The Castros’ subversive scorn
Like a dog that bites the hand that feeds it, the Castro brothers’ regime exhibits a great anti-national arrogance by spurning Cuban emigrants, when what it should do is take advantage of President Barack Obama's visit to build a monument to them in Revolution Square, as it is they, in large measure, who keep the startlingly unproductive economy afloat.
The Cuban diaspora furnishes the island with some 5.6 billion dollars with its visits, remittances, parcels, surcharges on tickets, passports, renewals, permits, "tips" at Cuban customs, etc. And yet, as gusanos ("worms"), Cubans living abroad are completely ignored in official statistics, and are still required to apply for a visa to travel to their native country, something unique in the history of the Americas.
It suffices to take a look at Cuban tourism. The National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI) recently reported recently that gross revenue in Cuba from international tourism in 2015 was 1.94 billion USD (up 188 million from 2014), with 3.5 million visitors; pointing out that behind Canada, with 1.3 million tourists, there was Germany, 175,264, in second place, which was incorrect.
The United States was the second largest sender of tourists to Cuba, with nearly half a million visitors, almost triple the number of Germans walking camera-in-hand through Havana. And there's more: the 148,700 Americans who visited the island in 2015 overtook France (129,692), Italy (123,254), Spain (100,339) and other major sources of tourists to Cuba.
It is not that the regime wants to punish Obama because the embargo bans tourist travel to Cuba, but rather that the visitors from the United States were overwhelmingly Cubans. A total of 361,024 Cubans arrived on the island, mainly from the northern neighbor, a fact that José Luis Perello, professor at the University of Havana's Department of Tourism "overlooked."
Neither did the ONEI recognize that the flow of American visitors increased by a dramatic 76% as a result of the thaw in Havana-Washington relations and the greater flexibility to travel to Cuba, decreed by a very accommodating President Obama.
The Dominican / Jamaican contrast
The State's institutions clearly have instructions from the dictator himself not to express anything positive about the US and Cuba's "worms." This is why the Government actually relegated to the "Other Countries" section the half million people who came to Cuba from the northern neighbor, and at the end of a list of 17 nations identified by name, 12 of them with less than 95,000 tourists each.
In contrast, the Government of the Dominican Republic revealed that in 2015 it received 5.6 million international visitors, who spent 6.1 billion dollars, and expressed its great satisfaction with the fact that 676,734 travellers were Dominicans living abroad, mainly in the US.
It is worth remembering that in the 50s the Dominican Republic received nine or ten times fewer tourists than Cuba (347,508 visitors in 1958), and its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was one seventh of Cuba's. Today, that nation has a real nominal GDP greater than Cuba's (which is bloated by social spending and Venezuelan subsidies recorded as new assets created), and almost doubles the Cuban tourism industry in terms of turnover.
If total gross revenue is divided by the number of visitors, spending per tourist in Cuba last year was $554 dollars, 79 less than in 2013, and less than half of the $1,089 each tourist spent in the Dominican Republic. It also represented just 42% of the international average of $1,317 per visitor in 2015, according to the World Tourism Organization (OMT). The global tourism industry last year recorded 1.184 billion international visitors, who spent 1.56 trillion dollars.
Jamaica is another example. The island, also tropical and one tenth the size of Cuba, in 2015 received 2.1 million tourists, who spent about 2 billion dollars, for a per capita expenditure of 952 dollars - almost double the figure in Cuba.
Why is spending so low on the Island? Castro expropriated the "bourgeoisie" and "liberated the country from imperialism." As a result, today it produces very few goods and services, and tourists have little to spend their money on. If anything reflects the Socialist/Castroist disaster, it is Cuba's inability to obtain higher net revenues from tourism.
Very high costs
The official report, moreover, does not address the main obstacle hampering Cuba's tourism sector: the massive imports impacting the industry's operating costs. Due to the anaemic productivity of the socialist economy, something ingrained in its very DNA, it is necessary to import almost everything the hotels and other tourist facilities need to function, including tropical fruits and vegetables, which could be grown on the island.
Of every dollar spent in Cuba by tourists, some 55 to 60 cents flow back out abroad, according to expert estimates. That is, the real revenue in foreign currency the regime received in 2015 from tourism was between 776 and 873 million. And from 1.067 to 1.164 billion dollars went abroad for imports needed by the tourism sector.
These importation costs, and insufficient production of all kinds, prevent the Cuban tourism industry from making a greater contribution to the country in foreign currency, and to its GDP, as occurs in the rest of Latin America. In Mexico, for example, with nearly 30 million visitors in 2015, tourism generates between 9% and 10% of the country's GDP. In Cuba it represents just 3.2%.
If tourism in Cuba represented 10% of nominal GDP, the figure, at current prices, would be nearly 200 billion USD, for a per capita GDP of $17,857, which would place it ahead of Chile, the Latin American country closest to First World standards.
The WTO announced that international tourism is the third largest creator of jobs on the planet, after retail businesses and agriculture. It generates 4 billion dollars daily, and directly or indirectly employs 277 million people.
In response to the accumulation of the Castros' deficiencies, if Cubans travel back to their home country, and the diaspora in general generates billions of dollars annually, it is disgraceful that the regime's statistics completely ignore them.
If for some reason the country were to cease to receive this basic financial support by its "disaffected" emigrants, Cuba would be plunged into a devastating crisis more severe than that which triggered the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In light of this fact, General Castro ought to swallow the pride that so characterises his family and order the construction of the abovementioned monument, in the heart of the Cuban capital.