RIKKI RATLIFF, QMI Agency
Updated: Thursday, July 28, 2011 2:06:52 EDT AM
Cuba has become Canada's beloved vacation destination and unofficial
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
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
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
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.
— Ratliff is senior producer of The Source with Ezra Levant on Sun News