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The 'Yanquis' are coming to Cuba

The 'Yanquis' are coming to Cuba

Posted by Juan Gavasa on February 21, 2015

Cubans are not the only ones shouting: "The Yanquis are coming. The Yanquis are coming."

Canadians basking on the white sand beaches of Varadero have been talking about little else since U.S. President Barack Obama and the Castro brothers approved negotiations in December to re-establish ties that were cut after the Cuban revolution in 1959.

On the 3 1/2-hour flight from Canada, in the dreary two-hour queue to clear Cuba's Soviet-style immigration and customs procedures and at the pool and the bars where many Canadian holidaymakers enjoy Cuban rum and cigars, the northerners glumly fretted that their long exploitation of Cuba and Cubans was about to end because the exploitation by hordes of Americans was about to begin.

The snowbirds comfortably ensconced in the five-star hotels that cram the north side of the Varadero peninsula worried this might be the last time they would ever feel special in Cuba. They predicted the "Yanquis," with their mighty greenbacks and their allegedly noisier and nastier behaviour, would soon dominate this country's travel industry. With Americans banned for decades from visiting unless they came as members of small educational groups, Canadians have become used to thinking of Cuba as their personal playground.

Seduced by statecontrolled prices cunningly designed by the island's communist government to undercut competing sun destinations such as Haiti and the Dominican Republic, more than one million Canadians visited Cuba last year, according to the government of Canada. This amounts to about 40 per cent of the total number of foreign visitors to the country. Americans only made up about three per cent.

Although grateful to the Canadians - who drop by one or two weeks a year - for providing money and employment during some lean years, Cubans have long been eager for the Americans to return to what was once one of their favourite foreign haunts.

Aside from some areas of education and medicine and limited aspects of the mining sector, such as nickel, tourism is the only part of the Cuban economy that functions. A chance to serve the more than three million tourists who visit every year is highly coveted because hotel workers, tour guides and drivers can earn tips that add up to much more than the average national wage of $25 a month.

The Libreta , as the monthly rationing booklets are known, provide a

vivid example of just how badly the Castros and communism have failed Cubans. Milk is reserved for children under the age of seven and the elderly, while everyone receives a ration of five eggs, two kilograms of sugar and rice and small amounts of cooking oil, coffee, pasta and chicken, when available.

On the road from Havana to Varadero recently, the driver and his two Cuban passengers began laughing at exactly the same moment. They pointed to a billboard that declared everything in Varadero had been built for the Cuban people.

The joke was not just that most Cubans had never seen any of the money earned in Varadero, but Cubans were banned from its white beaches and the forest of posh resorts lining them unless they have jobs there. Yet during the two decades Canadian tourists have ruled the beach in Cuba, Canadian culture and business have made almost no headway.

One of the reasons Canadians have had little impact despite their large numbers is that this country still has much stronger connections with the U.S. These have been reinforced by waves of Cubans who have fled by boat to the U.S. With Key West only about 170 kilometres from Havana, many Cubans have made the often-perilous journey to freedom. This exodus reached its zenith in 1980 when Fidel Castro saw an opportunity to rid himself of undesirables, including criminals, and famously gave his blessing for asylum seekers to emigrate across the Straits of Florida during the Mariel boatlift.

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