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Varadero Beach November 7, 1992 - Cuban Official Attacks U.S. Embargo

By Bob Van Leer

  Veradoro(VARADERO BEACH, CUBA, November 7, 1992) - This is Cuba's finest beach resort area according to our guides. Our hotel, the Hotel Paradiso, lives up to the billing.

  Our hotel of last, and future, nights in Havana, the Riviera, is crumbling. The Riviera is a 35-year-old former Hilton Hotel which is being badly maintained. 

  The Paradiso was built last year and is a fine hotel. But our room already shows signs of lack of maintenance.

  Betty and I are on the seventh floor with a little balcony and the surf just a few yards from the hotel.

Hemingway's Home

  This morning we visited Ernest Hemingway's house east of Havana, now a museum. Hemingway lived here much of the time from 1939 until shortly before his death in 1961 at Ketchum, Idaho.

  He wrote many of his best known works here including "The Old Man and the Sea" for which he won a Nobel Prize.

  We then went to the 10th Havana International trade fair. The grounds contained carnival rides as well as industrial exhibits and were crowded.

  The people we have seen here so far don't look like a populace ready for revolution. Generally they appear well-fed and well-clothed.

  We have been hustled for handouts by a few kids in Havana but we've been hit up worse in San Francisco. Living is easier here.

  The climate is tropical and only minimum shelter and clothing is needed. This land will grow anything and even Communist bungling won't keep people from growing enough to eat.

  Havana is run down and mostly looks a little seedy. Gas is rationed - one of our guides said his allowance is 10 gallons per month.

  There are rolling power blackouts. Whole sections of street lights are blacked out. But, according to our diplomats, Fidel Castro's government has a powerful security apparatus and there is little public dissent.

  At the trade show we met with Abraham Maciques, president of Cubanacan, the state tourism corporation.

  He said in 1987 a decision was taken to give top priority to tourist development. Tourism is expected to become Cuba's number one industry by the year 2000.

Against Embargo

  PilarMaciques railed against the U.S. embargo against Cuba calling it a "blockade".

  He called for the U.S. to lift the "blockade" and let U.S. citizens see for themselves what is happening in Cuba.

  He said Cuba finished more than 14,000 hotel rooms in 1992 so far and expects another thousand by year end. Cuba will have 400,000 tourists in 1992, he said, and the goal is 800,000 by 1995.

  This is expected to generate $900,000 in income.

  Some of the statistics don't add up but there is no way to check them. If Cuba has 14,000 hotel rooms and 400,000 tourists, counting all the tourists as singles, the rooms would be rented only 15% of the time.

  Cuba is going into joint agreements with foreign companies and guaranteeing repatriation of profits.

  So far, joint agreements are with Spain, Germany, Austria and Holland with others in the works.

  Maciques said, in response to my question about the condition of the Riviera, old hotels are being refurbished and the Riviera and Havana Libre hotels will undergo refurbishing totaling $20 million in 1993.

  But refurbishing will only help temporarily unless maintenance is kept up.

Canadians Lead

  Canadians are the leaders in Cuban tourism, 90,000 last year. He said Russian tourists were never a factor even in earlier days.

  In 1958, before Castro and the revolution, he said there were 350,000 tourists, 90% from the U.S. . Maciques said Cuba places no restrictions on U.S. travel.

  At the trade fair I talked to a German businessman who had a display of heavy machinery. I asked him how sales were going and he said he hadn't made one in the last four years of coming to this trade fair.

  He said there is no money in Cuba. Nevertheless, he doesn't see any abrupt change.

  He disagreed with U.S. policy of embargo against Cuba. He said if the U.S. opened it up the U.S. would be taking over Cuba in a few weeks.

  The hotel treated us to a special meal this evening that was an epicurean delight. The food (a whitefish entrée) and service were outstanding. This hotel we can highly recommend.

  Tomorrow the day will start with a boat ride and we will be back in Havana before the end of the day.


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