want to see my wife’. But they would not allow me that last moment with her. I felt powerless over there. At one point they even threatened to put me into prison if I carried on demanding to see her. As soon as Sheila died, it felt like they couldn’t get me out of the country quickly enough. It was like nothing I had ever seen before – I was treated like a VIP, ushered straight through customs and there were no security checks. Now, I am glad to be back home but I will cannot rest until Sheila is back here with her family. The only saving grace was that I did meet some lovely people out there and without them, I probably would not have got through this ordeal.”

A spokesman for White Horse Insurance Ireland, with whom the couple had travel insurance, said: “We were very sorry to hear of Mrs Dumbleton’s circumstances. Regrettably, as Mrs Dumbleton’s medical history was not disclosed, her claim was not covered by her insurance policy.”

Relatives launched a fundraising drive when they discovered Sheila had fallen ill and would be unable to claim on her insurance.

A GoFund me campaign was launched to pay the medical bill and bring her home alive – but she died before the target could be reached.

“We have raised more than £4,000 already, so if it’s just the £7,000 then we could probably do it,” said daughter Erica McCleary.

“But we still don’t know if they will allow us to bring Mum home without paying the medical bill. I cannot begin to say how generous and kind people have been after reading about our story. We have had complete strangers offering us large amounts of money. One person even offered us their life savings just so that we can get Mum’s body home. We just want Mum home with us so we are able to grieve properly, as a family. It’s good to finally have Ray home with us after him being stuck out there for a month but we need to be allowed to grieve properly. This whole process has been a nightmare and it’s still not over. We managed to go out and see Mum when she first fell ill but we were not allowed much time with her. and we didn’t really feel like she was being cared for properly.”

Sheila became a great-grandmother while she was in Cuba but never got to meet her first great grandchild.

U.S. warns Cuban Americans about risks in traveling to Cuba


The Miami Herald

A U.S. travel warning triggers concerns among Cuban Americans

Cuban-American travelers are warned that their U.S. passports could be seized

The warning says even U.S.-born children of Cuban Americans are at risk

If you’re a Cuban American wanting to visit Cuba, be careful! The Cuban government could seize your U.S. passport, or even draft you or your children into the armed forces.

And that’s not a warning from opponents of the Obama administration’s ongoing thaw in relations with Havana. It comes straight from the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

A statement on the embassy’s official web page warns that the Cuban government “does not recognize the U.S. nationality of U.S. citizens who are Cuban-born or are the children of Cuban parents.”

It adds that those people “will be treated solely as Cuban citizens” and that the Cuban government also can demand that they enter the island using their Cuban passports instead of their U.S. documents.

Those visitors also “may be subject to a range of restrictions and obligations, including military service,” and may have their passports confiscated, the Embassy added. Cuba has a mandatory military service system, in which everyone is supposed to serve 14 to 24 months when they turn 16.

“There have been cases of Cuban-American dual nationals being forced by the Cuban government to surrender their U.S. passports,” added the undated statement, posted on the Embassy’s web page.

As if the risk of being stuck in Cuba were not enough, the statement also warned about “Cuba’s denial of consular services to dual American-Cuban nationals who have been arrested.”

William Cocks, a spokeperson for the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, told el Nuevo Herald that the travel warning is not new and that the information has been posted on a State Department website page since October 2015. Embassies often use the same information, and travel warnings are issued on a regular basis, he said.

The U.S. Embassy in Havana did not immediately respond to questions about the travel warning.

Cocks also said that the information about the children of Cuban Americans being considered Cubans when they visit the island comes from “experience” and “how we understand that the government of Cuba deals with U.S. citizens of Cuban origin.”

The concerns triggered by the statement, which has been making the rounds on social media platforms in recent days, come at a time when U.S. travel to the island, especially by Cuban Americans, is growing quickly because of the Obama administration’s new policy of “engagement,” which promotes trips to the island as an essential part of improving bilateral relations.

About 390,000 U.S. citizens of Cuban background visited the island in 2015. The Cuban Ministry of Tourism reported that 116,000 Cuban Americans and 94,000 U.S. citizens visited in just the first four months of this year alone.

The Cuban government’s decision to treat some Cuban Americans as Cubans is paradoxical because the island’s constitution, in Article 32, says that “dual citizenship will not be allowed. In consequence, when a foreign citizenship is acquired, the Cuban one will be lost.” That means Cubans who have become U.S. citizens legally lost their Cuban citizenship and should be able to use their U.S. passports when they return to the island — a long-standing demand by Cuban Americans now highlighted by the controversy sparked by the Carnival cruise ship that sailed from Miami to Cuba.

Even more surprising is the Embassy’s warning that the U.S.-born children of Cuban parents may also be treated as Cuban citizens if they visit the island. Cuba currently allows them to visit using their U.S. passports and Cuban entry visas, but may risk arbitrary decisions by the Cuban government, the diplomatic mission indicated.

Grisel Ybarra, a Cuban-American lawyer who specializes in immigration cases, said the Cuban constitution is similar to some European constitutions because it awards citizenship based on parental as well as geographical factors. Foreigners also can become naturalized Cuban citizens.

Article 29 says Cuban citizens are those “born abroad of a Cuban father or mother, as long as the legal requirements are met,” as well as “those born outside the national territory, of Cuban fathers or mothers who have lost their Cuban citizenship, as long as they request it (the Cuban citizenship) in the manner required by law.”

Although most Cuban Americans do not undertake the requirements for their children to retain or obtain Cuban citizenship, Ybarra added, that does not rule out the possibility that authorities on the island could consider the children to be Cuban citizens.

Ybarra said she had a client whose wife decided to stay to live in Cuba during a family visit to the island. Although the Cuban-born couple had both become U.S. citizens, and one of their three children had been born in the United States, Cuban authorities regarded the children as Cuban citizens, meaning that both parents had to approve any trips abroad for the kids. The wife refused to approve, and there was little the lawyer could do.

The U.S. Embassy statement suggests reading its section on Children’s Issues “for information on how dual-nationality may affect welfare inquiries and custody disputes.” The section, however, is not yet available online.

On the other hand, Cuban Americans are not always considered to be Cuban citizens. When it comes to medical treatment, the embassy statement added, Cuban Americans cannot go to the free public hospitals used by Cubans living on the island. They are required to seek treatment in clinics reserved for foreigners, where they pay high prices.

The statement also warns that dual U.S. and Cuban citizens “should be especially wary of any attempt by Cuban authorities to compel them to sign ‘repatriation’ documents.

“In several instances, the Government of Cuba has seized the U.S. passport of dual nationals signing declarations of repatriation and has denied these individuals permission to return to the United States,” the embassy said.

The Cuban Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

2 killed, 28 injured in tourist bus crash in Cuba


A bus carrying tourists from Germany and Austria crashed in the central Cuban city of Santi Spiritus, killing two and injuring 28 people.

According to a report in the state-run newspaper Escambray, officials say the crash happened Saturday evening when a trailer carrying a container of televisions struck an overpass and then collided with the bus. The bus driver and a German tourist were immediately killed.
Dr. Leonel Albiza Sotomayor says six people remain in serious condition.

Photos of the crash show a mangled bus with its front and part of one side shorn off.

It had been travelling from the eastern city of Santiago to Trinidad..

U.S. Airlines Will Face Major Turbulence En Route to Cuba


HAVANA - APRIL 18:  A man stands outside the International airport April 18, 2003 in Havana,  Cuba. The Cuban government reacted angrily to reports on April 18, 2003 that the administration of  U.S. President George W. Bush is considering punitive actions, including suspension of family remittances from relatives in the U.S. and direct flights, to punish the communist nation for its recent crackdown on political dissidents. (Photo by Jorge Rey/Getty Images)

Air Force One will probably be fine.

On Twitter Thursday morning, President Barack Obama announced a planned trip to Cuba, a historic excursion that would be the first by a sitting president in 90 years. He’s just getting ahead of the rush.

Starting as soon as this fall, any American that fits into one of 12 fairly loose categories will be able to book a scheduled flight to Cuba on major carriers. Under the new rules, there will be more than 100 regularly scheduled flights to the country per day, many times more than the handful of charter flights that go there now.

Major U.S. carriers, including American Airlines AAL -0.20% , Delta Airlines DAL 0.04% , Jet Blue JBLU -1.16% and United UAL 2.05% have already announced intentions to apply for the newly available routes to Cuba, USA Today reports. A spokesman for American Airlines, which currently offers the most charter flights to Cuba, said that it was early to gauge what demand would be, but that it would move quickly to add routes, calling the agreement a “great opportunity.”

The new flight paths are part of a major thaw in Cuban relations touched off by the Obama administration that will leave the U.S. and Cuba closer politically and economically than they have been in 50 years. There are huge hurdles to normalizing relations, though, not the least of which is a Republican Congress. At a town hall on Wednesday, GOP presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz lambasted Obama’s approach to the country. “He’s allowing billions of dollars to go to tyrants who hate America,” Rubio said. And though many businesses are slowly making in roads on the island, most will be blocked for the foreseeable future unless Congress lifts the embargo (not likely any time soon).

For Americans that do make their way there, decades of Communist rule and neglected infrastructure present significant hurdles. Big airlines will have to find a way to operate even though no U.S. credit cards can currently be used in the country, making it will be difficult to pay for checked bags, flight changes, or other amenities. There’s virtually no mobile Internet, and booking flights on the island is not for the faint of heart (it’s not unheard of to have to visit the airport in person and even furnish an employee with cash to secure a seat quickly). What Internet there is in the country tends to be expensive and slow. And the main Havana airport is aging—not to mention there’s only one runway.

Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst and founder of Atmosphere Research, says airline companies are now scouting the country’s airports to determine how feasible the new flight routes will be. “They’ll be looking at everything from connectivity to language proficiency,” he says. And the stakes are high: If Cuba handles the first wave of tourism poorly, it may blow its chance at future ones.

“If they don’t get this launch right it could set their tourism launch back by several years,” Harteveldt says. “It will have a terrible reputation and it will squander this literally once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Colorado-based aviation analyst Michael Boyd says he’s not worried about airports being overrun by Americans—but only because he thinks the hotels will keep them out first. “There are more hotel rooms on the Las Vegas strip than in all of Cuba,” Boyd wrote to Fortune in an email. “And the quality is pretty low.”

Right now, Boyd says Cuba “is a place for adventure tourism, not mass travel.” That is, at least until major investments are made in infrastructure and tourism amenities. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take another 50 years.

Shopping in Cuba


The New Yorker

A Spanish-English dictionary, sunscreen, insect repellent, a towel, chocolate ice cream: these are the items that eluded me during a recent trip to Cuba. For all the hoopla about the island’s opening and the more than three million tourists who swamped it last year, Cuba is no country for shoppers. The more mundane the object of desire, the more exasperating it can be to find.

I’m not saying that these common items are completely unavailable in Cuba—I’m sure they are for sale somewhere on the island—but I couldn’t locate them. And I did look. The problem might be that I spent half of my trip in Trinidad, a cobblestoned colonial city on the Caribbean coast. When I ventured out to the Galería Comercial Universo, which my Lonely Planet claimed featured “Trinidad’s best (and most expensive) grocery store,” it was closed due to lack of electricity. I was able to peer into the darkened grocery store to see considerable yards of empty shelves. Electricity woes might have accounted as well for my inability to obtain ice cream for my son. When we finally found it, on the menu of an expatriate beach club in Havana, it arrived melted. And the waitress couldn’t find a spoon.

At the Plaza de Armas in Havana, the large open-air market, my inquiry about a Spanish-English dictionary was met with “no es fácil,” an answer I heard often in Cuba. The bookseller did offer up a Russian-Spanish dictionary. At a kiosk in a suburban neighborhood, which the proprietor proclaimed “not just the best bookstore in Havana, but all of Cuba,” I found a Larousse dictionary from 1987, with yellowed pages that crumbled as I opened it. It was for sale for the equivalent of five dollars, a week’s salary for most Cubans. (After I returned from Cuba, I was told I could find a decent used dictionary at Cuba Libro, an English-language bookstore that opened in 2013.) I never found a state bookstore that was open.

Having been a foreign correspondent in Eastern Europe in the nineteen-nineties, and more recently in China, I have some experience with Communist and post-Communist countries. In Cuba I saw elements of many of them, from Albania to Vietnam. Like Prague in the nineteen-nineties, Havana’s old city is swarming with tourists who gaze at the faded splendor of its Belle Époque architecture. Private restaurants inside these elegant wrecks, called paladares, beckon tourists with creative meals made out of the few ingredients available locally, mostly chicken, pork, cabbage, rice, and beans.

But Cuba also looks to me like a North Korea with palm trees. To be sure, Cuba has evolved politically, investing in education and health care rather than weapons of mass destruction. But the economic fundamentals in these last bastions of Communism are much the same. Like North Korea, Cuba maintains a distribution system in which citizens pay a low cost for inadequate rations of staple foods. (At one state shop, the provisions, listed on the blackboard, were grains, washing soap, bathing soap, toothpaste, sugar, salt, coffee, evaporated milk, eggs, and oil.) As in North Korea, archaic laws prevent the private sale of commodities that have been deemed strategic to the nation. Fishing is limited in both countries on the grounds that the bounty of the seas is the exclusive property of the state.
Continue reading Shopping in Cuba

Travel agencies out thousands of $$ after flights to Cuba halted



Less than two weeks since the first flight to Cuba from Southwest Florida International Airport, Choice Aire has temporarily discontinued the service.

The decision has cost local travel agencies thousands. A lot of them say their phones have been ringing off the hook with customers demanding refunds.

After President Obama relaxed relations with Cuba in January, Choice Aire CEO Danny Looney started working on plans to offer commercial flights to the country.

Some businesses in Southwest Florida latched on to the idea.

“We started booking. We started doing a lot of advertising,” said Jesse Reyes with Jema Travel Agency.

But Reyes fears it may all have been too soon after she was informed that Choice Aire was discontinuing flights to Cuba from RSW.

Local travel agencies like Jema spent thousands to advertise vacation packages to Cuba, and they said it worked. Even this weekend they were getting calls, but it was business they had to turn away.

They also don’t know why and Choice Aire isn’t exactly giving a straight answer. An email to NBC2 from the airline cited an unforeseeable technicality with the airport. NBC2 reached out Choice on Sunday for further explanation, but has yet to hear back.

“We decided to refund our customers from our money, because our idea is they’re suffering enough to know that they know they’re not going. They’re demanding answers, they’re demanding their money back,” Reyes said.

She said Choice owes her more than $10,000 in ticket refunds.