Tue, Mar 01, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Cuba to clamp down on `corrupt' tourist industry

CASH COW The island's communist government is planning on limiting the contact between tourism workers and foreigners in a bid to curtail corruption and control hard currency

AFP , HAVANA

In a bid to stem corruption and keep tighter control on hard currency, Cuba's communist government plans to slap new restrictions on workers' interactions with foreigners, mainly in the cash-cow tourism industry, according to a document obtained by reporters.

"Tourism industry workers, in their relations with foreigners inside and outside the country, must limit these to the strictly necessary and must take into account ethical, moral and professional principles," according to resolution number 10 of 2005, signed by Tourism Minister Manuel Marero.

The document, dated Jan. 19, was due to take effect 30 days later but has not yet appeared in the government gazette.

It is not known why its release was delayed but the document was leaked to international media and tourism workers say it has not taken effect.

Tourism is Cuba's top hard currency earner, one of the economy's three pillars, along with remittances from Cubans abroad and the declining sugar industry.

The government relies on hard currency to purchase food and fuel on international markets to keep the embattled economy of the island of 11 million afloat.

Cuban workers, from bartenders to brain surgeons, make roughly US$20 a month.

But bartenders and others in tourism who net tips in hard currencies by far outearn other Cubans, which can fuel resentment and arguably encourages corruption.

In early February Cuba's top prosecutor, Juan Escalona, said "we are at the most difficult moment in this clash" with corruption.

The tourism ministry says in the new rules that Cuba's workers must "maintain a conduct based on allegiance to the fatherland, respect for the constitution ... socialist law and government policy."

In addition, it says workers must "be modest, down-to-earth and maintain a personal and family lifestyle worthy of respect in the workplace and society at large" as well as "reject any offering" from foreigners.

These include "remuneration, gifts, donations, housing or personal treatment that could be construed as counter to dignity and respect, which create commitments that run counter to the healthy spirit of cooperation that should characterize relations between two parties," the document underscores.

Workers are also ordered under the rules to report to their supervisor in 72 hours or fewer anything they perceive as foreigners making inappropriate contacts with them "that might lead to links to them which are not in line with their professional positions, or which might be aimed at undermining their revolutionary morale and prestige."

Furthermore "gifts always must be handed over to the [Cuban] chief of unit, who will decide where it should go, it said.

reject personal invitations

Cuban tourism workers must "reject any invitation of a personal nature and to their own benefit, of their family members or acquaintances, made by foreign colleagues, partners, clients, suppliers, diplomats or other staff," it stresses.

"All business meetings with foreigners, whenever possible, should be carried out in the presence of a witness ... except in cases when, when overseas, it is not possible to be joined by a tourism ministry official or Cuban diplomatic mission staffer," the rules state.

`akin to apartheid'

In the past, many Cubans who left the country complained that Havana's handling of the tourism industry was akin to "apartheid" as Cubans' interactions with foreigners was limited, and Cubans did not enjoy the same rights as foreigners in hotels and on beaches.

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