CubaBrief: Three self-interested reasons to reconsider vacationing in Cuba

Two woman walking along the streets of a city in Cuba. Source: Taymaz Valley from Ottawa, Canada

Below are three self-interested reasons to reconsider vacationing in Cuba:

1) When you suffer a heart attack at a hotel resort there is no doctor on staff, and it takes hours for emergency services to arrive to take the body away.

2) $10,000 fee to send the body back to Canada, and the wrong body is sent.

3) State-owned company CIMEX, which operates some MLC  (Freely Convertible Currency) stores in Cuba, sells expired products to the public.

Eating expired food products can lead to food poisoning, and exposure to dangerous bacteria. These poor practices have been going on for years.

James and Kathryn Longhurst booked their dream honeymoon to Cuba in 2017 for a two-week all-inclusive getaway in Paradisus Rio de Oro in Holguin, Guardalavaca that cost the newlywed couple $6,235. Three days in, Mr Longhurst fell so ill his tongue turned black. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was given injections and put on IV drips. Returned home and continued to feel ill. They are now suing Thomas Cook travel agency.  Mrs. Longhurst also became ill. The newlyweds cited “filthy conditions” as the cause of the illness observing in a March 23rd article in The Sun that “dining restaurants were poorly kept with food not “covered properly”, “insects and birds” flying around the buffet area, staff not wearing gloves while handling food and the same utensils used for different dishes.”

In 2016, Ted Jackson, 63, was staying with his wife Susan at the Hotel Playa Pesquero on the north coast of Cuba when they both started to suffer stomach cramps. He was seen by a doctor and then taken to a surgery but died due to severe dehydration and stomach inflammation.

Communist Cuba also has a crime issue that is comparable to other countries in Latin America, but it has often been kept out of the news.

Antoinette Traboulsi, a 52-year-old mother of four from Montreal who worked in a hospital, was discovered dead and buried on a beach in Cuba while on vacation. Her family is battling to get her body back home as well.

See the current articles below.

CTV New Montreal April 21st, 2024

‘It’s not my father’s body!’ Wrong man sent home after death on family vacation in Cuba

By Olivia O’Malley, Daniel J. Rowe

It has been a devastating month for the Jarjour family from Laval, Que., and on Friday, it got worse.

The family’s Cuba vacation has turned into a never-ending nightmare after the body of their loved one did not return with the rest of the family.

Instead, someone else was sent in his place and now they’re looking for answers as well as their father.

Faraj Jarjour died on March 22 in Varadero, Cuba, and when they went to identify the 68-year-old father of two, a Russian man about 20 years younger was in the casket with tattoos and a full head of hair.

“It was not the body of my father,” said Faraj’s daughter Miriam Jarjour. “It was another person who didn’t look like my father.”

“I’m in shock,” said son Karam Jarjour. “Like, I cried.”

Faraj had a heart attack in the sea on the second day of their family vacation. With no doctor at the hotel they were staying at, the family waited hours for emergency services to arrive and take his body away.

They then called the Canadian Consulate and were told it was closed on the weekend and they could come on Monday.

The consulate also said that the family must pay $10,000 to send Jarjour’s body back to Canada.

They scraped the money together and waited three weeks. Now, they have his passport and death certificate but have no idea where his body is.

“It’s a body,” said Karam. “It’s human, not an animal or something like that.”

The family tried contacting the Canadian government multiple times and when they finally reached someone, Miriam said the employee said it was not their responsibility. It was, she said, the responsibility of Asistur, a Cuban medical insurance company that delivered the body.

However, Miriam said she was never in contact with the company.

“We Canadians are not protected in Cuba,” she said.

The Urgel Bourgie funeral home in Montreal told CTV News that it is in contact with the Cuban company and is looking for the proper body.

Global Affairs Canada told CTV News via email that it is looking into the file.

The whole ordeal has been an emotional and physical drain on the family.

“My mom, it’s been like one month since she has eaten because of what happened,” said Karam.

Breaking Latest News, April 22nd, 2024

Sale of Expired Products in Cuban MLC Stores: Indifference or Strategy?

Cubans continue to report expired products being sold in MLC (Freely Convertible Currency) stores, raising questions about whether this is due to indifference or a strategy. Complaints about the sale of expired canned goods and other items have been circulating on various websites and social media platforms.

A few months ago, the state-owned company CIMEX, which operates some MLC stores in Cuba, admitted to selling expired products to the public. They attributed this practice to the country’s challenging economic situation, which has been ongoing for several years. According to CIMEX, expired products are not removed from shelves but are instead transferred to other locations where the prices are adjusted.

Consumers have expressed outrage over the sale of expired products, questioning the justification provided by CIMEX. Despite the backlash, the company insists that due to resource scarcity in the country, these products cannot be discarded and must be sold in other locations if they are still usable.

Affected users have shared their experiences of purchasing expired products, with one individual recounting buying canned goods with an expiration date several months prior. The lack of oversight and accountability in MLC stores has sparked frustration among consumers who feel they have no recourse for complaints.

The controversy surrounding the sale of expired products in MLC stores raises concerns about consumer rights and the quality of products available for purchase in Cuba. As the economic situation continues to pose challenges, it remains to be seen how authorities will address these issues to ensure the well-being of consumers.


From the Archives

CBC News, August 2, 2021

How Canadian tourism sustains Cuba’s army and one-party state

Cuban-Canadians say beach resorts popular with Canadians fuel exploitation and repression

By Evan Dyer · CBC News · Posted: Aug 02, 2021 4:00 AM EDT | Last Updated: August 3, 2021

Standing on a street corner in Montreal, Reinaldo Rodriguez has a message for Canadians.

“Canadian tourists are feeding the Cuban regime,” he told CBC News.

Rodriguez was part of a wave of protests that have swept Canada’s 30,000-strong Cuban community since unrest spread across the island on July 11.

“The people don’t see (the money),” he said. “The same as happens with the money the government makes from its doctors who work overseas. The Cuban hospitals are unsanitary, people don’t have medicines.”

Fellow protester Felix Blanco carried a sign that read, “All-included resort in Cuba: 51 per cent dictatorship, 49 per cent foreign company, 0 per cent Cuban people.”

[ Full article ]

Reuters, June 15, 2017

Cuban military’s tentacles reach deep into economy

By Marc Frank

“Any ban on using military-owned tourism facilities would make it very difficult to bring groups larger than seven people because for logistical reasons you need to work with the government,” Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, said.

The number of Americans travelling to Cuba, mostly in large groups due to U.S. regulations, has nearly tripled in recent years and was expected to reach around 400,000 in 2017, according to U.S. travel agencies.

Trump’s expected limits on U.S. business deals will target the Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group (GAESA), a conglomerate involved in all sectors of the economy that is headed up by General Luis Alberto Rodriguez, reportedly President Raul Castro’s son-in-law.

That is bad news for the pro-engagement U.S. politicians and hundreds of businesses that flocked to Cuba in the last few years in search of new opportunities.

The only hotel deal struck to date may prove the last for now, at least in the capital. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, which is owned by Marriott International Inc , signed on to manage a Gaviota hotel in Havana under the Sheraton brand which opened in 2016.

Gaviota is part of GAESA and tourism development projects in Havana and other choice locations are almost exclusively in its hands.

U.S. Gulf Coast ports and the Port of Virginia, which have signed letters of intent to work with the new Mariel container terminal, will most likely have to look elsewhere for shipping partners as it is controlled by Almacenes Universales, another GAESA company.

[ Full article ]