Friday, July 29, 2011

Cuba: A Pretend Paradise

Cuba has become Canada’s beloved vacation destination and unofficial 11th province.

Nobody travels more to Cuba than Canadians — about 600,000 of us head there every year. With affordable non-stop flights and unbeatable all-inclusive packages, even middle-class families can afford to play in paradise.

But beyond the shoreline, the oasis turns mirage.

As we casually sip our mojitos and work on our tans, dissident journalists are silenced and jailed every day for speaking out against Castro’s island “utopia.”

Popular Cuban author and blogger, Yoani Sanchez, is the most recent victim to endure Castro’s silent treatment.

Her crime? Publishing a tell-all book that dispels the fantasy of Cuba as a model for socialized government. Her shipment of books from the publisher were seized by the government and never made it into the country.

For her practice of free speech, she is also prohibited from leaving Cuba.

Through telephone interviews and her blog site, Generation Y, she manages to find ways to loosen the invisible chains of communism that bind her.

Others like Sanchez convicted of dissidence are sentenced anywhere from five to 25 years in prison — many of them locked up with violent criminals, subject to the worst possible treatment. All this is happening just miles from our sheltered sandy resorts.

For the adventurous traveler who dares to enter into the “real Havana,” the charming portrait belies the truth, as no local will ever speak of the reality of their circumstances.

Despite his failing health, Castro’s grip on public perception remains as powerful as ever.

Jimmy Escobar is an author, frequent visitor to Cuba since the ’90s, and a major supporter of the Cuban people.

“Loyalists to the government are planted within the tourism industry,” Escobar warned over the phone. “The regime would never allow any worker in contact with vacationing Canadians to speak ill of the government.”

If we were to sanction every destination that violates basic human rights, we’d be left with few options. However, how is Canada — a country that considers itself a human rights leader on the world stage — able to reconcile propping up a government through tourism, which jails its non-violent critics?

Sure we do a necessary dance with China, one of the greatest offenders of human rights, but the billions of dollars in trade is the easy justification.

But how necessary are Varadero vacations?

While thousands of Canadians save up their hard-earned paycheques to get into Cuba, thousands more Cubans risk their lives to flee on float vessels to freedom; many are turned away by U.S. officials in the Caribbean Sea, countless others drown.

The irony that our beloved vacation spot is a hell they’re trying to escape is one that cannot be ignored.

Previous talks of bringing Turks and Caicos into the Canadian fold as the 11th province sound inviting. But why not start a real revolution — and welcome in the warm island of Cuba?

That way we wouldn’t have to continue to duck under our beach umbrellas at abuses we would never tolerate here at home — all because of the lure of some cheap sunshine and a good cigar.


Source: Toronto Sun

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