Italian Survival Guide to Avoid Scams in Cuba

An Italian blogger listed the 10 most frequent scams that tourists will encounter in Cuba, so that one can avoid being cleaned out

MARINELLYS TREMAMUNNO / ESPECIAL CUBANET

ROME, Italy. – “There is no room in Cuba for careless travelers or naïve tourists: they will be mercilessly and systematically swindled like fools through a veritable arsenal of scams, lies and tricks unlike in any other country in Latin America. Believe me: even if you have travelled the world over and you feel safe, a trip to Cuba will put you to the test.”

These words were written by Italian blogger Daniele ERMES Galassi. He is an expert traveler who has gone all over the world, but on the section on his web reserved for Cuba, he doesn’t write a regular tourism review. Instead, ERMES Galassi shares with his followers a specific “survival guide” to avoid falling for scams in Cuba, titled “Cuba is not a country for the naïve: scams and lies that you should know so as not to fall for them.”

In Cuba, nothing moves except to the tune of money, and street-savvy Cubans lie. They always lie. But Cubans lie out of need, so I do not blame them. However, I have experienced first-hand what it means to be the object of such pressures, which is why I have written this survival guide: I want to give you hope in stemming off the diabolical hustlers on an equal footing. Cuban hustlers will try every trick in the book to rob you of your money wherever you go,” he states in the article published in Italian on May 24 2018 in the Stary Ermes webpage.

What motivated Daniele to break with his writing style about travel and made him write a survival guide? CubaNet interviewed him and he explained to us that “Cuba is the last place a naïve traveler should visit; there are so many countries where tourists are regarded as dollar-producing machines, like Asia or Vietnam, but nothing like Cuba. I have travelled throughout Latin America, from Central America to the Patagonia, but I have never experienced something like this.”

The Italian blogger explained that his stay in the Caribbean country reminded him of his trips to Arab countries, “where tourists travel drawn by multiple seductions and is attracted to all kinds of hoaxes, but I must say that in Cuba, what really makes a difference is the creativity. There is such creativity for inventing scams, it’s really remarkable.”  This is in sharp contrast with the peace and tranquility that reins in the island: “it’s place where nothing will happen to you physically, but financially or money-wise, I would go around cautiously, and that is why I decided to write this somewhat ironic guide, a survival guide: if I had had one I would have spared myself a lot of problems.”

The 10 most common scams

Daniele continues writing in his blog: “What you are about to read is a survival guide that will prevent you from going broke after you’ve been in Havana for 24 to 48 hours. You will find details about scams and lies most often told and advice and tricks that will help you not to be fooled by them. However, this will not be an easy struggle, but it’s of vital importance that you try to be well-equipped with adequate “antibodies”, or your first trip to Cuba will be a blood bath. You wouldn’t want to fill your travel diary with curses and blasphemy, would you?”

With such heavy introduction, we ask ourselves, “Did the blogger find anything in the island that he liked?”  He states: “As far as the natural environment, Cuba is very beautiful, nobody would deny that. Unfortunately, what I did not like very much about the experience was the constant pressure that is put on the tourist, a pressure that is camouflaged with hospitality and harmony; Cubans always try to establish contact with you, he/she knows immediately that you are Italian, and quickly ascertains that you just arrived. Cubans are very smart, they get it quickly.”

Italians are the most frequent tourists in the island. They are, also, the most naïve, the less prepared to confront the art of lying, Cuban-style. “Let us say that the first 48 hours were very tragic, my friend and I managed to identify three or four classic scams: the intermediary who takes you for a stroll and you pay for his drinks and that of his friends; or the cigar co-op which is not a real cigar co-op, it’s someone’s house where a friend is summoned and they act as if it were a co-op to sell you fake and dried up cigars. The first 24 hour hours are a tragicomedy, because if you are not careful, you risk losing a fortune on that first day,” the blogger warns.

What is true is that Daniele Galassi managed to identify on his blog “the 10 ways in which [Cubans] will try to swindle you”: the intermediary who pockets the commission; the tourist guide that inflates prices and at the end of the day charges an extra fee; the fake intermediary who expects a commission on whatever else; the taxi driver who alters the cab fare; the horse ride where you are made to purchase a cigar; the wrong currency exchange; the bottle of rum filled with tea, instead; the fake emergency used to beg for money; the fake cigar cooperative; and the fake doctor’s prescription.

“One of the most beautiful scams I witnessed happened to a friend along Malecon Boulevard, and it involved a fake doctor’s prescription: a well-dressed person approached my friend in tears and told her there had been a tragedy at home -an explosion, a fire- and someone needed a medication that, due to the U.S. embargo, Cubans cannot find in pharmacies. Then the scammer explained that the only way to obtain the medication was at the embassy’s pharmacy; he then showed her the fake prescription. My friend gave the scammer a lot of cash. We later investigated and, in fact, it was a classic hoax,” Galassi explained to CubaNet.

This summary of scams, tricks and lies with which crafty Cubans try to fool tourists, were experienced first-hand by Daniele. This is why he warns: “In Cuba you can’t trust anyone or anything. If for the unexperienced tourist, a vacation in Cuba will turn into one scam after another, for the expert traveler, also, the streets of the island will be a constant battle that often is too stressful.”

Italian tourist: easy prey

In this context, Daniele indicated that Italians are the typical naïve tourists that Cubans “will take to the cleaners.” Why? Because Italians are not “do-it-yourself” travelers. “On the average, Italians are among the worst travelers. We were a nation of sailors, saints and poets, but now we are a nation of people who organize their trips through a travel agency. Cubans know that Italians don’t like to make the extra effort, that they will be taken around following the Cuban tour guide. While you are fully conscious, it’s all right, but it’s not all right when you foolishly think that an individual is helping you for the pleasure of helping you, and four days later, he or she asks you for a heap of money. You are like a chicken waiting to be plucked, and plucked you will be,” affirmed the blogger.

With the list of scams well explained by Daniele, it is unbelievable that in Italy, Cuba is still one of the most desired tourist destinations. According to official data from Cuba’s National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI, by its Spanish acronym), Italians occupy third place among European tourists that most frequently visited the island in 2019.

Why are Italians so passionate about Cuba? Here is the answer: “There is always a Cuban woman who wants to meet you and throw you in the sack” says Daniele on his blog.  He warns that “it’s not that the Cuban air suddenly transforms you into an irresistible sex symbol the minute you land, I’m sorry to say.” In reality, “any interaction with a Cuban is born tarnished by his/her need” for money.

The blogger explained to CubaNet that “in the average Italian man’s imaginary, this is surely noteworthy,” because “there are Italian men who go to Cuba and then take the Cuban woman back home with them, it’s the truth.” This is a more frequent phenomenon than one imagines. At the airport, ‘it impacted me a lot with an Italian who was returning home and had a Cuban woman with him; her mother was there, her father was there; the woman was crying, and her parents, also crying, stood there telling her to come back soon. I was shocked because I had heard of this happening, but had never witnessed it, not in Cuba and in no other country, truly…I can’t imagine me in Patagonia with a Chilean woman crying for me at the airport, I just don’t see it, truly,” he said, with a hint of irony in his smile.

In other words, he concludes: “If you don’t go to Cuba with already at least some experience, and somewhat thick-skinned, and if you are not sharp enough to understand the dynamics, they will clean you out, and they know it, they know it very well.”

Read in Spanish here.

FONT: Italian Survival Guide to Avoid Scams in Cuba (cubanet.org)

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