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Cuba Reopens to Tourism as Government Quells Protest Effort

Nov 16, 2021 | By Peter Kornbluh
Cuba Reopens to Tourism as Government Quells Protest Effort
Photo/Cigar Aficionado

In anticipation of the holiday season, the island of Cuba officially reopened for tourism on Monday, lifting a mandatory quarantine restriction for travelers who carry proof of vaccination, or can show a negative test for Covid-19 within 72 hours of their arrival.

Authorities are hoping for a surge of tourism to revive Cuba’s stagnant economy, which has been almost bankrupted by the pandemic shutdown and U.S. sanctions.

Cuba’s hopes to attract visitors come as relations between Washington and Havana have deteriorated over efforts by pro-democracy dissidents to organize an unprecedented “Civic March for Change” pegged to the November 15 reopening. Cuban authorities banned the demonstration; the protests failed to materialize after security forces prevented a number of its leaders from leaving their homes. Last week, Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez accused the U.S. government of attempting to “organize and promote a destabilizing provocation.” Yesterday, U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan denounced the Cuban government for using “intimidation tactics, and acts of repudiation all in an attempt to silence the voice of Cuban people as they clamor for change.”

Getting to Cuba isn’t necessarily easy, especially for Americans, and there are far fewer flights to Cuba available than there were a few years ago. “Today the United States has four weekly flights to Havana,” transportation minister Eduardo Rodriguez told reporters earlier this month. More are coming. Both American Airlines and Southwest have announced that they will expand services to Cuba. American, which has been flying one flight a week to Havana, will increase to one flight per day in December, with the possibility of additional flights as tourism expands. “American will bring back more service as the Cuban government reopens the market,” American’s spokesperson, Laura Masvidal, told the Miami Herald.

Fares for roundtrip flights have more than tripled during the pandemic and many flights in December already appear to be sold out.

Following the Obama administration’s opening to Cuba, which included restoring commercial airline services, travel from the U.S. rose to approximately 1 million annual visitors in 2018—half of them Cuban-Americans visiting relatives on the island—before U.S. restrictions and the pandemic gutted the tourism industry. International tourism has dropped a devastating 92 percent, from some four million visitors in 2019 to only a few hundred thousand this year.

U.S. travelers to Cuba still face a number of restrictions imposed by the Trump administration that have yet to be rescinded by President Biden. Hundreds of thousands of travelers who visited Cuba on cruise ships no longer have that option. U.S. flights to regional airports on the island were suspended in 2019, so all travelers must fly into Havana’s Jose Martí Airport, regardless of their final destination on the island. U.S. citizens are still prohibited from booking a room at Cuba’s state-owned hotels, as well as eating and drinking at hotel restaurants and bars. And the Trump-era ban on bringing Cuban cigars and rum back to the United States remains in place.

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