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Nobody looks down at a hotel doorman in Cuba. Chances are he is picking up in daily tips what a top brain surgeon or university professor earn in a month, reports CANA-Reuters (August 31, 1998):

. The same is true for a growing army of car-park attendants, waiters, hotel workers, trinket-sellers, guides and others lucky enough to work in Cuba's booming tourist industry. They are the Communist-run island's "nouveaux riches," a privileged elite with access to dollars that makes their compatriots' peso salaries look paltry;

. In the recent words of President Fidel Castro, they are also part of an emerging class of home-grown "millionaires" who are endangering the egalitarian values of nearly four decades of Communist rule since his 1959 revolution;

. Cuba's rapidly expanding tourism industry (1.2 million visitors and US$1.5 billion in revenues in 1997) may be rescuing a needy economy still reeling from the collapse of its lifeline to the Soviet Union at the start of this decade. But the Government's opening of the sector since the late 1980s has also ushered in deep social changes and divisions. The trickle-down effect of the once-illegal dollar is perhaps the most notorious influence, creating wealth distortions and anomalies that now abound across the island;

. A woman in downtown Havana will braid a tourist's hair for US$8, more than half an average monthly salary in the state sector that employs the majority of Cuba's workforce. A man in the town of Trinidad rents rooms to tourists at US$20 per night, ensuring that his family, unlike others on his street, can get soap, shampoo and electronic goods from dollar-only shops. A cleaning lady at a hotel in Varadero says her tips bring in more than the combined salaries of her four adult children and her husband, who are all university-trained professionals;

. "The social pyramid" has been turned upside-down. The most skilled and highly trained people are not the ones making the money,'' says economist Omar Everleny at the state-run Center for Studies of the Cuban Economy. "The solution would be to raise wages in other sectors, but if they are sectors which do not generate foreign currency it is hard for the state to do that," he said;

. Castro himself, frustrated at having to introduce ' some capitalism, leads the official finger-wagging at the emerging moneyed class. "This excess money which a lot of people have is causing us a lot of damage...The more contact we have with capitalism, and the more we perceive what happens, the more repulsion I feel," he said in a recent speech;

. "Tourism has become the engine of the country," a top tourist sector official, Eulogio Rodriguez, said at a recent conference in Havana. Buoyant tourism officials project an annual 2 million visitors by 2000, up from an anticipated 1.4 million this year and a mere 300,000 at the end of the 1980s. They also foresee revenues rising to US$3 billion by 2000, 15 times more than in 1989, and a jump in hotel capacity from 28,000 rooms now to 49,000 at the turn of the century. The importance of tourism has never been clearer than this year when a disastrous sugar harvest, low prices for Cuba's nickel exports and a severe drought in the east have turned the screw on a tight financial situation.;

. Canada, whose Government opposes the U.S. embargo on Cuba, is the largest source of tourists, followed by Italy, Germany, Spain and France. Joint ventures, mainly involving operation contracts, have drawn big-name hotel chains from Spain's Sol Melia and France's Accor to Jamaica's SuperClubs and Sandals;

. On one of Cayo Coco's finest beaches, Cuban hotel worker and Ciego de Avila resident Lazaro Junco meditates on his daily two-hour bus journey between these two worlds: "It's difficult, it's strange ... I'm one of the privileged ones because I work here, but it's still hard for me to see all this. Why should foreigners be able to enjoy this and Cubans not?"
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Publication:Caribbean Update
Article Type:Article
Geographic Code:5CUBA
Date:Oct 1, 1998

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