Expectation and Division in Bergenline over Cuba Tourism

On Bergenline Avenue, the epicenter of the New Jersey Cuban community, the opening of Cuba for tourism has been met with divided opinions. (Photo via Reporte Hispano)

On Bergenline Avenue, the epicenter of the New Jersey Cuban community, the opening of Cuba for tourism has been met with divided opinions. (Photo via Reporte Hispano)

President Barack Obama opened this week the gates – closed for more than 50 years – for tourism and dollars to flow to Cuba.

This comes immediately after airlines secured the approval, expected for June of this year, to fly to Cuban destinations. Thousands have already visited the island via Mexico or other destinations, circumventing the laws [which had restricted travel].

Just last Tuesday, the White House announced that travel restrictions would be eased [to allow for educational exchanges and interacting with the Cuban people “person to person.”] It is also easier to use U.S. money in transactions within the island.

For Julio Molyneaux, from Puerto Rico, this means an opportunity to visit, for the first time in his life, the Varadero beaches.

“I travel only if it’s legal to do so,” said Molyneaux. “I’m a beach person. I have already been to those in Aruba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, etc. The only beaches I’m missing are those of Cuba. But I repeat, I would only go there for the beach.”

Others are not ready to go there yet. Colombian Julio Paez does not see it is as a priority. “I’m from Barranquilla and I always go there for the carnival. I would really prefer to visit first Europe, Mexico or the Dominican Republic. After that we’ll see, but for the moment I’m not interested.”

Peruvian Armando Sotelo is not impressed. “For me, at 70, Cuba does not have much to offer. I would rather go to Spain and visit cities such as Malaga, Cadiz, Barcelona…”

Luis Díaz, also from Peru, would not venture visiting Cuba. “Down there, they rip tourists off and all the money goes to the government. I would not feel comfortable.”

And yet, news about tourism to Cuba has raised expectations.

At the travel agency Tom Tours, on Bergenline Avenue at 42nd Street in Union City, phones are ringing nonstop.

“For the past few months we have gotten many calls from people who want to make reservations in Cuba, but since we do not offer service for that destination we can’t take reservations or sell tickets. I hope that when airlines get authorization to fly to Cuba we will be able to start getting business,” said Morayma Rivera, the office’s manager.

For his part, the State Assembly speaker, Cuban-American Vincent Prieto, said that “before we open relations with Cuba, we should have something to offer to the island’s residents; something substantial. Because now that dollars have been officially allowed to enter Cuba, we would like that those dollars get to the Cuban people… Because we, especially myself, who lived for almost eleven years under communism, know how difficult it is for those dollars to reach them.”

Prieto thinks that the U.S. should have negotiated better conditions for Cubans, giving them more freedom and the possibility to open more businesses.

“I am not criticizing anybody, I understand that people want to go see their family and help them. I understand that perfectly, but I think that President Barack Obama could have negotiated a better deal for the residents of the island of Cuba.”

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