Cuba says it’s ready to receive US tourists


HAVANA — Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage said that the island’s society is ready to receive tourists from the United States in the event that Washington liberalizes tourist travel there, banned up to now by its 46-year-old embargo against the communist-ruled nation.

“Our tourism and our people are ready. It’s barbaric to prohibit a citizen from visiting his family,” the Cuban leader said Friday in a statement quoted by the state news agency Prensa Latina.

Lage pointed out that while U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama has mentioned “enabling Cubans residing in the United States to travel, he has said nothing about the right of U.S. citizens that is included in the Constitution.”

“Among the things that it (the Constitution) talks about, and it doesn’t say much because it isn’t very long, is the right to travel, but that is violated by the embargo of the United States against Cuba,” he said.

The Cuban vice president said that “he (Obama) has talked about travel for Cuban citizens living in the United States and the sending of remittances.”

“That’s the situation that existed before” the administration of the current president, George W. Bush, he said.

Last week ex-President Fidel Castro said in one of his regular articles of reflections that Cuba can speak with Barack Obama wherever he wants, although without “carrots” or “sticks.”

The island’s current president, his brother Raul Castro, has also told the U.S. on three occasions of Cuba’s readiness to hold talks “without conditions” to resolve bilateral differences.

The most recent occasion was in an interview granted last October to movie actor and director Sean Penn.

Lage also said that tourism is a sector that requires “renewed efforts” because of its importance to the nation’s development and predicted that this year the announced estimate of 2.3 million visitors will be achieved, despite the devastation of three hurricanes.

“We’ll have to see how it (tourism) goes next year. Up to now it is positive with high occupancy,” he said, although he recalled that there is a crisis in the world economy and “we don’t know what repercussions it might have.”

Tourism to Cuba has grown this year by 10.7 percent over 2007 and, according to official estimates, brings the nation’s gross annual revenues to more than $2 billion and, directly or indirectly, employs some 300,000 people.