Autentica Cuba | Tales of corruption, fraud & scams


Behind the polished image of Cuba´s MINTUR (ministry of tourism) and their recent Autentica Cuba campaign lurks a sinister black market, or so we are told.


Seldom do professionals from the travel industry in Cuba speak out and, less so when they are foreign travel professionals located on the island. Historically, fearful of government reprisals, many keep silent concerning fraud & corruption, until now, only muttered by Raul Castro himself in some of his recent addresses to the nation.


But, could it be that Mr. Castro has opened a can of worms or, the proverbial floodgates emboldening foreign travel industry critics to also outline widespread corruption? During the research for this article, those we spoke to made it clear that they had been operating in Cuba for many years, some since the early 90´s. Curiously, those that have worked in the industry longest, demonstrated a bashful disregard for the dreaded MININT and, their widely known checks on foreign businesses, found bad mouthing or defaming a Cuban Ministry or enterprises. One person, who refused to be named for this article, stated that having “married into a MININT Family” they could say and do almost anything on the island…Sort of get out of jail free card, so to speak…


Nevertheless, such boldness is new in the Cuban expat community and, is in stark contrast to the more respectful (and silent) nature of expats during the presidency of Fidel. This new outspokenness could also be the reason why dissident numbers are increasing, along with their covert use of the internet to spread anti government propaganda. After all, if foreign residents in Cuba can use Facebook or blogs to voice their discontent with Cuban authorities, then why can´t Cubans born there? An interesting question surely.




“a scam to divert the installation’s profits and line their own pockets”




Nonetheless, something unusual is happening of late, something which is bolstering those in the expat community and, urging them to speak out.


One recent blog post from a Canadian operator  Page 2, Page 3 outlined her beliefs of what could be described as an elaborate fraud scheme at a famous Hotel in Varadero where she, “discovered that the $70 and $80 rates they (clients) were quoted for the golf clubs & cart were then translated into $77 and $88 on their invoice, but for Restaurant Beverages” she goes to put in plain words how this fraud scheme designed to bilk tourists works “My theory is that there’s a large-scale fraud scheme going on there where the rental equipment paid for by my clients on their credit card (rental equipment usage is hard to audit/track) is rung in as food/beverages, which are later sold in cash to walk-ups, and then the cash collected is split amongst all employees who are part of the scam to divert the installation’s profits and line their own pockets”


Accusing Cuban workers of fraud is very unusual and, in many ways new. Alleging they divert money obtained through tourist payments to “line their own pockets” is astounding; in so much as it is unique. Just a few years ago, no Cuban, let alone foreign resident in Cuba, would dare to neither speak out about Cuba´s black market nor explain in detail the intricateness of its operations.


Another reason for foreign travel professionals located in Cuba to have the proverbial “beef” with MINTUR and the Cuban authorities, we are told, is the blanket ban placed on their activities relating to Americans. As many are aware, Barack Obama freed up travel to Cuba in 2010 which, has allowed a massive increase in people-to-people tourism from the US over the past 18 months. Figures estimate as many as 400,000 Americans visited the island in 2011. But, much to the dismay of long time faithful foreign agencies registered in Cuba, the government via MINTUR swiftly banned their involvement in this new and lucrative market. We were shown a MINTUR circular from 2011, apparently sent out by Havanatur to its represented foreign agencies in Spanish, effectively banning foreign agents from selling any local services to Americans. Specifically detailing Hotels, Car Rentals and Excursions in the 20 line email. Could these recent demonstrations of discontent and foreign agencies speaking out be related to this move? In one recent Facebook post an agent wrote “I’ve been living in Cuba too long and that’s why I can spot a scam from afar. But when the scammers start to get to (sic) greedy, that’s when everything blows up” a flare-up which could outline some serious discontent and underlying corruption problems on the island.

In Canada, we tend to overlook some of the difficulties our agents have with the Cuban authorities and, the hoops they have to jump through on a regular basis. Some loath the bureaucracy and one even joked, calling it “Authentic Cr**” when speaking about some recent hassles importing items for their agency to the island from Canada.


An interesting twist came from a gentleman running a UK based agency in Old Havana, who said “it’s gotten gradually more and more difficult to deal with them (the authorities) over the past two years. They think that the US travel ban will be lifted very soon and, when it is, they won´t need us anymore” Sadly, his suspicions may actually be correct and, also bring into context the reason why foreign agents were banned from dealing with the nascent US market last year.


Even larger tourism ventures such as Coral Capital have not escaped the wrath of the Cuban Government for their outspoken views on joint ventures on the island. After having been vocal about Cuban bureaucracy they found themselves faced with a tax indictment and being shut down


At least for now, it would appear that MINTUR is tightening the screws on its foreign agents represented by Havanatur as the agent stated “Havanatur is consistently unable to confirm services lately, they allege supplier problems but, our livelihood here is drastically slipping away”


Could the vocal discontent, accusations of fraud and corruption in the tourism industry and, the inability to confirm services for clients be the curtain call for foreign travel agents located in Cuba?


Only time will tell

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