Cuba.- Its splendid red and white Ford convertible from 1934 shines in the sun, but no tourist rents it: the recent ban on American cruises from traveling to Havana has left Esteban Estrada virtually out of work. Parked near Havana’s Cathedral next to thirty 1950s American classics – brand image of the Cuban capital – his car is not the only one without customers.
«We are here, standing as you can see, all these vehicles, which (…) on a normal day, almost everyone was working,» he explains the 37-year-old driver, adding that he’s been «several days». At his side, dozens of idle colleagues chat sitting on a bench or trying to catch tourists: «A taxi, princesses?» says one of them as two women walk. Estrada took advantage of the tourism boom that generated the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States at the end of 2014 to leave his job as a regular taxi driver. For five years he has spent walking tourists with his red and white relic through the city’s most iconic sites: the Malecon coast, Revolution Square or the Capitol.Americans quickly became the second largest visitor to the island, after the Canadians. In the first four months of 2019, more than 250,000 arrived, almost double that of the same period in 2018.But the détente between the two countries ended with the arrival at the White House of Donald Trump, which multiplied sanctions against the Socialist island. Their most recent target was American cruise ships, which can no longer travel to Cuba, as they have done since 2016.» No plan B»
On June 5, some drivers of these rolling jewellery bid farewell to the Malecon of the last American cruiser, knowing that one of its main sources of income vanished with it.
For the state, the ban means less bee-mining revenue and for Cubans living off tourism the loss of a generous clientele.
«Normally, European tourism comes in the winter season, so what kept us working was American tourism, cruise tourism,» Says Estrada.
Americans can still travel to the island by plane, but the vast majority did so by sea. Near Estrada, Hector, who drives a 1950s pink Chevrolet, prefers to omit his surname. He says he didn’t have customers all day yesterday. «I give myself a month, a month and a half, and if it goes on like this, I return the license,» he says. The man recalls the times when, even before starting his journey, a travel agency called him to book a two- or three-hour tour of the city. Now it has to «hunt» tourists, but its costs have not decreased: between license, parking, gasoline and insurance, it calculates about 30 dollars a day.» The government has to do something,» Hector says. Some of his colleagues say that the Cuban authorities, surprised by sanctions, «have no plan B.» Generous American tourists
Even the private restaurant San Cristobal, which gained fame when Barack Obama dined there with his family in 2016, suffers the lack of tourists: «Right now the restaurant is at 20%, yesterday if six tables came in it was a lot,» complains its owner, Carlos Cristóbal Marquez, 55-year-old.» What we’ve gone is backwards with all the steps President Trump is taking,» he says. Yoel Montano, 44, also bet on an avalanche of American tourists. Two years ago he left his job in a tobacco field to work in the capital. But his car, pulled by the mare «Mulata», is also standing in the shade of a tree in the old town.
«When cruise ships came in, the whole country had life, a lot of tourism was coming.» Today, «the squares are empty,» it’s «very sad,» Montano says, «Trump «ends up with us, wipes out Cuba, is crazy,» he says, stressing that «the best tourism is American tourism. They’re very good, they’re friendly.» American tourists tip a lot and this makes our workers try harder,» says Eddy Basulto, 42, owner of the «Al Pirata» café, located in one of the cobbled streets of Old Havana.Thinking precisely about Eddy specialized in «healthy food,» with many vegetables and fruits on his menu. But with the departure of the last ship, he claims that his business has «lost 60% of sales.» This morning I sold only two breakfasts», while «when we had a cruise (…), I managed to have (…) three times the tables filled with breakfast, and you came into the day with spectacular energy,» he illustrates.