Cuba Says It’s Open for Tourism Amid Inflation, Protests
(Bloomberg) -- The Cuban government is stripping away Covid-19 testing and quarantine requirements for incoming travelers to help jump-start a tourism-dependent economy drowning in raging inflation and shortages of basic goods.
Starting Monday, only tourists without proof of vaccination will need to show a negative PCR test. The island dropped its mandatory quarantine requirements Nov. 7. And 70% of the population has now been vaccinated, the Ministry of Health says.
“The government doesn’t have any other choice but to reopen -- the whole economy is focused on tourism,” said Carlos Alzugaray, an independent political analyst in Havana and a former diplomat. “They’re betting on tourism being the locomotive that will bring the economy back in force.”
Cuba saw a drop of almost 80% in international travelers this year through September, with just 280,913 international tourists arriving to the Caribbean island. Before the pandemic the country was welcoming four million tourists per year.
The hard currency that visitors bring is critical to a government which needs cash to acquire goods on a global market where it faces U.S. economic sanctions.
Cuba’s economy has been reeling since the government ended a two-tiered currency system in January, forcing it to adjust prices and wages, and slash many subsidies. Cuba’s economy shrank 11% in 2020, according to government officials.
Economic hardship was one of the driving forces behind massive protests in July, when Cubans took to the streets demanding “freedom” and “food” from a government that has been in power for 62 years. Those protests led to more than 400 arrests and a crackdown that sparked international condemnation.
But even as the communist island rolls out the red carpet to visitors from abroad, closer to home conflict is again brewing. Anti-government protesters are planning to march in the streets Monday, Nov. 15, in order to turn the national spotlight toward their demands for human and civil rights.
Alzugaray said the economy has improved and the pandemic has subsided since July, which could dampen the turnout Monday. And then there are those who will stay home because they believe the protests are being orchestrated by Washington.
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