The right to the beach Cubans abused by tourism

HAVANA – makeshift tent for shelter from the sun, food and drink: with the heat of summer, Cubans sweep the beaches, access for all is a right guaranteed by the Constitution, but complicated by the transport difficulties and the growing pressure of tourism.
“There are not many tourists coming here,” says 43-year-old Rey Gonzalez, who came with his family to Guanabo beach, east of Havana.

Admittedly, the sand is less white, the water less crystalline than the famous beaches paradise tourists, the most famous, Varadero, was designated this year the second most beautiful in the world by the US portal TripAdvisor.

But “for me all the beaches are identical: sand, sea … we do not see the difference when we bathe”.

A little further, Lazaro Palomino, 34, is of the same opinion: “we love the beach, clean or dirty,” he says. On the sand, there are many cans of beer.

Go to Varadero? “All Cubans, we would like. I went there once and I came back in shock “in front of the beauty of the landscape, he laughs.

The beach, political object

On the island, where it is customary to say that everything is political, the beach does not escape the rule: “in Cuba, there are only beaches of Cubans, it is part of the heritage of the Nation “Says Jose Luis Perello, a university specialist in tourism.

He cites article 23 of the Constitution, which describes the 271 beaches of the country as “socialist property of all the people”. This is the case since the revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959.

Before, the country was full of private clubs, with beaches reserved for their members, white preferably. Even the dictator Fulgencio Batista (in power from 1940 to 1944 and from 1955 to 1959) was never able to obtain his membership card because he was half-caste.

If the revolution established universal access to the beach, in fact, the beach has sometimes been seen as a threat because it “was linked to the illegal exodus and the entry into the country of small groups with some interests, “recalls José Luis Perello, referring in particular to the failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs in 1961, with the help of the United States.

At one time, dissidents like the writer Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990) denounced that they could not go to certain beaches, reserved for unionized workers. And Cubans have long been denied the right to stay at the hotel. Even today, they are prohibited from boarding a boat.

Pressure from private beaches

Another threat now is tourism, the Cuban government’s priority for attracting foreign currency, with 4.75 million visitors and $ 3.3 billion in revenue in 2018.

“Undeniably, the hotels represent a business , which tries to put pressure,” says José Luis Perello, but not only in Cuba: “the Caribbean is the symbol of this pressure of private beaches.”

Some establishments advertise this argument, such as this hotel in Varadero that boasts on its site its “private beach for the exclusive use of customers, one kilometer long”, which is illegal.

Regularly, Cubans complain via the Internet of being expelled from a hotel beach by zealous guards.

And yet they must be able to get there: the majority of them have no car or money to pay for the bus to the postcard beaches.

On the small beach of Bacuranao, 30 kilometers from Havana, 21-year-old Laura Yanis says that “all Cubans really have access to all the beaches, they are not private or reserved for certain people”. “It’s important because we are the people, we are the ones who move the country forward.”

However, she herself only went “once” to Varadero: “it’s very pretty, the water is very blue, the sand is beautiful … but it’s really far for me and I have not no means of transport. ”

Caridad Vidangel, 48, took a bus and a horse carriage to Bacuranao.

“It’s [the nearest beach], but if we had the opportunity, we would go elsewhere.” “I’ve never been to Varadero,” she says, “I would like … but it’s impossible.”

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