April 1, 2008 in Nation/World

Cuba’s hotels open to Cubans

Pablo Bachelet and Frances Robles McClatchy

MIAMI – Cuba’s so-called “tourism apartheid” – which has long prohibited locals from staying at hotels – ended Monday, according to news agencies in Havana.

The move ended a ban that many Cubans had fixated on as a prime example of the inequities and hardships they faced under Fidel Castro’s regime. The lifting comes five weeks after Castro’s brother, Raul, took over the nation’s presidency, and just days after he ended the ban on Cubans owning personal mobile phones, computers and household appliances.

But the measure is largely symbolic: a night’s stay at a luxury hotel in Cuba can cost more than $200 – which is just about what the average Cuban earns in a year.

Cubans were prohibited from staying at hotels even if someone else paid the tab.

Reuters news agency reported Monday that now Cubans can also rent cars and go to beaches once restricted to tourists.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a fierce critic of the Castro government, called the lifting of the hotel restrictions “pathetic.”

“There might be many superficial changes like this hotel maneuver and making DVD players and computers legal, but what the Cuban people want are true changes, like freedom and democracy,” she said in an e-mail. “Raul may make these nominal rather than real changes because most Cubans can’t afford hotel stays. What a dismal picture that legalizing microwaves and hotel stays are considered reforms. It’s pathetic.”

But many experts view Raul Castro’s early decisions as positive steps, even if they do not come with democratic elections and freedom of speech.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email