Cuba no fun in the sun 0
I cannot go to Cuba to relax on the beach and keep my eyes shut while dozens of political prisoners are behind bars there.
- Former Czech president Vaclav Havel, 2006
Each year over 800,000 Canadians visit Cuba for a sun-filled holiday of beaches, rum and great music.
I have not and will not be one of them.
Unfortunately for Cubans, their country is run by a repressive military dictatorship that rejects democracy and severely punishes those who speak out for change.
Even leaving the country is close to impossible for most citizens.
I cannot therefore in good conscience support Cuba's government by being a Canadian tourist there.
Like Havel - who fought his own country's repressive regime and was jailed for five years - I'm deeply troubled by the Cuban communist government of former President Fidel Castro, and now his brother Raul's, ongoing violations of human rights.
Amnesty International hasn't been allowed to visit Cuba since 1990. That alone should give Canadians pause before heading to the beaches of Veradero.
But Amnesty has still documented repeated and severe abuses of Cubans for attempting to exercise basic human rights. Its 2010 Report on Cuba says:
"Civil and political rights continued to be severely restricted by the authorities. Government critics continued to be imprisoned; many reported that they were beaten during arrest."
Despite the repression there are Cubans fighting for change.
Yoani Sanchez is - somewhat amazingly - a pro-democracy blogger in Cuba. Her life has been extremely difficult and her courage extraordinary.
"In November, Yoani Sánchez and blogger Orlando Luis Pardo were forced into a car by state security agents and beaten and threatened before being released," Amnesty International says. "The attackers told Sánchez 'this is the end of it'."
Individual Canadian tourists can send a strong message to the Cuban dictatorship by vacationing elsewhere. Tourism is Cuba's second largest revenue stream and Canada its number one source of visitors.
It's simply a personal choice - something citizens of Canada and other democracies are privileged to have.
The counter argument is Cuba has many positive accomplishments, despite its repressive government. Infant mortality is among the world's lowest and better than the United States. Its medical services to citizens are vastly superior to most developing countries.
But Cubans pay a heavy and unnecessary price with the loss of liberty and democracy.
It's a personal choice for every Canadian who has the opportunity to travel to decide where they go on vacation.
After all, unlike Cuba, it's a free country.