Cuban community leaders in Miami gathered Wednesday to launch a campaign to discourage tourists from visiting the island while it remains under communist control. The "Don't Aid" campaign aims to bring attention to issue by hosting events and posting billboards around the city.
“Tourism helps support repression in Cuba,” said Sylvia Iriondo, a leading member of the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, which helped organize the event, held at the Bay of Pigs Museum in Little Havana. “It is very difficult to separate the things that occur within the island—as to the beatings, the incarcerations, all the hostilities against the peaceful and civic democratic opposition—from tourism in Cuba.”
Tourism to Cuba surged since 2014, when the Obama administration made history by easing a longtime ban on travel. According to CBS Miami, four million tourists visited the island in 2016, a 13 percent increase compared to 2015.
In May 2016, the first U.S. cruise ship to travel to Cuba in more than 50 years, the Adonia, transported celebrities, models, and fashion designers to attend Chanel’s 2017 resort collection fashion show. Fidel Castro’s grandson reportedly walked the runway.
But recent restrictions rolled out by the Trump administration, as well as mysterious sonic attacks on U.S. embassy workers and the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, led to sharp declines in overall tourism in the first half of 2018.
Dr. Javier Garcia-Bengochea is a surgeon in Jacksonville and the claimant of a port in Santiago called La Maritima Parreño, of which he said his family had significant ownership before the Castro regime confiscated hundreds of Cuban businesses in 1960.
“Everything in Cuba is stolen. So ventures like a cruise to Cuba, or any trip to Cuba, is not innocent,” Garcia-Bengochea said. “Everything you do there, whether it’s ride on the airplane, take the cruise line, stay in a hotel, even smoke cigars, drink rum drinks, and going in the old American cars is going to involve trafficking stolen property.”
“This is an immoral enterprise, and there’s certainly other places you can go to do that,” he added.
The founders of CubaOne, a Miami nonprofit that sponsors trips to the island for young Cuban Americans to connect with their family, culture, and peers, have a drastically different view of traveling to Cuba. While unrelated to the ‘Don’t Aid’ campaign, the nonprofit avoids funding the communist regime by propping up the private sector.
"When Americans travel to Cuba and stay at casas particulares, support private businesses, and engage with civil society it has a profoundly positive impact on the lives of the Cuban people,” said Giancarlo Sopo, a marketing consultant and co-founder of CubaOne Foundation in a statement.
The difference in views may purely be generational—with the founders and participants of CubaOne young enough to be the grandchildren to those protesting travel of any kind in the first place.
“Not only does it help Cubans become more independent from the state, it creates a ripple effect that helps pave the way for meaningful change," Sopo said.
And meaningful change is something that Cubans of all generations in Miami long for. Colonel Juan Lopez de la Cruz is a Bay of Pigs Veteran who helped host the event. He left Cuba in 1972.
“All tourists see when they visit existed before the revolution and that’s because the Castro government has not built anything. If anything, they’ve destroyed everything,” de la Cruz said in Spanish.
De la Cruz the beauty of the experience of traveling to Cuba lies in the fact that, just like the buildings and cars, the Cuban people have not changed.
“It’s in their nature to be cheerful and jovial and attentive to the public. But that doesn’t mean they’re not going hungry, and that, above all, they have no freedom.”