Are Tourists Affecting Cuban’s Plates?

Tourism is booming in Cuba, rising by 11.7% in the early months of this year and seeing an additional two million visitors step foot on the island in the first six months. Now, the number is nearer 3.5 million and showing no sign of abating. Many of these tourists come from Canada and Germany, but as travel regulations have eased for those in the U.S., there has also been an increase in visitors from here. But far from enjoying the additional wealth generated in the country, everyday residents of Cuba are struggling to provide a healthy meal for their families. Essential foods such as tomatoes, peppers, and onions – Cuban basics are hard to find, and if a resident is lucky enough to afford them, just a pound of these ingredients will take ten percent of their monthly salary.

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The rise in prices is essentially caused by a supply and demand problem. Restaurants are scooping up all of the fruit and vegetables and other more unusual ingredients to feed the many tourists that are flocking to the country’s shores. Their budgets are much larger than the average household, meaning they get the pick of the produce. Food vendors speak of the private markets, known as paladares coming in and paying top dollar for all their stock to sell at an inflated price to those who can afford it.

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The changes in the country have been slow-coming, but encouraged by a steady growth in the economy and a tentative relationship with the U.S. Residents of the country are hopeful of a better future, and for now, are willing to take any sacrifices necessary to allow the country to grow and adapt. But while the private sector has seen huge development, it is those who work for the state who are struggling the most. Those working for the state talk about how pointless it is to go to local markets looking for fresh produce. Instead, Cuban residents eat food that is allowed with their ration books, starchy foods of rice, sugar, and beans to fill up aching stomachs.

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The limited agricultural land in the country is monitored closely by a government that still has an iron grip on most day-to-day comings and goings, and where land is used, you are most likely to find either tobacco or sugar, the exports which contribute a third of the countries outgoing goods. Other landowners will receive seeds of more unusual crops directly from restaurants who are desperate to line their pockets with tourist money. Fertilizer is rare, and with the few trucks and tractors that transport fresh produce to the markets regularly breaking down and spoiling the goods, it is clear that the industry needs a huge overhaul.

The government has begun clamping down on the restaurant industry in a hope to curb the demand for what we would consider staple foods, choosing not to license new restaurants. But this may all come too little too late for a country that is so heavily invested in a future buoyed by tourist money. Tourist company, Gaviota, who are a state-run business is planning to almost double the amount of hotel rooms available in the country, adding 50,000 to the 70,000 existing places to rest your head by 2020. If the food situation doesn’t improve, it is believed that it will become a national security issue in as little as five years. Now that’s food for thought.