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Posted July 19, 2006 by publisher in Cuba Travel

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Reuters | By Esteban Israel

They do not come to Cuba for the beaches and tropical mystique that draw more than 2 million other visitors each year.

Instead they come to spend their vacations working in the countryside under a blazing sun, eating rice and beans and sharing a room without air-conditioning or toilet with seven others.

They are so-called revolutionary tourists who arrive each year from about 50 countries for a “total immersion” in one of the world’s few remaining socialist countries.

“I call it a revolutionary vacation. I dedicate my free time to doing something concrete for the Cuban revolution,” Carlo Sarpero, a 26-year-old shop keeper from Genova, Italy, explained, as he repaired a school.

Cuba will receive more than 1,200 foreign “brigadistas” this summer for its “social-political” tourism program.

The Caribbean island’s government does not measure the program’s impact in monetary value, like that of sun and beach tourism which brings in more than $2.5 billion a year, but in political terms.

“A big majority of those who participate become activists in Cuban solidarity groups in their countries,” said Gabriel Benitez of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), the program sponsor.


The 21-day trip package, which includes lodging in the modest Caimito camp just west of Havana, costs $350.

The mainly youthful participants awake at 5:45 a.m. to the ballad “Guantanamera.”

By 7 a.m. they are clambering into the back of 1970s trucks, headed to the countryside to pick oranges, remove rocks from cane fields or repair schools.

Charlotte Godber said she would rather do voluntary work than send a check from London.

“It is more important to offer our labor than donate money because it shows our solidarity, and you really get to know the Cubans,” the 26-year-old media officer said.

The image of Argentine guerrilla Ernesto “Che” Guevara is everywhere in Caimito; on T-shirts, caps and tattooed on people’s limbs.

In the afternoon the brigadistas flop on the camp’s red earth to hear about Cuba’s economy, politics and society.

Revolutionary tourism began in 1969 when 500 Americans came to cut sugar cane. Some 55,000 from every continent have passed through the country since.

Around 50 US citizens of the “Venceremos Brigade” arrived this week, challenging a U.S. travel ban imposed as a result of a decades-old U.S. economic embargo against Cuba.


Most brigadistas find out about the program through Cuban solidarity groups. Others learn about the offer on the Internet.

They all receive introductory seminars before arriving on guest, rather than tourist, visas.

Recently the government has been trying to attract young Europeans during their summer vacations in hopes of influencing a sector of the left not always sympathetic to President Fidel Castro.

“That way the revolutionary message reaches places it didn’t before,” ICAP’s Benitez said.

Federico Beccia, a political science student from Amsterdam, said he wanted to experience Cuba first hand.

“The European press says Fidel is a dictator and things here are awful. I wanted to see with my own eyes,” he said.

“Here you can see the truth. I am not going to believe anything the press says about Cuba,” he said, while hauling stones from a cane field.

Aside from organizing the visits, ICAP is focusing its efforts on an international campaign to free five Cuban agents arrested in the United States in 1998.

In the brigadistas’ camp there are copies of an ad that appeared in the New York Times calling for the release of the agents, who Cuba says were spying on violence-prone exiles in Florida.

The advertisement cost $55,000, paid for by donations from members of solidarity movements in countries such as Germany, Canada, Spain, Great Britain and even the United States.

Many of the donors picked oranges or worked Caimito’s cane fields at some point in their lives.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on August 12, 2006 by marifrommiami


    Next time you are there - see if you are able to walk through the streets of Havana and protest against - well, against anything. You pick your topic of dissent - I dare you! I want to see just how long this opinion of yours will last. You know - it’s people like you that have hurt so many in my family. More and more I believe that the Cuban revolution had its birth with the Cuban youth because they were a bunch of bored and spoiled socialites who had nothing better to do with their time than to dream up this idealist society - that as history has shown - doesn’t work. I suggest you take permanent resident on the island and pick rocks for the rest of your natural life. Perhaps you can live with members of my family and they can show you just how “real” things are on the island.

  2. Follow up post #2 added on November 26, 2006 by Tylor

    to former commenter.

    It’s not an imperialistic state, why are you expecting to voice free opinion in it. That isn’t the point of these sort of volunteer activities, it isn’t about enjoyment, or satisfaction. You are completely oblivious to the text and what these “get-aways” are about.

    “they come to spend their vacations working in the countryside under a blazing sun, eating rice and beans and sharing a room without air-conditioning or toilet with seven others”

    The people are there to try to make a difference in the world and to truly fight for what they believe to be true and not some petty enjoyment which is what the world overindulges it’s self, forcing inequality and violence. This is the state of your sad mind. seeking pleasure over self sacrifice. The great Ernesto “Che” Guevera is the hero of many people, a true rebel standing, fighting, and dying for what he thought was true and never once did he waver.

    “Some call me a Christ, But I assure that I am not, I will fight for what I believe in, and not give up and be nailed to a cross…”

    Next time you try to impose your beliefes on somebody maybe try and take into account who you are talking to. Quite frankly I really don’t give a shit about you or your beliefs, and neither does anyone else who looks into this sort of adventure

  3. Follow up post #3 added on October 01, 2007 by giselle

    This is not a comment as such, only i am looking for a web site where i can find Cuban people to write to as a friend. I am English and live in the UK. could you send me any information or web site address. I would be most grateful.

    Giselle x

  4. Follow up post #4 added on October 01, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Good luck. First of all most Cuban people are not online and secondly, most Cuban people won’t talk much with strangers outside of their country. Lastly, most don’t have the luxury of spending money on stamps.

    Oh yeah, the postal system in Cuba is pretty bad too.

    Cuba consulting services

  5. Follow up post #5 added on October 03, 2007 by ron

    I was a “brigadista” in 1980. If I am not mistaken it was the 11th. I worked harder(building housing units) than I have ever worked in my life. We were working with concrete. If anyone has done this kind of work you know what it’s like. Our work days consisted of 10 and 12 hours Our living conditions were “very basic”. We worked six days a week. After work there was always a lecture to go to and solidarity meetings with other “brigadistas” from all over the world. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I was also a “brigadista” in Nicaragua a number of years later. There our brigade planted more than 10,000 trees. I am now seventy one years old and hope with-in the next few years I can do volunteer work in Viet Nam.  I am now living in another third world country where I hope to also “make a difference”. I go to these places not out of guilt but to in some small way say, ” I am sorry for the errors of my government”. That government in my opinion has had a history of supporting the governments of repressive dictators most of my life. I consider myself a C.O.W. (citizen of the world). Peace, love and moooo to yo. ronu

  6. Follow up post #6 added on October 03, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts


    Are you an American? Are you sorry about the errors of the US government? If that’s the case, don’t you lay any blame at the feet of the politicians who runs those third world governments?

    It’s like when I see starving people in Africa and for some reason I’m supposed to send in $30 to feed a child for a month.

    Why is it the responsibility of the US citizens? Why are the politicians running the country to blame. Just like in Darfur. Everyone turns to the US and says why aren’t you doing anything.

    I think the US gives out more aid than any other country in the world so don’t come here “apologizing” for your government.

    Cuba consulting services

  7. Follow up post #7 added on October 03, 2007 by ron

    Yes, I am a citizen of the U.S. I have never been a citizen of any other country. I love my country very much. It’s the government and the economic system that I don’t especially care for. In my opinion, we in the U.S. are experiencing a time in our history where it is “payback” time. If you have studdied recent history you will no doubt be aware that the policy of our military and state department was to support any dictator who would take orders from our country to defeat any communist movement attempting to take over. This started at the beginning of the “cold war”, after WW2. The dictators, and there are many, were “paid off” to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars in “aid” (mostly military) paid for from the taxes of U.S. citizens. Tens of thousands of people all over the world were murdered, starved, tortured and put in prison in “my name” In Indonesia, Philippines, Viet Nam, Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, and yes Cuba. The list is much longer but I need not go on. Yes, we do give legitimat aid and lots of it. We are a very generous people. And yes, we do get criticized alot. More than perhaps we should. The politicians are to blame in my opinion because they represent “capitalism”,. The one and only economic system this country will allow, here or anywhere else. The politicians listen to the state department who listens to the CIA and thats where our foreign policy comes from, I’m sorry to say. Nothing stands in the way of commerce!!! I should not have gone on for so long…I get wordy from time to time, Cheers, ron

  8. Follow up post #8 added on October 03, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Sounds like utopia if Hillary gets elected. A Democrat Congress and President!

    Say goodbye to that dreaded capitalism.

    Cuba consulting services

  9. Follow up post #9 added on October 03, 2007 by ron

    Well, for sure Hillary will win but only if she takes Obama as her running mate!! But that will not bring down the “Big C” Oh!!! What will you ask? I’m so glad you asked!!!!!!!!! tsk tsk. This would be sketchy by most folks opinion but, in my not so humble opinion, what will bring it down is the capitalism of Russia, China and whomever else they can get to help them. I know it’s strange, but to use the system to defeat it, is not only the natural way to do it, it is the most humane. Nuclear weapons and conventional war…...........? too messy and you destroy “the means of production”. The U.S. then becomes a third world country, and then???????????? Before that I will be in the “happy hunting grounds” Thanks for the response, ron

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