As the cold, wet, miserable reality of the winter semester settles in, let us close our eyes and imagine ourselves in paradise.
Legs outstretched on a comfy pool chair. Mojito in hand. The warm sun beating down, accompanied by the mellow vibes of live music.
This may sound like a distant dream, but this could be you – for an affordable price – at any one of the numerous different resort options just a little closer to the equator.
One popular option for many resort-goers is Cuba. With no shortage of sandy beaches and sunny weather, Cuba is renowned for its musical culture and beautiful capital, Havana.
Cuba is also known for systematically abusing the human rights of its citizens. Cuba is a communist, “one party-one state” government.
The Cuban constitution prohibits citizens from acting against the “ends of the socialist state.”
The government employs physical harassment and arbitrary arrest against Cubans who critique the government. The government also arrests citizens for suspected anti-government activity. Proof is not necessary.
Cuba has no freedom of the press. Government censors media with brutal hostility. Reporters are jailed and threatened for attempting to expose the reality of Cuba’s oppression.
The average citizen in Cuba makes little wages and is unable to afford a basic quality of life. The labour laws in Cuba are archaic and inhumane. Citizens are denied wage protections and have no prohibitions against forced labour.
Western tourists to Cuba are encouraged to bring “gifts” for resort staff. Among these recommended “gifts” include toothpaste, aspirin, feminine hygiene products, and soap. The reason for this is that many essential goods like these are mostly unavailable to citizens.
This is the reality of Cuba, yet, this is the Cuba that resort-goers choose to ignore.
It’s simple to never leave the pearly gates of an all-inclusive resort: within the resort gates, you have all the food and entertainment that you could ever need, a luxury that’s a distant dream for the Cubans whose wellbeing is the cost of your experience. The ones living in the oppressive regime that you’ve chosen for a vacation.
This isn’t to say that all resort destinations are in the same political state as Cuba. But the context of most resorts will likely follow in some version of this narrative.
Some say that this view neglects the many good things about resorts. Resorts offer much-needed employment. Resorts bring tourism and investment, to countries that need this revenue for development.
The majority of resorts are owned and operated by western companies. The greater portion of the financial gain is speedily being exported away from the people that need it most. These companies prey on the lack of proper regulation.
The combination of cheap labour, cheap land and cheap goods is how resorts manage to keep prices so low. If it were up to resort companies, they wouldn’t improve the state of these countries.
This is also not to say, that we must boycott tourism to these countries altogether. The problem is that resort-goers see only what they want to see while avoiding the realities of countries that are often fraught with political corruption and poverty.
Tourism is beneficial if done ethically. There are responsible ways to travel that benefit native communities directly. Live, eat, and buy local.
Your cheap vacation has a profound and severe cost; you are simply not the one paying it.