Apartheid, Cuban style?

The dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez writes about an abortive effort by her and her husband to take a boat ride normally limited to foreign tourists, under the title “Apartheid Persists.”

We arrived at the dock half an hour early. The sun-burnt tourists began to board the boat. Rei and I reached the spectacular corner from where we took photos of that bay as big as an ocean. The dream lasted barely five minutes. When the captain heard us talking he asked if we were Cubans. He shortly informed us that we had to go ashore, “boat rides are prohibited for nationals at every marina in the country.” Rage, anger, the shame of carrying a blue passport makes us guilty — in advance — in the eyes of the law of our own nation. A feeling of deception on comparing the official discourse of a supposed opening with the reality of exclusion and stigma. We wanted to cause a scene and cling to the railing, to compel them to remove us by force, but what would it have served? My husband dusted off his French and told the group of Europeans what was happening. They looked surprised, whispered among themselves. None of them disembarked — in solidarity with the excluded — from that coastal tour of our island; none of them found it intolerable to enjoy something that is forbidden to us, its natives.

Normally I’m on guard whenever someone uses the term “apartheid” outside the context of pre-1994 South Africa. The word has certainly been abused beyond measure when it comes to Israel. And Cuba is probably not the only country that prevents its own citizens from enjoying the same activities as foreign visitors.

In my limited travels in the US, the UK and Israel, I’ve never experienced such segregation. I’d be surprised if it’s common in any reasonably democratic country. But if such practices are not strictly “apartheid,” they certainly say a lot about the governments that enforce them– none of it good.

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