Sunday March 27, 2016

OPINION: It's patronizing to think American tourism will hurt Cuba

An old car passes by a house decorated with the flags of the United States and Cuba.  EPA/ORLANDO BARRIA

An old car passes by a house decorated with the flags of the United States and Cuba. EPA/ORLANDO BARRIA (Orlando Barria/EPA)

Listen 9:58

American airlines are lining up to start taking American passengers to Cuba. 

United States President Barack Obama visited Cuba this week, calling for economic and democratic change.

American businesses are starting to invest.

But what does this mean for the average Varadero-going, Havana-day-trip taking Canadian tourist in Cuba? Well, if you read the comments section of an article like this, there's plenty of worry that Americans will show up and "ruin" Cuba, either by changing the culture, or making it more expensive for Canadians.

Tomas Bilbao, Cuban-American and senior fellow at the Washington think-tank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and Managing Director of a public relations firm called Avila Strategies, says he frequently hears concerns that more Americans will "ruin" Cuba. 

It seems that every other day you hear someone who either tells you 'I just got back from Cuba because I wanted to go before it's ruined'  or someone saying 'I'm heading there next week because I want to go down before it's ruined.' It's one of those things, especially for Cuban-Americans, that's a bit irritating.  - Tomas Bilbao

To Bilbao, what people consider the charm of Cuba, is often its poverty and poor infrastructure. 

What a lot of people think is charming about Cuba, what it really means is poor conditions and poor opportunities for Cubans that live there. - Tomas Bilbao

Bilbao encourages people to ask themselves why they consider certain conditions in Cuba charming, and might realize the current view of "charm" is patronizing. 

If you do do that, you'll realize there is certainly a patronizing element to that, especially if you were to knock on the door of one of these crumbling homes and say 'hey can I take a picture of your house? It's so charming how you're missing one of your walls' - Tomas Bilbao

While Bilbao is optimistic that more American investment and tourism will improve economic conditions in Cuba, he also explains, if American companies want to invest properly, they will respect and support Cuban culture, not diminish it. Click the "play" button above to hear the full interview