CUBA TRAVEL U.S.
Cuba hits target of 2 million tourists
Despite restrictions, 200,000 traveled from United States in 2004
Sunday, December 26, 2004
HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters) -- Cuba's tourism minister said Sunday that 2 million people visited the Caribbean island so far this year, achieving a long-sought-after goal despite U.S. efforts to undermine the country's main foreign exchange earner.
"This year the U.S. government increased the unjust blockade imposed on our country and pledged to affect the unstoppable development of our industry," Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said.
"These 2 million visitors represent an 8 percent increase over last year and are one more demonstration that Cuba is not alone," he added at a ceremony in eastern Holguin province, where one of the island's tourist resorts is located.
Most U.S. citizens are banned by their government from traveling to Cuba, and visits by Cuban-Americans are also restricted. Nevertheless, 200,000 people came from the United States last year, 130,000 of whom were of Cuban origin.
The number of U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba has been reduced by more than 50 percent since June, when President Bush eliminated most loopholes allowing them to visit and restricted Cuban-Americans to one visit every three years, U.S. travel agencies reported this month.
As part of its stepped-up effort to undermine President Fidel Castro's government, the United States is also funding information drives in Europe dissuading travel to Cuba on human rights grounds.
Tourism and related activities earned revenues of $2.1 billion in 2003, and those earnings increased 15 percent this year, Economy and Planning Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez said last week.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and a slowing world economy put a dampener on the country's hope to reach 2 million arrivals in 2002.
Cuba turned to tourism after the collapse of European Communism plunged its socialist economy into crisis.
"The tourism industry accounted for 4 percent of foreign exchange earnings in 1990 and 41 percent this year," Marrero said.
"The number of hotel rooms was 13,000, and today there are 41,000, 40 percent four and five-star," he said.
Foreign hotel chains, such as France's Accor and Spain's Sol Melia, manage the majority of five-star and four-star hotels in Cuba