Does the FCO website betray a political bias against Cuba?

Autumn 2003

article from Cuba Si

Unfriendly advice?

Does the FCO website betray a political bias against Cuba?

As the British government seems to be at the forefront of EU moves to harden policy on Cuba, another sign of the British government’s negative attitude towards the island is evident on the Foreign Office website.

In contrast to other countries in the region, the Foreign Office appears to have politicized the web page that gives advice to travellers to Cuba and exaggerates the threat to tourists from crime and terrorism on the island.

Not only that, in one instance the website even contains erroneous information that may possibly betray a political intent on the part of whoever wrote it.

In the section that refers to crime the Foreign Office tells potential tourists:

“In 2003 following a clampdown on crime and small-scale private business and the arrest and sentencing of 75 dissidents to 1,450 years in jail, there was an increase in attempts to leave the country by hijacking internal passenger transport.”

Apart from the unnecessary introduction of politics into this section, it is factually incorrect to say that the there has been an increase of hijackings following the arrest of the so-called dissidents, in fact the hijackings were occurring before the arrests and led to a climate of tension that may have contributed to the Cuban government making the arrests.

In addition it must also now be said that the hijackings have ceased – yet this has not been changed on the site.

In the section on crime the site tells travellers that ‘most visits to Cuba are trouble free’, whereas in other countries such as Mexico for example the site says: ‘the vast majority of visits are trouble free.’

Where, for example, in the USA site the FO advises travellers that medical care in the US ‘can be very expensive’, in the case of Cuba it says medical care ‘is expensive.’ This is questionable since it is very much less expensive in Cuba than it is the USA.

On the question of terrorism the site says that there were terrorist attacks in Cuba in 1997, whereas on other sites they tell travellers there has been no ‘recent history of terrorist attacks.’

CubaSi readers can check this out for themselves by visiting the FCO website at

We put these points to John Marshall, Head of the Caribbean Team, at the FCO who told CubaSi:

“FCO Travel Advice is designed to help British travellers avoid trouble by providing information on threats to personal safety arising from political unrest, lawlessness, violence, natural disasters, epidemics, anti-British demonstrations and aircraft/shipping safety.

“It is not a forum for political comment. When the political situation in a country has a potential impact on the safety of British travellers, or the consular assistance the British government can provide them overseas, we are obliged to reflect this in the advice.

“We are delighted to note that the number of British tourists visiting Cuba has risen by about 14% over the past year and hope to see this growth continue.”

On reading the website some readers might question whether it in fact does encourage British people to visit the island. CubaSi readers might like to express their views to:

Mr John Marshall,

Head of the Caribbean Team,

Foreign and

Commonwealth Office,

London, SW1A 2AH

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