Monday, February 18, 2008

Cuba - Beyond the Tourist Resorts

It was a cold welcome back home from Cuba couple of weeks ago and I have been busy trying to catch up with all the piled up work since then. We have had record snow in Toronto this year.  When I look out my balcony,  I see mountains of snow in the parking lot and along the roads. If I close my eyes, I still find myself on the sunny beach in Cuba with countless gorgeous and sexy women in bikinis from all over the world. I stayed at  Sol Sirenas Coral resort and it was like being in a dream. As soon as I got there, I wasn't even thinking about the extreme cold weather of Toronto or crushing stress of running a micro-multinational. For one whole week, there was nothing else to do but to enjoy the clear blue ocean, lovely scenery, Caribbean music, local hospitality, delicious food,  tropical drinks, Cuban cigars, peaceful sleeps, reading books, beach strolls, flirting around, aimless wandering, beautiful sunshine and heaven fresh air (no pun intended).

Here are few of the pictures:

039 I'm enjoying the afternoon with a book and two cups of cappuccino. 
035 A relaxing view lying down by the swimming pool at the resort. Don't you wish you were there? :)
010 My friend Celal with the Havana museum in the background. The boat used by Castro to come to Cuba and the missiles from the Cuban crises are on display there.
013 A pictures in the streets of Havana showing the horse carriages. How's my tan :)
032 Tourists and the locals in a festive mood.
IMG_0125 I had the most delicious Piña Colada at a pit stop on our way to a day tour in the capital city of Havana. One glass cost me 2.5 Peso (about 3 dollars)
019 Lot of old American cars on the streets of Cuba. Our tour guide told us the reason behind it. Interesting story. Little too long to type here.

Cuba was all heaven in my eyes until I asked the courtesy question, "How is business?", from the two Cuban gentlemen selling souvenirs at the beach on their bicycle cart.  The boss, Jose, spoke several different languages fluently and sounded like a shrewd businessman as I had already heard him negotiate prices with a Canadian tourist in French.  Jose told me that on a good day they could sell as much as 200 peso worth of merchandise and on a bad day the sales could be as little as 15 pesos.  According to them it was a tough job as they had to pull and push the bicycle cart on the sand more than 5 miles every day. As the conversation unfolded, to my biggest surprise in Cuba, I found out from Jose that the small bicycle cart was owned by the Cuban government and each one of them only got about 5% of the sales as a compensation for operating the cart.  A sudden visit by the government auditor could get them in trouble if they were found selling any articles other than the ones provided by the government.  Apparently the men were happy to have a job that paid an average of 150 pesos every month as compared to the jobs outside the tourism industry that only paid about 40 pesos. It was not the amount of their compensation that struck me, it was the fact that the government was involved in managing a small souvenir cart. In my opinion, these two very capable gentlemen would have done a million times better job of running that small business if the government was not meddling in their affairs.

My second shocker came during the day tour to Havana. Our tour guide, Orlando, was giving the group a very detailed history of the cities, buildings, currency and other related subjects. His presentation was so impressive that I could not keep myself from speaking my mind to him that he was more than a mere tour guide. He hesitated for few seconds and then told me that he was a professor of history and literature before taking on this tour guide job.  In a country where average salary is about 40 to 50 pesos per month, being a bartender in a tourist resort was probably the most lucrative job where the Canadian and European tourists did not even think twice about paying generous tips in all-you-can-drink bars for mojitos, piña coladas,  tequila sunrises, rum cokes and all the glasses of beers.  According to Orlando, doctors, engineers and other qualified Cubans were quitting their regular jobs to work in the tourism industry for the sake of gratuity.

A micro-multinational thrives on utilizing the individual talents, knowledge and hard work to the maximum possible degree.  An environment  that does not reward such traits would be the worst place on earth to incubate the new breed of 21st century multinational businesses - the might micro-multinationals.


Blogger Dodie Casey said...

Recently, my husband & I spent a week in Cuba at the Blau Costa Verde Resort. We paid extra for a "VIP Package" that turned out not to be worth the money. We also spoke with a tour guide about the circumstances of the average Cuban. Well, that certainly was an eye-opener! Even on the resorts, the workers only make around a dollar per day. Also, the Cuban Government--if it can be called that!--gouges the people who work for "themselves", so to speak, by taking the most of what they earn in "taxes", or as workers for the "government". With the exception of the Tour Guides & their bus drivers, the workers on the resorts are, technically, not allowed to accept tips. Of course, they do, but God forbid that they get caught by anyone looking out for Castro's pocket book! Also, on the tour, we went to a small flea market, where we were told that there would be little or no bargaining as in other countries, like Mexico, as they worked for the government as did the drivers of the small "horse & buggy" rides that you could purchase to take you around for the day. We even encountered an elderly man, as well as a young teenaged boy--possibly related & "working" the flea market together--begging for money! So, much for Cuba's "complete employment" claim, eh?
The resort, itself, was old & dirty, & not kept up very well. Even the grounds, which could have been beautiful, were not watered. We were even asked not to deposit used bathroom tissue in the toilet!
Then, also on the Tour, we found out something that none of our friends either knew or mentioned. The peso that the Cuban worker receives every month is worth less than 10% of that which is given to the tourist to spend while there.
I very rarely, if ever, agree with the United States on any of the policies they make, especially those relating to other countries. However, I think it is time that the United Nations took a second look at what is going on in Cuba: Hundreds of thousands of people being held to abject poverty while the one man who holds all the power lives in extreme luxury!
The people of Cuba have high hopes for a more liberal government, now that Fidel has passed the torch to his brother. Apparently, they haven't heard the old adage: "Power corrupts. Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutels."!
Thank you for this public place to air my comments & concerns for the Cuban People.

March 25, 2008 3:20:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice work by A Hasilpur Guy.

Ijaz from Lahore

July 17, 2008 9:29:00 AM PDT  

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