Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Tourism to Cuba: Travelers beware

What the travel guide won't tell you about Cuba

Sheila Dumbleton with her husband Ray
My conscience is clear because I have consistently warned tourists of the dangers of traveling to Cuba. The more pragmatic thing to do is to inform on purposeful travel to Cuba, how to avoid becoming a mouthpiece for the dictatorship and avoid being accused of sensationalism or fear mongering but then remaining silent would haunt me.

Visitors to Cuba have gone missing, been stabbed to death or strangled in their rooms, and shot to death. In March of 1997 an AK-47 wielding Cuban soldier, who according to the official explanation, had his weapon jam while firing warning shots over a Danish student studying Spanish cutting him in half with 7.62 x 39 mm rounds killing him instantly. In January of 2015 Albert Romero, a 39 year old Tampa attorney, was found dead with a hand chopped off, repeatedly stabbed and tied down in a chair in his room in Havana, with a family friend who was also murdered.

Cuba remains a totalitarian, communist dictatorship without a free press, accurate violent crime statistics are unavailable, and foreign media in the island self-censor. The same holds true with hygiene and healthcare. Under the Castro regime there have been outbreaks of cholera for the first time since the colonial period when it had been eradicated over 130 years ago. Sadly, tourists occasionally get to see behind the veil of propaganda. Sometimes they do not survive the experience.

On April 30, 2016 the blog post "Why travel to Cuba is no carnival ride" stated the following:
If you get sick don't count on the healthcare being free in Cuba. New York high school teacher Alfredo Gómez contracted cholera during a family visit to Havana during the summer of 2013 and was billed $4,700 from the government hospital. A total of 12 tourists have been identified who have contracted cholera in Cuba. 
Unfortunately the above information is not widely known because it does not fit the narrative promoting Cuba as a vacation destination or the dodgy nature of travel health insurance. Sadly there is now another cautionary tale.

Ray and Sheila Dumbleton traveled to Cuba in June of 2016 on what was supposed to be a dream vacation that turned into a nightmare that is still ongoing. Sheila (age 57) is dead and the family is trying to raise $26,700 to get her remains back from Cuba.

Birmingham Mail and ITV have covered the story interviewing family members. On July 24, 2016 Ray Dumbleton, the widower spoke to the press:
A grief-stricken pensioner said his wife was "left to die" in a Cuban hospital - because they could not pay a £20,000 medical bill. Ray Dumbleton said he was even banned from saying a last goodbye to his beloved Sheila, his soulmate of 34 years, as her body lay alone . The 67-year-old, from Frankley , said his ordeal was like "hell on Earth".

He said: "If you think of a World War Two scene, then that might just start to come close."
Sheila died in hospital in Holguin, Cuba, after falling ill on the sixth day of what had been planned as the couple’s ‘dream holiday’.
Despite taking out ‘gold cover’ travel insurance, she was unable to claim for her medical treatment and was left with a £20,000 medical bill.
The 57-year-old, who suffered a stroke, a bleed on the brain and other complications, died while she was receiving treatment in hospital.
Now, her distraught family have been ordered to settle her medical bill to pay and must also find an extra £7,000 to bring Sheila’s body home.
“It felt that, as soon as the hospital knew we couldn’t pay, they left her to deteriorate,” Ray said.
“All the doctors kept saying to us was ‘payment, payment’ but we didn’t have the money to give them.
“The conditions in that hospital were horrendous – something I find hard to put into words.
“There were dead bodies left uncovered.
"It was as if they didn’t care about people’s dignity.
“They wouldn’t even allow me to see my wife’s body and pay my last respects to her.
"They just kept saying it was Cuban law.
“I will never get that chance again. They have broken my heart,
“I kept saying: ‘Forget Cuban law, I want to see my wife’.
"But they would not allow me that last moment with her.
“I felt powerless over there.
"At one point they even threatened to put me into prison if I carried on demanding to see her.
“As soon as Sheila died, it felt like they couldn’t get me out of the country quickly enough.
“It was like nothing I had ever seen before – I was treated like a VIP, ushered straight through customs and there were no security checks.
“Now, I am glad to be back home but I will cannot rest until Sheila is back here with her family.
“The only saving grace was that I did meet some lovely people out there and without them, I probably would not have got through this ordeal.”
A spokesman for White Horse Insurance Ireland, with whom the couple had travel insurance, said: “We were very sorry to hear of Mrs Dumbleton’s circumstances.
“Regrettably, as Mrs Dumbleton’s medical history was not disclosed, her claim was not covered by her insurance policy.”
Relatives launched a fundraising drive when they discovered Sheila had fallen ill and would be unable to claim on her insurance.
A GoFund me campaign was launched to pay the medical bill and bring her home alive – but she died before the target could be reached.
“We have raised more than £4,000 already, so if it’s just the £7,000 then we could probably do it,” said daughter Erica McCleary.
“But we still don’t know if they will allow us to bring Mum home without paying the medical bill.
“I cannot begin to say how generous and kind people have been after reading about our story.
“We have had complete strangers offering us large amounts of money. One person even offered us their life savings just so that we can get Mum’s body home.
“We just want Mum home with us so we are able to grieve properly, as a family.
“It’s good to finally have Ray home with us after him being stuck out there for a month but we need to be allowed to grieve properly.
“This whole process has been a nightmare and it’s still not over.
“We managed to go out and see Mum when she first fell ill but we were not allowed much time with her. and we didn’t really feel like she was being cared for properly.”
Sheila became a great-grandmother while she was in Cuba but never got to meet her first great grandchild.
As a matter of conscience I would not travel to Cuba to go on holiday for a number of reasons. Personally going to the island would only be to help everyday Cubans obtain their freedom while seeking to limit hard currency that my visit would give to the dictatorship's most repressive sectors. At the same time it is important to know that there are risks to going to the island, and if you are going to go you need to have an emergency plan if something goes wrong, and awareness that you are not in a normal country.

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