If there’s one thing new visitors to Cuba will take away from their first trip to Cuba it would have to be that Cuba is not just another palm-fringed Caribbean island catering to all-inclusive travelers.
The hardships and constant struggle endured by Cubans has nurtured and strengthened their identity. It bursts on the scene in the form of art, music and dancing – along with gorgeous beaches, great music and excellent cigars.
Each year, about 1.2 million Canadians visit Cuba, and Canadians make up 40% of all Cuba’s visitors. Weddings, honeymoons and family vacations/reunions are the most popular reasons why Canadians choose Cuba. After all, the island nation has more than 400 km of sandy beaches and 330 sunny days a year. In many ways, it’s the opposite of Canada in terms of weather and coastline.
Such a combination of qualities – together with a traditionally low occurrence of sexually transmitted diseases – has meant a surge in single female tourists in Cuba looking for more than just a mojito and a jig on the dance floor. In Cuba, male prostitutes are called “jineteros.”
In 2014, Canada’s CBC aired Love Under Cuban Skies, a documentary that followed the relationships of several older Canadian women with young Cuban lovers. Also profiled was Paula Warren, an American in her 60s, who married a 23-year-old Cuban named Andy.
“Cuban men are notoriously charming,” says Canadian Women’s Studies professor named Jill Arnott. “They’re very good-looking, as a generalization, and can dance like nobody’s business. They’re very appealing, but they’ve got game. They’ve got game like I’ve never seen.”
While precise statistics are impossible to find, the Cuba marriage problem reached critical mass in 2013 when the Canadian government produced a video, “Marriage Fraud: Stories from Victims”. The Canadian government says, “While many Canadians marry people from other countries, sometimes marriage is a scam to jump the immigration line. Learn about the consequences of marriage fraud and hear the stories of victims in this 7-minute video.”
David Manicom, Director General, Immigration Branch, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), comments in the video, “Sometimes you have a Canadian or permanent resident who meets a foreign national, perhaps while they’re traveling or over the Internet, and becomes convinced it’s a genuine relationship, whereas in fact the foreign national is using the relationship merely to get into Canada. And you know, the sponsor has been tricked.”
Unlike in the US, Canadians who seek permanent residency for their new love must become a sponsor and be financially responsible for the new residency holder for up to three years. The lengthy and costly process yields some valuation credentials for the sponsored: residency, work card and health insurance. Like some of the women profiled in Love Under Cuban Skies, the financial responsibly over three years can total tens of thousands of dollars, along with lost dreams.
The CIC has responded by passed new rules for couples seeking to live in Canada. First, people in new relationships – of two years or less where there’s no child in common – receive a permanent residence status. During the first two years after their arrival in Canada as permanent residents, they have to maintain a genuine relationship with the person who sponsored them. If they don’t, they could have their permanent residence status removed and be asked to leave Canada.
Secondly, there is a new provision that someone who is sponsored to come into Canada for a period of five years, they cannot turn around and sponsor a new spouse or partner.
Prior to the Cuban revolution in 1959, popular media played on Cuba’s allure as a sensual and sexual destination by exoticizing women of mixed race. Now that Cuba’s doors are opening again, it appears women have their own exotic desires to fulfill in Cuba’s men. Sadly, for some women in Canada, the price for love can be crippling.