Fears that the death of Fidel Castro will plummet Cuba into chaos and upheaval seem to have been lost on Canadian travellers, who continue to answer the lure of poolside Cuba Libres and dancing the cha-cha-cha under the Caribbean sun.
“Cuba is a big destination for Canadians ... people have been going there for years,” said Christiane Theberge, president and chief executive of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies.
But over the last two weeks, reports have circulated that the 80-year-old Castro was near death. Known as El Comandente, Castro is battling an unnamed illness and has not been seen in public since provisionally relinquishing power to his younger brother Raul six months ago.
Castro’s enemies in exile have long predicted that the end of his nearly 50-year reign in Cuba will bring dancing in the streets, a mass exodus and a rapid transition to a US-style democracy and market economy. The City of Miami is already planning an official celebration for when he dies.
Yet in Cuba, all signs point to a continuation of the status quo, and sun-hungry Canadians remain just as eager to travel to its sandy beaches.
While Theberge tells travellers who have already booked their tickets to follow the situation until they leave, “people are not too concerned.”
The biggest concern ACTA sees arising from possible changes in Cuba would most likely be to the bottom line — if Raul Castro’s government decides to open its doors to US tourists after Fidel dies, prices could increase for the Canadians who flock to the island mainly because of its proximity and cheapness.
John Kirk, a professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax who specializes in Latin America and has been travelling to Cuba since 1976, said on his last visit to Cuba in December “tranquility and normalcy were the orders of the day.”
He sees no reason why tourists would want to shy away from the island. “I suspect that some people will wonder ‘What will happen if Fidel dies while I’m down there?’” he said. “Basically, there will be an incredible funeral ...you’ll have world leaders coming from all over. But riots in the street? Nah, forget it.”