Report: Canadian Tourists a Top Source of Revenue for Cuba’s Repressive Military

A policeman guides tourists in Havana on March 24, 2020 during the global coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - From Tuesday, Cuba -- which has so far counted 40 cases of the new coronavirus, which the government says have all been "imported" -- will close its borders to tourists for a month …
YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images

Canadian tourists are so pivotal to funding the Cuban military — currently undertaking a campaign of repression that has resulted in over 1,000 confirmed arrests and disappearances — that the Communist Party eased coronavirus restrictions for the country as Canada’s cases were peaking, the nation’s CBC observed Monday.

Canadians enjoy tourism to Cuba so much, the CBC noted, that “(in normal years) far more Canadians enter and leave Cuba than citizens of any other country — including Cuba itself.”

The economic reality of the link between Canadian luxury vacationers and the Cuban military complex, sustained largely by its complete ownership of the tourism industry on the island, has especially enraged Cuban-Canadians in the past month given the aftermath of the July 11 protests on the island. On that day, thousands of Cubans in every major city on the island took the streets demanding an end to the Communist Party’s 62-year-old stranglehold on the country. The marches were overwhelmingly peaceful and, unlike the nearly weekly protests organized by dissident groups on the island typically, appeared to feature a much larger percentage of Cuban citizens with no prior record of political dissent or activism.

The lines separating Cuban state security officials, police officers, and the military are thin at best. The Castro regime responded to the protests by sending its notorious, Chinese-trained “black beret” squadrons on door-to-door raids in cities where large populations protested, in many cases opening fire on unarmed suspected protesters in their own homes, in front of their children. Protesters also filmed officers shooting live ammunition into peacefully assembled crowds, in many cases injuring both protesters and passersby. Early estimates suggested police had disappeared as many as 5,000 people, many of them children, but given the nature of the protests and remoteness of some of the locations where they have occurred, the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH), a Spain-based NGO, has only confirmed the arrests or disappearances of little over a thousand people.

Thanks to Canadian tourists’ love of premium beach spots like Varadero, CBC noted Monday, Canada is one of the largest funders of this repression.

“[I]t is virtually impossible to operate on the island today without enriching what is already the country’s richest institution: the Revolutionary Armed Forces,” CBC noted. Through various corporate arms, the Cuban military — and, more specifically, Raúl Castro’s son-in-law General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja — owns and/or profits from every hotel on the island. Hotels operated by international chains like Spain’s Meliá still have to kick back money to the military, but the military dominates the island’s largest hotel chains.

“Rodríguez López-Calleja heads the armed forces’ holding company GAESA, which runs a range of tourism, construction, banking, air and ground transport and retail businesses across the country,” CBC noted, “including the hotel chain Gaviota, which owns most of the four- and five-star hotel rooms in the country.”

The CBC went on to add that those believing that, by staying in private homes or smaller venues than hotels, they are depriving the military of money are mistaken. The military, it noted, “operates the banks through which tourists make credit card payments to individuals. It operates the stores that sell imported food and goods.”

Just as Cuba’s revenue from tourism is far higher than almost any other industry (its human trafficking and enslavement of health professionals is the only significant competition), “spending on new hotel and real estate ventures now far outstrips Cuba’s shrinking budgets for health, education, agriculture and science combined,” according to CBC.

The Chinese coronavirus has resulted in devastating consequences for Cuba’s tourism revenue from Canada, CBC observed. Cuba experienced a 99.5-percent drop in Canadian visitors between 2021 and 2019, prompting Cuba — a nation that initially refused to shut down schools and increased tourism promotion at the height of the pandemic — to implement more flexible travel rules for Canadians. Havana exempted Canadians from a negative coronavirus test requirement in January “just as Canada was approaching peak caseload for the entire pandemic up to that point — about 8,000 new cases a day.”

CBC noted of Cuba that, as an island nation where the Communist Party heavily regulates and often flatly bans its citizens from traveling abroad, “foreign visitors are its main source of vulnerability when it comes to COVID [Chinese coronavirus].”

Pro-Cuban regime Canadian lobbyists, CBC noted, encouraged regulations that would allow more tourism to the island, even at the face of a clear threat to the health of Cuban citizens.

“Some Canadians remained so eager to visit Cuba they sought to extend the Atlantic bubble to include the Caribbean island — by travelling from Halifax to Cayo Coco to stay in a Canadians-only hotel,” CBC reported, “at a time when Nova Scotia was requiring most Canadians looking to visit the province to apply for government permission.”

In contrast to these calls, Canada has implemented significantly stricter pandemic regulations than Cuba, including several — like police attacks on religious assemblies and the arrests of clergymen — that have called into question Ottawa’s respect for basic civil liberties.

Little political will exists in Canada to change the status quo benefitting the Castro regime. Leftist Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shocked the world in 2016 by responded to the death of longtime tyrant Fidel Castro by referring to him as a “larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century” and “legendary revolutionary and orator,” expressing “deep sorrow” for his death without mentioning the deaths of thousands of Cuban dissidents in front of firing squads, in putrid prisons, and attempting to escape in the Straits of Florida. Trudeau has since also sought to elevate Cuba’s foreign policy profile by demanding the rogue state have a seat at the table at talks between the United States and North Korea.

Following the July 11 protests, Trudeau issued a statement calling for “all sides to exercise restraint,” despite the lack of a single report of protester violence against the Castro regime and the overwhelming number of cases of documented police brutality against protesters.

Canada’s Conservative Party responded with a statement condemning Trudeau’s “strong support for the Castro regime” and instead urging a government that defends “human rights, the rule of law, freedom, and democracy.” Leader Erin O’Toole’s statement notably omitted any suggestions on how to do that, including any mention of sanctions against the Castro regime or aid to the Cuban people that his Party would support.

The July 11 protests were so widespread and led to so many arrests that, two weeks later, Cuban activists are still trying to complete tallies of those missing and in prison. Cuban state security officials appeared to immediately round up some of the island’s most active dissidents, several of which — most prominently José Daniel Ferrer, the leader of the largest dissident group on the island, the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) — remain missing as of Monday. Many of those released have also begun telling their stories under police custody, including accusations of torture and sexual abuse even in cases where the person arrested was not actually participating in any protest activity.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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