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The City of Varadero (Cuba) and the Urban Construction of a Tourist


Enclave
Jesús M. González, Eduardo Salinas, Enrique Navarro, Antoni A. Artigues,
Ricardo Remond, Ismael Yrigoy, Maité Echarri and Yanira Arias
Urban Affairs Review 2014 50: 206 originally published online 29 April 2013
DOI: 10.1177/1078087413485218

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UAR50210.1177/1078087413485218Urban Affairs ReviewGonzález et al.

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Urban Affairs Review
2014, Vol. 50(2) 206–243
The City of Varadero © The Author(s) 2013
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Tourist Enclave

Jesús M. González1, Eduardo Salinas2,


Enrique Navarro3, Antoni A. Artigues1,
Ricardo Remond2, Ismael Yrigoy1, Maité Echarri2,
and Yanira Arias4

Abstract
The urban and territorial changes caused by tourism are well-studied topics in
contemporary scientific literature. This article uses an integrative approach that
lies between the scientific traditions in urban geography and the geography of
tourism to present a case study of a socialist city. Tourism is a strategic economic
activity in Cuba, and the country’s most popular sun and sand tourist destination
is Varadero. At first consideration, its tourism model is not very different from
those of other areas in the region (Dominican Republic, Riviera Maya, etc.), but
the uniqueness of the Cuban government and emphasis on planning introduce
several distinguishing features. The combined analysis of the development
of tourism in the city and the recent history of territorial planning leads to
conclusions regarding the role of tourism in urban development, which has
resulted in the creation of a dual-city model, and the role land planning is playing.

Keywords
urban planning, socialist planning, dual city, Varadero, tourism

1University of the Balearic Islands, Palma, Spain


2University of Havana, Cuba
3University of Malaga, Spain
4CITMA Environmental Center, Varadero, Cuba

Corresponding Author:
Jesús M. González, Department of Earth Sciences, Guillem Colom Building, University of the
Balearic Islands, Cra. De Valldemossa km. 7.5, 07122 Palma de Mallorca (Balearic Islands), Spain.
Email: jesus.gonzalez@uib.es

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González et al. 207

Tourism Development in Neoliberal


and Planned-Economy Cities
The development of tourism tends to correspond to a singular urban practice
that is functionally and structurally differentiated from the conventional city.
Mullins (1991) wrote, 20 years ago, that tourist cities represent a unique form
of development because, among other issues, they have been built solely for
consumption. More recently, Judd (2003) pointed out that tourist enclaves
have become ubiquitous features of cities. In this same article, Judd considers
that these clusters facilitate an authoritarian control of the urban space,
change consumption, suppress local culture, and replace it with “Disney
environments.” Therefore, the city and tourism are two realities, among many
others, in which local and global dimensions converge and intersect.
Judd (2006, p. 325), applying the concept of commodity chain to under-
standing global tourism, stated that “In [a] first phase, [older industrial and
port] cities built tourist bubbles that were isolated,” but over time, these cities
reached “a more mature phase that involves making the city as a whole more
attractive to visitors.” Complementing this perspective, Bailey (2008) con-
sidered that different countries and cities, in response to the challenge of
global tourism, adapt their political and administrative systems to create the
most favorable conditions for international investment and also for global
competition in the development of tourist areas of consumption.
Quoting Klak (1998), neoliberal policy represents a country’s ticket or
passport to the globalizing economy. There is a long list of empirical studies
concerning the development of this neoliberal urbanism in the cities of devel-
oped capitalist countries (e.g., Moulaert, Rodríguez, and Swyngedouw 2003).
At the same time, as tourism has been consolidated and promoted as an
important option to economic growth in less-developed countries, the growth
of tertiary activities and socio-spatial segregation have become visible
through gated-communities equipped with security checkpoints, and also
tourist resorts are urban results that are more linked to the rest of the world
than to their own regions (Porto and Carvalho 2001) (Table 1).
Tourism-based urban growth models in Caribbean countries and Mexico
stem from a “touristization” process when a certain type of urban tourism
was being planned. Although it is not the dual-city model described by
authors such as Marcuse (1989) and Mollenkopf and Castells (1992), one
consequence of this process is the emergence of a dual-tourist city (González
et al. 2012). In this latter case, the city is divided in two: on the one hand, the
strip of beach modified by high-rise hotels and residential condominiums,
and on the other, the heavily transformed historic city with the remains of old
economic activities (fishing, port, commercial, etc.) that are gradually being

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208 Urban Affairs Review 50(2)

Table 1. Main Characteristics of Neoliberal Urbanism According to Brenner and


Theodore (2002).
Hierarchical position in the urban system attending the potential economic
competitiveness of the cities;
Promotion of the image of cities as a lure to international investors;
Application of a growth policy “at all costs,” subordinating social justice and
environmental issues;
Subordination of urban planning to market imperatives;
Urban intervention through large urban projects that are expected to have
trickled-down effects on the surrounding territories;
Introduction of private sectors into urban decision making and, to a lesser
extent, into civil society;
Application of private sector criteria of effectiveness and efficiency to urban
governance; and
Development of public–private partnerships.

displaced by trade and tourism-related services. The consolidated Old City is


urbanistically degraded and socially depressed but growing fast (in demo-
graphic and building terms, etc.). In Caribbean resort cities, it is customary to
add a new urban element to this dual pattern, above all when dealing with
newly built resorts the “spontaneous” appearance of shanty towns built pri-
marily to serve as accommodation for workers in new resorts, immigrants
attracted by employment in the construction industry or unskilled services.
There are many shanty towns of this type, for example, those occupied by
Haitians in the Dominican Republic, by Nicaraguans in Costa Rica, and by
Central Americans in general on the Riviera Maya and Cancun (Blázquez,
Buades, et al. 2011). One outstanding example of this type of enclave created
for tourism workers is Bávaro-Punta Cana (Dominican Republic). In this
area, there are both informal shanty towns (municipality of Verón) and
planned communities, such as Nuevo Juanillo, which is the product of a com-
munity that was displaced by the new tourist development of Cap Cana
(León 2011).
In Mexico, this dual system has been corroborated in the most mature
tourism enclaves (Acapulco, Cancún, Los Cabos) and even in more recent
ones (Puerto Peñasco, Playa del Rosarito) (Enríquez 2008). In Acapulco, one
of the oldest sun and sand destinations in America, which is now suffering
from the problems of maturity, the location of each new hotel determined the
formation of the urban layout and human settlements (Valenzuela and
Coll-Hurtado 2010). The city grew by aggregating tourist areas, with each
urbanized area identifiable with a stage of tourism. This is why the resort city

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González et al. 209

is now divided into three zones: Traditional Acapulco, Golden Acapulco, and
Diamond Acapulco. Traditional Acapulco, the city’s historic embryo, is a
product of the 1930s and, if we consider its functional, demographic, and
landscape analysis, is the true city; yet, it is the most depressed and degraded
zone. As we move farther and farther away from this core, the space tends
to be mono-functional and gets an improvement in its status as a tourist
destination.
The result of this tourism-based urban planning process is the construction
of an unequal, polarized, segregated city, where severely impoverished ter-
ritories exist alongside intensely gentrified areas. These cities are socially
fractured and fragmented in an urban development sense. Defensive urban
planning is essential in this model. Without it, the construction of the urban
and tourist territory cannot be understood. The walls that are planned and
raised in the suburbs and around the hotels themselves separate fantasy cities
from impoverished cities.
From the 1990s, with the general collapse of the Soviet system and of
most of its allies, new countries in Central and East Europe, and also in
Vietnam, China (D. Hall 2008), and Cuba, had to undergo a transition to
global openness. This shift had occurred in most cases with more or less deep
democratic changes, and in others, without political transition, but all with
clear approaches to the market economy (free market or “state market” econ-
omy). In this context, and in nominally socialist countries such as China,
tourism gradually evolved from being a political tool—centrally planned,
state regulated, and stimulated—to an economic force that is now driven by
market agents (Hanqin and King Chong 1999) or by public–private joint
ventures.
As Bailey (2008) noted, the challenge in these cases is to balance two
objectives with difficult fitting: on the one hand, to be sufficiently open to
international capital investors to ensure a steady path to global tourism, and
on the other hand, to meet the true economic and social needs of resident
populations. Cuba is adjusting to this change differently than countries such
as Poland, Croatia, and Russia. The high level of centralization that has been
maintained in the (Cuban) post-Soviet era and the continued U.S. embargo
are two of the most significant factors influencing Cuba’s particular path
(Gustavsen 2007).
Certainly, in the Cuban case, tourist development areas have been planned
in accordance with the general orientations of revolutionary physical plan-
ning. However, at the same time, the Cuban commitment to tourism develop-
ment has had to encourage a strong entrance of foreign capital—Spanish and
from the Balearics, in particular—to bolster the island’s tourist capacities
through joint ventures. In this sense, Scarpaci (1998, p. 95) wrote, “Tourism

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210 Urban Affairs Review 50(2)

and planning in post-Soviet Cuba have (now) created a new hybrid of eco-
nomic development. Planning in Cuba has as much to do with business as it
does with land-use and zoning.”

Objectives and Hypotheses


The novelty of this analysis is that it is based on the application of an inte-
grated approach that lies between the scientific traditions in urban geography
and geography of tourism to a case study of interest: Cuba’s most popular,
international tourist destination. The main aim of this study is to examine the
urban development and territorial expansion model of the resort town of
Varadero from the perspective of the tourism boom and the role played by
urban and regional planning. On the one hand, the most general of these goals
is to test a reflection in which the thematic fields of urban change and tourism
development is combined. This perspective is the case of Varadero (Cuba),
which may be considered of interest because of the particular combination of
tourism development and urban transformations. The singularities of the case
of Varadero are approached, first of all, from a study of the recent history and
role of urban planning in a socialist city with a tourism monoculture and with
a great implantation of foreign capital from multinational hotel chains, and
second, from a study of the possible consequences that this economic activity
produces in the construction of a dual tourist city—like other Caribbean tour-
ist resorts—but pointing out its distinguishing features, fundamentally as
regards a more ordered, compact development of its surrounding cities that
serve as a residential area for the workers in the tourist enclave.
Our working hypothesis is based on two major premises: (1) Tourism in
Varadero is primarily responsible for the territorial and urban transforma-
tions throughout the entire region because the demands for infrastructure
(airport and roads) and workers go beyond municipal limits. In other words,
this resort town is causing profound changes in the organization of the urban
space and system throughout the entire province of Matanzas, to the point
where the possible existence of an emerging metropolitan area in Varadero
can be asserted. (2) Beyond common features of prevailing tourism in the
Caribbean region and the obvious insertion into general processes of global-
ization, the case of Varadero is different—first, due to the Cuban political
and legal context itself, in which the declaration as a socialist republic has
marked land use and foreign investment very closely, among other relevant
issues, and second, by the use of land planning focused primarily on eco-
nomic growth via tourism rather than the consideration of other alternatives.
Finally, the divided city in Varadero (tourist city on the one hand, and historic

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González et al. 211

residential on the other) does not present situations of slum or shanty towns
as is more usual in other Caribbean destinations.
The article consists of three sections, in addition to a conclusion. The first
two sections are predominated by theoretical contents on the contextualiza-
tion of the urban system, the regional tourism model and the Cuban socialist
system. The third section develops in detail the type of city that Varadero is
constructing under the influence of tourism and supported by urban and
regional planning instruments. This typology involves the recent creation of
a vast urban area that, nonetheless, has certain peculiarities compared with
other metropolitan tourist areas in the capitalist world.

Study of the Urban Phenomenon


in Tourist Enclaves: The Case of Cuba
Various disciplines and approaches have addressed the study of tourism and
the city. In urban planning and urban geography also, one topic of interest is
the consequences that tourism has had on urban structure and on urban mor-
phology but probably not with the same intensity as economics, sociology,
and anthropology; this may be why less attention has been paid to formulat-
ing models and why they are barely represented in prestigious journals. The
reason may be because industry has been the key to the way society has been
organized over the past two hundred years, and thus, industrialization has
sustained the sociological principle of urban growth (Antón 1998). This has
led scientific output in the field of urban planning to overlook the importance
of tourism as a vehicle for urban change. For example, prestigious journals,
such as Paddison’s (2001), and more recently, Pacione’s (2009), did not
remark on the phenomenon of the tourist city, nor did P. Hall (1996) comment
on this kind of city in his excellent historical review of urban theory and
practice; Soja (2008) did not seem attracted by the inequalities or segregation
tourism gives rise to in the post-metropolis, and not even Amendola (2000)
considered tourism important in his description of the new city under con-
struction in which increasingly influential actors are image, simulation, and
marketing, elements closely related to tourism, of course.
Yet, research into tourist city models is beginning to emerge (Judd and
Fainstein 1999). The predominant lines of research tend to focus on urban
changes in cities modeled by tourism (Hoffman 2003; Judd and Fainstein
1999)—cities that are adapted, transformed, and grown according to the
interests and pressures of tourism (González 2010a; González and Santos
2007; Mayere, Dedekorkut, and Sipe 2010)—and tourist urbanization pro-
cesses in an area (Antón 1998; Hoffman, Fainstein, and Judd 2008; Mullins
2003; Vera and Baños 2010;). In some areas, cities are creating genuine urban

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212 Urban Affairs Review 50(2)

concentrations and continuous ribbons of buildings that are increasingly


alienated from the traditional concepts of a city. These “tourist conurbations”
are areas that have become more complex and extended their urban functions
(Costa del Sol in Spain, Florida, the Australian Gold Coast, etc.) to the point,
at present, in which they cannot be qualified only as tourist cities (Knafou
2006) due to the many new functionalities and processes that they include.
For example, in Spain, the urban areas in the Mediterranean that specialize in
tourism were, together with larger cities, early adopters of urban land-use
models typical of the sprawling city (González 2010b).
Meanwhile, particularly prevalent in the geography of tourism has been
the descriptivist approach with particular case studies without an integrated
approach (Chang and Huang 2004; Shaw and Williams 1994), which empha-
sizes the study of the spatial changes and structural organization of destina-
tions on the basis of spatial-time evolution models (whose basic idea derives
from Christaller’s central place theory). The best known model is by Butler
(1980), but there are other important ones such as Miossec’s (1977) func-
tional model1, Chadefaud’s (1987) diachronic model, and Gormsen’s (1997)
peripheries model. In a now classical article from the early 1990s, Britton
(1991) called for a “critical geography of tourism” precisely to overcome the
isolation suffered by the geography of tourism with respect to a coherent
theoretical framework.
In the abundant academic literature on the circumstances and problems of
Latin America, Dehoorne and Murat (2009) lamented the dispersion and
weakness of tourism studies. A considerable part of the work on tourism in
Latin America has concentrated on developmental policies and tourism as
essential to achieving the integration of the Latin American states into world
markets. Along these lines, the articles by R. A. Britton (1977) and Weaver
(1988) were “foundational”; the latter founded the approach whereby former
colonial plantation economies and their spatial organization and landscape
were giving way to other “tourist plantation” economies (Dehoorne 2006;
Théodat 2004). This argument was developed for Central America by Cañada
(2010), for the Caribbean by Pantojas (2006), and specifically in the case of
Cuba by Monreal (2005).
Early on, Ash and Turner (1976) dubbed the less-developed coastal and
island areas that were becoming a part of international economic circuits
through the development of tourism the “pleasure peripheries” of Western
cities. The deployment of infrastructure and logistics of air transport were
key factors in the organization of all these pleasure peripheries (Gay 2000),
but Dehoorne and Saffache (2008) rightly pointed out that political stability
and “social peace” are other, no less decisive, factors in their formation. One
of the most noteworthy pleasure peripheries is the transformative progression

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González et al. 213

of tourism in the Caribbean region—from 11.4 million tourists in 1990 to


20.1 million in 2010 (World Tourism Organization [UNWTO] 2012)—a
“new American Mediterranean” (Godard and Hartog 2003) that governments
in the area have promoted in direct collusion with major industry multina-
tionals (Blázquez, Buades, et al. 2011). This reorientation of the Caribbean
islands and shores toward tourism has spurred the processes of urbanization
and deep-seated urban change, among other far-reaching consequences
(Hiernaux 2005; Meyer-Arendt 1990; Meyer-Arendt, Sambrook, and
Kermath 1992).

An Approach to Studies on Tourism in Cuba


After the Dominican Republic, Cuba stands out among the Caribbean islands
as the region’s second most popular tourist destination—2.5 million visitors
in 2010 (UNWTO 2012). However, the booming development of tourism in
Cuba today may not be receiving proportionate attention by major references
in academic literature, which have paid closer attention to other Mexican and
Caribbean destinations. Either way, the main thrust of academic literature on
tourism in Cuba has concentrated on a few core themes that are briefly exam-
ined below.
The first series of contributions is provided by studies that outline the
historical development of tourism in the Greater Antilles. This topic appears
across the board in many articles on Cuban tourism, since the historical
dimension contextualizes a grasp of the phenomenon. Most articles (Berríos
1997; Hinch 1990; Jackiewicz and Bolster 2003; Khruschev, Henthorne, and
Latour 2007; Krohn and O’Donnell 1999; Padilla and McElroy 2007; Sugden
2007; Winson 2006) that discuss tourism in Cuba from different disciplines
(geography, economics, anthropology, environmental studies) agree on four
stages: (1) the pre-revolutionary years from 1930 to 1959; (2) national tour-
ism between 1959 and 1970, which was marked by domestic withdrawal and
the orthodoxy of the Soviet area; (3) the recovery of tourism between 1970
and 1989, when it began to be defined as a first-order economic alternative
for reducing dependence on sugar exports, and (4) after the collapse of the
Soviet bloc from 1990/1991 onward, when tourism became one of the main
ways to overcome the “special period” and attract foreign currency to help
sustain the island’s socialist development.2
Most of the literature focuses on this last stage, and many authors also
consider the role and contradictions that (a markedly neoliberal and capital-
ist) tourism may generate in a socialist country such as Cuba (Berríos 1997;
Monreal 2001; Sánchez and Adams 2008; Sugden 2007). Meanwhile, others
reflect on Cuba’s position in neoliberal globalization (Khruschev, Henthorne,

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214 Urban Affairs Review 50(2)

and Latour 2007), which is due to tourism (Jackiewicz and Bolster 2003). As
part of Cuba’s responses to this insertion into the global arena, issues are
being addressed such as its complex currency policy (Jackiewicz and Bolster
2003), different forms of self-employment (Jackiewicz and Bolster 2003;
Sugden 2007), and the unique proliferation of paladares (small, family-run
restaurants) (Jackiewicz and Bolster 2003). Last, Espina (2010) identified
and classified a series of problems in this stage of Cuban history and pro-
posed solutions based on a socialist system to some of the issues raised along
those lines.
Other authors, such as Wilkinson (2008), conclude that tourism is gener-
ally a positive phenomenon, despite certain negative aspects. In fact, a good
deal of English literature focuses on the future opportunities tourism will
provide in Cuba (Krohn and O’Donell 1999; Khruschev, Henthorne, and
Latour 2007; Miller, Henthorne, and George 2008) from an explicitly U.S.
perspective. In this line, there is speculation concerning the supposed sce-
narios that would open up in a “post-Castro” Cuba and the tourism-based
business opportunities that Cubans (and Americans) would have in this sce-
nario. To secure these future business opportunities, some of the literature
insists on the need for the U.S. government to lift restrictions on the island
(Helms-Burton, blockade) (Khruschev, Henthorne, and Latour 2007; Krohn
and O’Donell 1999). From the economic viewpoint, Miller, Henthorne, and
George (2008) note Cuba’s competitive potential within the global tourism
industry and analyze the position of tourism there by taking competitive
advantage models into account. These authors conclude that “Cuba has not
yet fully capitalized on the potential of its true strategic resources for tour-
ism” (Miller, Henthorne, and George 2008, p. 276). Along these same lines
of discourse, Barrowclough (2007) concludes that investments by transna-
tional corporations in the Caribbean may help generate employment and
well-being, although Jensen (2003) doubted tourism’s multiplier effect unless
drastic institutional and labor market reforms were tackled.
A final, less developed, but equally interesting topic concerns the role of
ecotourism in Cuba. While several authors, such as Wilkinson (2008),
reflected on the environmental effects of a possible boom in tourist arrivals
when relations between Cuba and the United States are fully normalized and
pessimistically (yet perhaps realistically) feared that “Cuban ecology will be
sacrificed on the altar of tourism” (Wilkinson 2008, p. 980), other authors,
such as Winson (2006), believed that the Cuban system’s socialist ideology
was good for promoting ecotourism, although lately a part of it evolved into
a “nature tourism” that reproduced the “evils” of mass tourism.
Last, there has been no dearth of authors who have extended the analysis
of the effects of tourism development in Cuba to the political (Seaton 1997)

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González et al. 215

and social arenas (Cabezas 2006), and indicate the risk of stumbling into a
“Buena Vista Socialization,” a unique feature of tourism in Cuba that com-
bines elements of pre-revolutionary Cuba with others from the Revolution
itself and the attractions of the comfort of multinational resorts. The name is
an adaptation of Wim Wenders’s documentary “Buena Vista Social Club”
(1999), a tribute to the lives and music of a group of “son” musicians
(Babb 2011).
This article considers the contributions of urban geography and the geog-
raphy of tourism in addressing the study of a unique tourist resort: Varadero
(Cuba). This case study is of interest because its tourism development has
followed a “dual-city” growth model with two special characteristics of its
own marked by the political system: (1) all means of production are public
and (2) the importance of land-planning tools in a planned economy.

The Duality of the Economy and


Foreign Investment in Tourism in Cuba
The specificity of the political-economic regime and isolation caused by the
U.S. economic blockade is fundamental to understanding this case study’s
unique nature. The duality of the economy3 is based on socialist property—
the state owns the means of production, although private property exists—
and on the economy’s planned character. The economic reforms established
after the fall of socialist countries in the early 1990s made foreign investment
possible through joint ventures4 and eliminated the irreversibility of state
ownership in exceptional cases.5 The law guarantees free transfer abroad,
nonexpropriation, and also the benefits that certain investments may enjoy
from tariff and tax exemptions, according to the investment’s characteristics
(Riverón 2010). There are two types of taxes on joint ventures: The first is on
profits (30%), and the second is on payroll (25%) (Navarro 2011). These
prerogatives are comparable with those in other Caribbean countries and are
consistent with international trends.
Foreign investments in tourism, mainly hotels in the case of Varadero,6
are complemented by investments made by Cuban enterprises (Cubanacán,
Gaviota, Gran Caribe, Islazul, etc.) through management contracts. In these
cases, the land is always owned by the Cuban company; investments are
made by both parties (the percentage varies by contract), and either the Cuban
or foreign firm can be in charge of management. In the early years, foreign
hotel chains were responsible for management because of their greater expe-
rience and long-standing business relations with tour operators. At present,
the mixed-company model allows Cuban capital to manage the hotels directly.
The main capital investors are Spanish, Italian, Canadian, British, and French.

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216 Urban Affairs Review 50(2)

In short, the result is a centrally planned economy that exists alongside the
operation of a regulated market economy and increasingly decentralized cor-
porate management (Comisión Económica para América Latina y El Caribe
[CEPAL] 2000).

Varadero’s Urban-Tourism Development:


A Singular Dual-City Model
After the Mediterranean, the second most popular “sun and sand” tourism
region in the world is the Caribbean. Cuba occupies a geo-strategically prom-
inent place in the zone: It is the largest island and second most important
tourist destination. Experience in planning and management of tourist areas
in Cuba is important, and not restricted to the case of Varadero. The develop-
ment of tourism policy designed by the country has led to the implementation
of plans and tourism development programs in major tourist regions. Among
others, the cases of Playas del Este, the northern coast of Holguin, and
Canarreos archipelago can be highlighted.
Playas del Este is a major sun and sand tourist attraction just 20 km from
Havana and represents the natural recreation space for the people of Havana
and its hinterland. In 1999, it was declared a “Zone of High Significance for
Tourism,” and four years later, the “Resort Master Plan for Eastern Beaches”
was passed. This is considered the most important tourism strategy for the
territory in the last 40 years (Salinas, Navarro, and Triana 2007). The North
coast of Holguin is the third tourist destination in the country by number of
tourists and tourism revenue. Since 1989, the North coast of Holguin has had
a tourism development scheme, and in 2003, a master plan for tourism devel-
opment was adopted. This master plan proposed the consolidation and mar-
keting of the North coast of Holguin as a high quality destination, which
combines the exploitation of the countryside and coastal areas with its impor-
tant historical and cultural attractions associated with Aboriginal settlements
and the encounter of these with the Spanish conquerors after the first voyage
of Christopher Columbus (Salinas and La O 2006). Finally, in the tourist
region of the Canarreos archipelago, in the south of Cuba, there has been a
significant development of tourism mainly associated with Cayo Largo del
Sur, where production began in the early 1980s. Initially, a Development
Scheme was passed, and in 2003, the Executive Committee of the Council of
Ministers passed a Master Plan. The rest of the Canarreos archipelago has a
Special Zoning Scheme (2005) that lays the basis for the development of
other tourist destinations in the region (Salinas et al. 2008).
Varadero is located in northern Cuba in Hicacos, a narrow, elongated
25-km-long peninsula with a total area of 18.3 km2 running southwest to

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González et al. 217

north-northeast. The northern zone has 22 km of sandy beach and dunes—its


most important tourism potential—and the eastern and southern zones hold
mangrove ecosystems; the average width of the peninsula is always less than
1 km (Dirección Provincial de Planificación Física [DPPF] Matanzas 2010).
Varadero constitutes a fragile natural environment as well as a privileged one
from the socioeconomic point of view due to its geographical position and
proximity to Havana (130 km) and Matanzas (32 km), which is the capital
city of the province of the same name (Figure 1).
The importance of location is joined by easy access, from both within
Cuba and abroad. On the one hand, Havana and Varadero are connected by
the so-called Central Road, a highway that makes the trip to the nation’s capi-
tal from the tourist resort about two and a half hours long. On the other hand,
investments in Varadero airport have been essential for tourist arrivals and
also for the resort’s international development and in attracting foreign inves-
tors. In 1989, the airport was opened to coincide with Varadero’s tourist
development. In 1997—less than a decade later, at the height of investments
by transnational foreign hotel groups—it was expanded on a large scale for
the first time, and its capacity doubled (from 600 to 1,200 passengers per
hour). Today, it is the country’s second busiest airport; it handles 30% of all
tourist flows and operates with more than twenty foreign airlines (mainly
charter flights) and the four national ones (Figure 2).

Tourism Booms and Their Impact on the City


The impetus provided by the Cuban State to developing international tourism
in the early 1990s spurred a boom in the construction of new hotel capacities,
visitor arrivals, and tourism revenue. One result was the immediate growth in
number of tourist beds in coastal areas. A total of 58% of Cuba’s hotel capac-
ity were located in coastal areas in 1995; this figure had jumped to 65% ten
years later and to almost 70% by 2010. This trend contradicts statements
made by the country’s tourism authorities, who point to the need to diversify
the Cuban tourist product, and could hamstring the future development of
alternative, differentiated product and who could new forms of tourism in
which “sun and sand” is not the main raison d’être (Salinas and Mundet
2000). In this context of clustering tourism around the coast, we view
Varadero as one of the territories that “benefit” from this growing specializa-
tion in the sun and sand modality (Table 2).
The city of Varadero has gone through three phases of urban development
directly related to its three tourism booms. Although it originated as a resort
area earlier on and had been visited by the residents of Cárdenas since the
mid-nineteenth century, Varadero was founded in 1883 in the central-west

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218
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Figure 1. Tourist regions of Cuba.
Source: Adapted from Ministry of Tourism (2011).
González et al. 219

100
90
80 41 42.80 35 42.90
70
60 Varadero
50
Cuba
40
30 59 57.20 65 57.10
20
10
0
Visitors Interna!onal Rooms Overnights
Tourist

Figure 2. Varadero’s strategic importance: Varadero’s share of Cuban tourism


(2010).
Source: Adapted from Ministry of Tourism (2011).

Table 2. Rooms in Cuba According to Tourism Modality (in Thousands).

Modalities 2001 % 2005 % 2010 %


Beach 24.9 67 31.1 65 38.6 69.5
City 9.5 25 11.4 24 13.4 24.1
Nature 1.0 3 2.4 5 1.3 2.4
Health 0.6 2 0.9 2 1.1 2.1
Nautical 0.9 2 1.2 3 0.8 1.5
Other 0.3 1 0.5 1 2.2 0.4
Total 37.2 100 47.5 100 55.5 100.0

Source: Cuban Ministry of Tourism.

area of the peninsula as a “Village for Bath Seasons.” This conscious organi-
zation produced a regular map with a grid street system. In the early 1900s,
the annual regattas held there (1918) began to attract wealthy visitors to it as
a summer retreat, which involved the construction of large homes with pri-
vate docks and the arrival of the rich and famous, such as the Dupont family.
The prestigious Hotel Varadero (1915) and Hotel Internacional (1950) were
used to provide accommodation. Territorially, the development of tourism
during this phase was concentrated at the western end of the peninsula and
the vicinity of what is now known as Historic Varadero.

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220 Urban Affairs Review 50(2)

The second tourism boom took place between 1959 and 1990, which, in
the context of the triumphant Revolution, involved the specialization of
Varadero as a tourist resort for Cuban people. Tourist facilities were national-
ized (Quintana et al. 2004), and free access was established indiscriminately
to all beaches and coastal areas (March 1959, Act 270). In turn, international
tourism, and especially American tourism, was halted by the economic and
commercial blockade decreed by the United States in 1962. From outside
Cuba’s borders, only small groups of tourists from Europe’s socialist coun-
tries came to the country. According to the government, the idea was not to
stop promoting tourism, but rather for it to have “healthy motivations”
(Navarro 2011). At this stage, there was little urban and tourist growth (four
hotels) in Varadero. Decentralization was the goal, and new destinations in
other provinces began to be developed: Holguín, Camagüey, Cienfuegos,
Guantánamo, Pinar del Río, and Santiago de Cuba.
Nevertheless, despite the change in strategy, the foundations were laid in
the 1970s for the future growth of the tourist resort through the drafting of the
2000 Varadero Development Scheme. This scheme, which combined tourism
and urban planning, consolidated the tourist functionalization of the enclave,
spurred zoning, and turned the territory into a classic model of a polarized
city by establishing the urban structure of Historic Varadero and the seven
tourist districts that exist today: six on the peninsula (Kawama-Punta Blanca,
Varadero Histórico, Internacional, Las Américas, Chapelín-Los Taínos,
Punta Hicacos) and Oasis located outside the peninsula. Furthermore, this
plan was clearly developmentalist, as it aimed for a capacity of 34,000 rooms
by 2000 when there were barely 3,600 in 1981 and the city’s population was
clearly on the decline (Table 3).
The third stage began in the 1990s, when the current urban structure and
type of tourist destination as we know it were consolidated. The number of
tourist facilities increased significantly—fuelled by substantial investments
in both hotel and extra-hotel operations and support sectors (more than US$1
billion was invested). The number of hotel rooms tripled, the quality of
accommodation rose and came to be dominated by four- and five-star hotels,
and the number of incoming tourists was multiplied by 20, revenue by 5, and
so on (DPPF Matanzas 2011). As a result, Varadero became the leading tour-
ist destination in Cuba in 2011: It is home to 34.97% of all rooms, welcomes
45.70% of all visitors to the country, and accounts for 43.03% of all over-
night stays (Ministry of Tourism [MINTUR] 2011).7
This stage of hotel growth corresponded territorially with the expansion of
“tourist sprawl” across the oceanfront and the original town’s loss of relative
demographic weight (13.83% of its population was lost between 1970 and
2002). Economically, this stage was linked to the new role played by

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González et al. 221

Table 3. Evolution of the Population and Hotel Accommodation in Varadero.

1970 1981 1990 2002 2010


Rooms 400 3,570 4,439 15,946 18,752
Beds 800 7,140 8,878 31,892 37,504
Population 9,078 7,092 7,515 7,822 —

Source: Dirección Provincial de Planificación Física (DPPF) Matanzas 2011, adapted from
Ministry of Tourism (2011).

transnational foreign hotel groups not only in planning tourism but also in the
spatial organization of the entire peninsula. In 1991, the first joint venture
was created (50% Cuban capital, 50% foreign) with Sol Meliá (Hotel Sol
Palmeras in Varadero) (Navarro 2011). By 2010, a total of 14,372 rooms
(77%) were managed by foreign, mainly Spanish, companies (Sol Meliá,
Iberostar, Hoteles C, Barceló, Hotetur, Blau hotels, Sirenis hotels), but also
French (Accor), Jamaican (Superclub), and Canadian firms (Hotel Las
Salinas). These facilities are managed by Cuban hotel chains (Cubanacán,
Gaviota, Gran Caribe, and Islazul) (MINTUR 2011) but are associated with
foreign investors and have different commercial formulas (leases, manage-
ment contracts, and joint ventures).
After over half a century of intense tourism, authors such as Acosta (2008),
or the report of the consultant Blue Caribe (2002), placed Varadero in the
stage of transition to maturity within Butler’s (1980) well-known tourist des-
tination life cycle (Figure 3). Several data support this statement: (1) There is
a steady growth of tourists (2010-2011: 5% increase from 7.1 million to 7.5
million overnight stays), (2) there is intensive use of the available land; over
70% of the peninsula has been developed or is in the process of being devel-
oped (Arias 2005), and (3) there is important expected growth in hotels, golf
courses, and tourist homes, growth that could even transform Historic
Varadero negatively. The uncertainty is whether such rapid growth in such a
small space may involve Varadero entering the period of stagnation in the
near future. Cancun or Acapulco (Valenzuela and Coll-Hurtado 2010) have
gone through these stages and were only rejuvenated when they occupied
adjacent spaces, but in Matanzas-Varadero, that is not possible due to a short-
age of beaches.
Using data from a Geographic Information System developed as part of
the research project to which this article also belongs, we found that there are
54 hotels (including villas), 47 of which are on the beach; the surface area of
beachfront hotels covers 384.52 ha; and the surface area of the hotels located
just behind the beachfront covers 18.43 ha. Besides, there are more provisions

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222 Urban Affairs Review 50(2)

Figure 3. The life cycle of the Varadero destination.


Source: Adapted from Acosta 2008.

to extend tourist development, for example, projects for new hotel facilities
and housing for tourists, but above all, projects for the complementary offer
(golf courses and marinas, such as Marina Gaviota, advertised as the largest
marina in the Caribbean) that are in such high demand by hoteliers and would
come to occupy the undeveloped land in the extensive pre-littoral stretch
lying between the rear of the hotels and the road that runs from north to south
across the peninsula. In Varadero, there is also no seafront promenade with a
road separating the hotels from the beach. The hotels are all on the beach-
front, each with their own separate stretch for their guests to use. This hap-
pens on the peninsula of Hicacos, which is where most of the hotels in the
resort of Varadero are concentrated. Meanwhile, the only means of commu-
nication (the so-called “Autopista Sur”) is located behind the hotels and does
not come into direct contact with the beach. This lack of seafront promenade
is customary in recently developed resorts, which were poorly developed
before the arrival of hotels (for instance, this also happens in Bávaro-Punta
Cana, Dominican Republic). In these, the hotels are located as close as

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González et al. 223

possible to the beach, even coming to occupy public spaces such as dunes and
part of the sands. In mature tourist destinations, on the other hand, which
have a preexisting urban nucleus (Acapulco in Mexico, for instance), hotel
complexes adapt to a particular urban structure and to a seafront promenade
that has usually already been built.
All these measures would increase pressure on the territory and entail a
threat to the environment. In this sense, the Cuban state has laid down the
foundations to prevent and minimize the negative impacts and tensions inher-
ent in the development of tourism with mixed results. Since the 1980s, work
has been carried out to improve the stretch of sand on the beaches, consisting
of restoring the beach and dune profile and artificially increasing the sand
balance. More recently, in compliance with Decree-Law 212 on Coastal Zone
Management (2000) and the analysis of scenarios related to higher sea levels
due to different factors as a result of climate change, these measures are
accompanied by the establishment of limits to hotel and extra-hotel infra-
structure development on the peninsula, as well as guidelines for the conser-
vation and improvement of beaches and other natural ecosystems.
The bases for this implementation model were published in the “Varadero
Development Scheme” passed in 1977, which promoted zoning (Historic
Varadero and the six currently existing districts), thus becoming a classic
model of a polarized city. In short, tourism development has produced a dual-
city model consisting of a nineteenth-century “historic core” characterized by
a functional mix (residential, retail, and other services aimed at native demand
combined with some of the oldest hotels) and a large, hotel-dominated tourist
area that occupies practically the entire Hicacos peninsula. Tourist mono-
functionality is absolute here; there are no mixed uses, and the presence of
oceanfront hotel complexes prevails on the peninsula. Meanwhile, although
the historic city of Varadero was transformed by the influx of tourism (cater-
ing and retail, basically), it retains architectural elements and a certain style
of urban structure that is eligible for protection and conservation. Unlike
other historical centers in Caribbean tourism enclaves, this city is not
degraded or “Disneyized.” Tourism revenue contributes to a certain sustain-
ability of the architectural heritage and public spaces, yet the number of
hotels is insignificant and it is visited by only a few of the tourists staying in
the all-inclusive complexes, whereby the impacts are less notable than in
other destinations. Although it retains its residential function, this historic
city serves as a residence for only a small part of the workers in the enclave.
The Varadero Urban and Land Planning Scheme (2001) strengthened the
internal potential of the Historic Varadero district in the structuring of the
land by focusing on steps for a physical separation between the historical and
commercial center of Varadero and the areas proposed for the development

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224 Urban Affairs Review 50(2)

Figure 4. Urbanization stages of Varadero and the Hicacos peninsula.


Source: Adapted from Acosta (2008).

of new hotel facilities. This plan set out to retain the population—currently in
decline due to the progressive change in land use brought about by tourism—
by zoning the more consolidated residential areas and completing the social
services. The spaces of social reproduction for touristic Varadero are located
within a 30-km radius—including Matanzas (provincial capital)—and are
made up of a series of cities with a predominance of development planned in
accordance with the aims of the Revolution (Figure 4).

The Urban Growth of Varadero’s Hinterland


and the Physical Planning of the City
The impacts of tourism are not felt only in the tourist enclave; their influence
extends far beyond the city of Varadero and not only in economic and territo-
rial issues. Social consequences are important, too. The generation of new
migratory flows, the expected increase in social polarization, and urban seg-
regation are just some of the consequences that need further research. The
expanding hotel industry needs the immigrant workforce, and new residents
settle in urban areas outside the tourist circuit where housing is cheaper.
Population and housing growth in nearby cities is proof that cities such as
Cárdenas and Matanzas act as residential containers of the population
employed by tourism. These cities are gradually strengthening ties with the
Varadero resort through the multiple streams of people and materials that are
generated, which has caused a significant tourism-based urbanization
process. The main settlements transformed by the intensive touristization of

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González et al. 225

Table 4. Evolution of the Population and Number of Housing Units in Varadero,


Cárdenas, and Matanzas (1970-2002).

1970 1981 1990 2002


Population
Varadero 9,078 7,092 7,515 7,822
Cárdenas 54,013 59,626 68,943 80,862
Matanzas 86,596 100,813 115,731 127,287
Housing units
Varadero 2,296 1,948 1,978 2,028
Cárdenas 14,139 15,054 16,047 25,114
Matanzas 23,353 26,368 29,028 39,129
Tourist beds
Varadero 800 7,140 8,878 37,504

Source: Adapted from Master Plans.

Varadero city and the Hicacos peninsula (Table 4) are the cities of Santa
Marta (15 km from Varadero), Camarioca (27 km), Boca Camarioca (21 km),
and essentially, Matanzas (30 km), and Cárdenas (26 km).
As in Figure 5, the visible housing and population boom experienced pri-
marily by Cárdenas (6.47% and 10.39%, respectively) around 1981 contrasts
with the significant decline in these two indicators for Varadero (−15.16%
and −21.88 %). The growth in number of tourist beds in Varadero corre-
sponds to a similar absolute growth in the population in Cárdenas and
Matanzas: The number of beds rose by 28,626 between 1990 and 2002, and
the population grew by 21,657 in Matanzas and Cárdenas (Figure 5). These
indicators are the result of current planning policy, which promotes
Varadero’s mono-functional focus on tourism, while the other cities confirm
their functional specialization as a place of residence for the workers at the
resort. Although it is exceedingly difficult to emigrate outside government
planning and control in Cuba, these cities are increasing their population due
to the arrival of regulated and nonregulated migratory flow from the whole
region of Matanzas, and albeit to a lesser extent, from other parts of Cuba,
including Havana.
Thus, Varadero is building an authentic urban region with contrasting
internal dynamics and very interesting urban processes, many of which are
different from the ones produced in other tourist areas in the Caribbean.
Tourist enclaves (spaces of production) function and are organized in a simi-
lar way in most of these Caribbean enclaves. In all of them, the appropriation
of profits through tourism is the strategy used by the transnational firms.
Nevertheless, there are significant differences with respect to spaces of social

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226 Urban Affairs Review 50(2)

45,000
40,000
35,000
30,000
25,000
20,000
15,000
10,000
5,000
0
1970 1981 1990 2002

VARADERO CARDENAS MATANZAS TOURIST BEDS VARADERO

140,000

120,000

100,000

80,000

60,000

40,000

20,000

0
1970 1981 1990 2002

VARADERO CARDENAS MATANZAS TOURIST BEDS VARADERO

Figure 5. Comparative evolution of the population, number of housing units, and


tourist beds.
Source: Adapted from National Population and Housing Census 2002 and Dirección
Provincial de Planificación Física (DPPF) Matanzas.

reproduction. The role of land planning in Cuba and the particularities of the
socialist system are among the main causes of these differences. Although it
is necessary to open new research in this regard, some of the most important
differences should be stressed:

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González et al. 227

1. The population that works in the complexes does not live in shanty
towns located in the immediate periphery of the complexes, as hap-
pens in most of the resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico (Cancun,
Riviera Maya, Puerto Vallarta, Bávaro-Punta Cana, etc.). In Varadero,
these towns are located within a radius of between 15 and 30 km from
the resort. The intermediate space (between Varadero and these cit-
ies) is not particularly built up.
2. In other studies, we looked into how tourism development in the
Caribbean involves extensive pre-littoral urbanization in the spaces of
social reproduction, characterized by inequality, social fragmenta-
tion, and urban segregation (González et al. 2012). In the dual-tourist
city, precarious, informal shanty towns are the main and occasionally
only place of residence for immigrants. Although there is an evident
deterioration of many buildings and homes in our territory of study,
Varadero and the cities in its hinterland do not have irregular, infor-
mal shanty towns.
3. The urban growth associated with revenue from workers in the tourist
district of Varadero crystallizes in the immediate periphery of the
most important nuclei, such as in Cárdenas, or right inside them.
However, there is no notable urban growth to be seen outside urban
zones, as happens in models in which private mobility is dominant, as
it is directly related to the road network. This can also be explained by
significant control of the urbanizing process on behalf of the public
administration.
4. Residence-work transport is organized from the hotels themselves.
Private mobility is practically nonexistent, and public transport ser-
vices are inadequate and insufficient. This bears a decisive influence
on the construction and organization of the urban region.
5. The towns within the area of influence of Varadero are grid-system
due to the influence of colonial urbanism and rigid socialist planning.
Compact forms, both in the oldest parts and in the developments as a
result of the Revolution of 1959 are predominant.
6. The influence of tourism activities inside these residential spaces
can be observed fundamentally in the existence of houses that have
been renovated owing to revenue from workers in the sector, as
opposed to others that remain outside tourist activity and conse-
quently, without such renovation (Figure 6). In short, the difference
in income between tourism workers and others explains the duality
of the urban landscape in the cities in the hinterland of Varadero
(González et al. 2012).

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228 Urban Affairs Review 50(2)

Figure 6. Housing belonging to resort workers renovated thanks to income from


tourism (Santa Marta).
Source: Adapted from Sustainability and Territory Research Group (GIST) files.

The city of Varadero has passed four urban and territorial plans, in addi-
tion to one that is currently being drafted and pending final approval (Table 5).
The role of planning in a socialist system is even more significant than in
capitalist countries, at least when compared with other countries in the same
Caribbean region. However, the importance of capital has proved equally
influential in organizing the space in the tourist resort of Varadero. There is a
well-organized, complex planning system structured by rather hierarchical
concepts. However, the plans have acted as instruments for channeling
investment through the customary solution of placing large plots of land on
the market. The first two plans insisted on developing domestic tourism and
day visitors, and even enhanced Historic Varadero as a resort, but limited its
growth. That is, the first plans of 1977 and 1988 were very expansionary;
only the inland areas with outstanding natural values on the peninsula were
protected from urbanization, but in fact, no successful efforts have been made
to protect them from today’s investment boom. Proposals for the protection
and rehabilitation of the Old City of Varadero were not important, and the
remaining land, which had no special protection, was granted a clearly resid-
ual value. In the current phase, two plans (1996 and 2001) have been imple-
mented, and a new one is about to be adopted. The Urban Master Plan (1996),
considered the territory of the Hicacos peninsula, should be used exclusively
for tourism and recreation. Even the city of Varadero (Historic Varadero)
was incorporated into these dynamics, which explains the declining popula-
tion. And once again, they all aim for strong growth in accommodation
capacity (between 23,000 and 30,000 rooms), despite the high percentage of
developed land. But as has often happened in the recent history of this city’s

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González et al. 229

Table 5. Varadero’s Land-Use Plans.

Denomination Start Date Date Approved Time Frame


Varadero Development 1974 1977 2000
Scheme
Master Plan for Varadero’s 1980 1988 2000
Integral Development
Urban Master Plan 1994 1996 2001
Urban Development 2000 2001 2006
and Land Use Plan of
the Varadero Tourist
Enclave
General Urban 2011 Pending 2016
Development and Land
Use Plan

Source: Adapted from Master Plans.

planning, fewer tourist beds were constructed than the plans envisaged
(50,000 beds in 2002). Furthermore, other guidelines are included that con-
firm the working hypothesis: (1) The 1996 plan proposed to settle the popula-
tion defined as the workforce off the peninsula to make the most of the land
for developing tourism. The only population to remain was that which was
already residing on the peninsula at the time. (2) The limits of growth of the
beaches’ carrying capacity ceased to be a consideration. The measures’ pri-
mary objectives were three- to five-star hotels for international tourism.
(3) Varadero’s development was proposed under the conception of a territory
to be used primarily for tourism and recreation, which has resulted in its tour-
ist functionalization.
The height of the hotel construction boom saw the approval of the Urban
Development and Land Use Plan of the Varadero Tourist Enclave (2001),
part of the Land Use Plan of the municipality of the same name (2005). This
2001 plan strengthened the internal potential of the Historic Varadero sector
in the structuring of the territory, under the assumption of the population’s
permanence; it zoned and completed the more consolidated residential areas
and social services. Most Varadero residents are “privileged” in the economic
system of the urban area. However, this exacerbated the physical separation
of Varadero’s historic center and shopping zone from the areas proposed for
new hotel facilities, while virtually ignoring the treatment of green areas and
parks (Figure 7). The cities of Camarioca and Cárdenas are included in the

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230 Urban Affairs Review 50(2)

Figure 7. Zoning and tourist sectors in Varadero according to the Urban


Development and Land Use Plan of the Varadero Tourist Enclave, 2001.
Source: Adapted from General Urban Development and Land Use Plan of the Varadero Tour-
ist Enclave, 2001, and Dirección Provincial de Planificación Física (DPPF) Matanzas.

Municipality Plan of Cárdenas (2004), and Santa Marta and Boca de


Camarioca are under the rule of the Municipality Plan of Varadero (2005).
Although still pending approval, the General Urban Development and
Land Use Plan was initiated in 2011. It maintains the trend of establishing
entertainment, and activity points and hotspots by districts (Historic Varadero,
Los Taínos, and Punta Hicacos districts). The system of free areas will be
designed integrally, and green zones will be created at intervals throughout
the peninsula; the golf course, and the protected areas of Chapelín and
Varahicacos will be maintained. The use of the strip of beach and mangrove
vegetation in the south will be governed by the regulations established in
Decree-Law 212 on Coastal Management of 2000. The Coastal Protection
Boundary Line of 1994 will serve as a reference for determining the northern
limit of construction and will be adapted wherever necessary according to
law. Water sports will be promoted to the south of the peninsula. In addition,
plans are in place to encourage motorized traffic and adopt solutions that
allow adequate access without conflicting with the tourism industry. The pos-
sibility of parking for tourists and hikers will be guaranteed and fitted with
top-quality materials as well as vegetation to prevent large paved expanses.
Facilities to support tourism will be located toward the exterior of the

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González et al. 231

peninsula, and tertiary treatment at the wastewater treatment plant to reuse


and save water will be completed.
However, the most significant aspect of this plan is marked by proposals
for an intensive use of the available land. All areas with a potential for tourist
accommodation are expected to be devoted to that end, provided the natural
conditions support the load generated. Depending on location and type of
activity, indicators and regulations will be established to safeguard the city’s
image. Included for the first time is an economic calculation of all the invest-
ments needed in the tourist enclave to ensure the works involved in improv-
ing its integral function are carried out. Hotel distribution is gradually being
directed toward the vicinity of areas with natural values of interest; the accel-
erated consumption of land in the peninsula is an unquestionable reality. The
exponential growth in tourist beds (800 in 1970 to 37,504 in 2010) clearly
shows that the development of construction is far from the calculated poten-
tial (54,000-60,000 beds), yet plans are still characterized by a developmen-
talist component toward an unfettered exploitation of the territory. In short,
all the land-use plans have been dominated by regulations that are develop-
mentalist with regard to the creation of tourist beds and expansionist as far as
the territory’s development for tourism and recreational use is concerned.
This tourism is linked to medium- to high-category accommodation in colo-
nies in the form of islands without built-up areas between them. Meanwhile,
the dependent satellite populations (Cárdenas, Matanzas) have significant
urban deficits (facilities and services, infrastructure, transport and mobility)
while their population and housing densities increase. The absence of a com-
prehensive, overall (metropolitan) vision of the territory of Varadero is one
of the plans’ most visible weaknesses. The growing anthropic impacts on the
territory are the greatest threat to a tourist resort that many believe has now
entered its period of decline as a tourist destination.

Conclusion
Some authors, such as Michaud and Turner (2006), noted the relatively sparse
literature devoted to the study of the links between tourism and urban plan-
ning in socialist countries. Although Fan, Wall, and Mitchell (2008) are
aware of the process of change that these centrally planned economies are
experiencing, these authors also highlight the lack of studies on planning and
management problems in these countries. Tourist destinations in the
Caribbean reveal different tactics for the same strategy: the appropriation of
profits through tourism activities. In all the territories, the activity is managed
by transnational tourism corporations; however, in Cuba, the state partici-
pates directly in the process, whereas in other countries the presence of the
public administration is more testimonial.

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232 Urban Affairs Review 50(2)

In this sense, Varadero shares characteristics of tourism development with


other enclaves in the Caribbean, but we show that there are significant par-
ticularities and different socio-territorial processes to those detected in other
Caribbean resorts. The uniqueness of the Cuban political government and
economic system and the role assigned to land planning introduces changes
in the urban models found in other Caribbean resorts: ordered urban growth,
absence of shanty towns, compact urban forms, projection of infrastructures,
facilities for the population, and so on. With respect to the comparison with
other socialist countries, Varadero is an example of the contradictions that
(capitalist and neoliberal) tourism may generate in a socialist country, where
the tourism and urban model is planned, but many of the actions are governed
by developmental goals, and on occasions, are favorable to capital from inter-
national hotel chains. Nevertheless, these contradictions also exist in other
planned economies. This situation is not unique to Cuba. In China, Bao and
Ma (2010) emphasized the importance of developmental economic interests.
China in the last three decades has witnessed a remarkable rush for the devel-
opment of tourist sites to meet the capital needs of local governments and to
satisfy growing demand (Bao and Ma 2010). According to Wang and Wall
(2007), in the island province of Hainan (China), the economic benefits of
tourism growth were considered more important than their social conse-
quences, such as the forced displacement of the population of a village. In
short, the “growth machine” is part of former socialist countries’ urban poli-
cies (Kulcsar and Domokos 2005). On the basis of the work presented and
focusing solely on tourism, this reflection could be extended to the case of a
socialist country such as Cuba and its main tourist resort, Varadero.
Nowadays, Varadero is the leading tourist destination in Cuba, a resort
aimed at international tourism. The hotel chains are practically the same ones
found in other tourist resorts in the region: The all-inclusive model is the only
possibility of accommodation, the architectural styles of the hotels and their
extensive recreational areas are practically identical to other Caribbean
resorts, and the predominance of bunkerized architecture is a valuable refer-
ence in Varadero too—in short, a McDonaldization of the hotel industry that
ends up turning these places into authentic nonplaces of sun and sand tourism
(González et al. 2012). Since the three tourism booms described, the urban-
ization of the Hicacos peninsula has been carried out progressively toward
the southwest (closer to Historic Varadero, where the oldest hotels are) and
northeast (location of the latest hotel complexes). The latest land-planning
schemes to be passed reflect this touristization of the peninsula with the divi-
sion of the resort into seven tourist districts.
The urban processes emanating from the small city (Historico Varadero)
and above all from the tourist enclave on the Hicacos peninsula spread
over a wide stretch of urban hinterland, to the point of building an urban

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González et al. 233

region—as yet poorly studied even in the literature published in Cuba—


which is showing major metropolitan type behavior. In this territory, there
are wide expanses of urban patches that have grown, due to the impulse of
tourist activity, beyond the urban ridges and continuous line of buildings
in tourist resorts, hidden behind these fantasy cities. At least five cities in
the province of Matanzas are changing their demographic patterns and
urban shapes due to the direct influence of Varadero’s tourist activity by
serving as the place of residence of the resort workers. Categorized as
spaces of social reproduction, the number of workers is growing in parallel
with the rise in number of tourist beds in Varadero. Nevertheless, unlike
other tourist destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico, these settlements
retain their compact shapes, and urban growth is produced in a more or
less ordered way in the immediate periphery of the nuclei. Revenue from
tourism can be perceived in small extensions and renovations of modest
housing, and no diffuse, irregular urbanization phenomena are detected
linked to precarious settlements. It is true that Cuban land-use and urban
planning have several successful mechanisms to prevent the creation of
shanty towns such as those in other tourist cities in the region. The right to
housing for the entire population seems to be a reality. Finally, metropoli-
tan growth in Varadero occurs above all on the basis of a more or less
orderly development of compact cities and not through irregular land
occupation. Certainly, this is a distinctive position as opposed to the main
seaside enclave of the leading tourist destination in the Caribbean (Bávaro-
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic). Although this is still the subject of a
new, ongoing research project, the settlements that serve the tourism work-
ers in Bávaro-Punta Cana are dominated by territorial disorder, irregular
urban growth, and strong social segregation. Among these shanty towns,
Hoyo Friusa is one of the most prominent examples, but the same situation
has been proven in other neighborhoods or small towns in the municipality
of Verón and El Manantial, Samy, Kosovo, Nuevo Juanillo, Barrio Nuevo,
Cristinita, or Haití Chiquito.
In the last 35 years, Varadero has passed four land and urban planning
schemes, plus one already drafted and in the process of approval. Three of
these were passed after the third tourism boom, which coincides with the
beginning of the “special period,” the arrival of international hotel capital,
and the most intense touristization of the territory. The planning system is
complex, well structured, and stands out due to its public and social function.
Although certain influences and pressures exerted by the international hotel
capital can be assumed, the system corresponds to a socialist planning model.
Nonetheless, some weaknesses, common in many capitalist countries, can be
detected: (1) The urban nuclei are considered the territorial and

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234 Urban Affairs Review 50(2)

administrative support for tourism activities; that is, the land is the basis
where tourism processes take place and land-use interventions are only
planned by considering the possible benefits for this activity. (2) The plan-
ning system protects nature areas and certain coastal zones of the Hicacos
peninsula, a territory of great interest to international tourism. However, the
spaces with the best protection are apparently understood as residual land,
which implies that the remaining land is open to urban transformation. (3)
This planning has even encouraged the transformation of the original city by
tourism, as in other capitalist cities. (4) The developmental objectives of
some of these plans, which include placing a large amount of undeveloped
land on the market as a means to attract private tourism–real estate invest-
ment. This developmentalist interpretation of land planning has spurred
growth that is very similar to that in other tourist destinations in a capitalist
regional setting. The negative consequences associated with developmental-
ism linked to tourism in the 1960s and 1970s in the Mediterranean basin are
very well known, and more and more studies can be read concerning the
effects on other tourist destinations in the Caribbean. Developmentalism,
understood as oversized growth, is a threat to Varadero and its peninsula, a
fragile territory with significant cultural, natural, and scenic values. Planning
must be focused on land protection and urban planning and not prepare the
territory for intensive tourism exploitation, as on many occasions seems to be
reaffirmed.
The result is a unique resort town that has grown by aggregating tourist
areas. It can be described as dual because of the clear functional division
between the strictly tourist enclave and what is known as Historic Varadero,
the real city in this enclave thanks to its morphology and mixed functions.
However, it is not a dual city like those found in other Caribbean destina-
tions; the consolidated city (Historic Varadero) is not degraded, and there are
no irregular shanty towns.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests


The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Funding
The author(s) declared receipt of the following financial support for the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article: The research that has led to this article is
based on two research projects: (1) “Reestructuración territorial sostenible de enclaves
turísticos maduros. Transferencia de metodologías y buenas prácticas a partir de los
estudios de ocupación y usos del suelo en Varadero (Cuba)” [Mature touristic spots
sustainable territorial restructuration. Transferring methodologies and good practices

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González et al. 235

from occupation and land uses in Varadero (Cuba)], funded by the General Directorate
for Cooperation of the Balearic Government and Office for Cooperation in
Development and Solidarity (OCDS) of the University of the Balearic Islands, and (2)
“Geografías de la crisis: análisis de los territorios urbano-turísticos de las Islas
Baleares, Costa del Sol y principales destinos turísticos del Caribe y Centroamérica”
[Geographies of the crisis: An analysis of the urban-tourist spaces of the Balearic
Islands, Costa del Sol and the most important tourist destinations of the Caribbean and
Central America] (CSO2012-30840) funded by the Spanish Ministry for Science and
Innovation (National Plan for R + D + i).

Notes
1. The extrapolation of the positivist model by Von Thünen.
2. The “special period” was a phase of economic crisis that began with the collapse
of the Soviet Union in 1991. The GDP contracted by 36% (1990-1993), and there
were significant restrictions on fuel supply. The result was the transformation of
Cuban society and economy. Tourism was opened to international capital to gain
foreign currency. In a speech on October 10, 1991, the Commander-in-Chief,
Fidel Castro, explained that “we are building thousands and thousands of rooms
every year for international tourism. Suffice it to say that tourism has brought
in approximately 400 million dollars this year. . . . It is very important that the
country’s need for tourism is understood, although it involves some sacrifices on
our part. Of course we would like to enjoy all these hotels, but the issue is sav-
ing the Fatherland, the Revolution and socialism and we need these resources”
(Buades 2006, p. 103).
3. The traditional and emerging economies, each one of them with their own cur-
rency (the Cuban peso and the U.S. dollar). There were three currencies until
October 2004: the Cuban peso, the U.S. dollar, and the convertible Cuban peso
(CUC), which was equivalent to the dollar. That same year, the U.S. dollar was
replaced by the CUC and was subject to a devaluation of 20%. Since 2010, it is
taxed at a 10% devaluation rate.
4. Law 77/95 on Foreign Investment, inspired by Chinese and Vietnamese legisla-
tion. Before that, Decree-Law 50 of 1982, which made mixed enterprises pos-
sible, was in force.
5. It must meet two objectives—that economic profits are allocated to the develop-
ment of the country and that it does not affect the political, social, and economic
foundations of the state.
6. One of the main changes in the realm of the economy is the premise granted
to real-estate developments related to golf courses and marinas. There are six-
teen projects to build golf courses, some of which will be associated to the sale-
usufruct of housing units for foreigners. These projects will be developed in
Holguín, Pinar del Río, and the territory between Havana and Varadero. In June
2008, the British firm Esencia achieved approval from the Cuban authorities
for the construction of the Carbonera Country Club on a stretch of beach close
to Varadero, which involves an investment of close to 300 million dollars. The

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236 Urban Affairs Review 50(2)

building project includes 800 luxury apartments and 100 living units, in addition
to an 18-hole golf course.
7. According to the official statistics (Ministry of Tourism), Varadero exceeds
Havana in number of rooms and also in tourists received. In 2011, the province
of Havana had 13,076 rooms, and the province of Matanzas, which includes
Varadero, had 18,730 rooms. The total number of international tourists received
by Havana was 832,516, while those received by the province of Matanzas
reached the figure of 1,157,258.

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Author Biographies
Jesús M. González has a PhD in geography and is a professor at the University of the
Balearic Islands (Spain). His main research lines are urban geography and urban plan-
ning. He has been professor at three universities and has pursued research stays at
seven European and American universities. Some of his latest publications are “The
Historic Centre in Spanish Industrial and Postindustrial Cities” (2010), The Open
Urban Studies Journal 3:34-46; and “Tourism and Human Mobility in Spanish
Archipiélagos” (2011), Annals of Tourism Research 38 (2): 586-606.
Eduardo Salinas has a PhD in geography and is a professor at the Faculty of Geography
of the University of Havana (Cuba). His research lines are landscape ecology, urban
planning, and tourism. His most recent papers are “La degradación ambiental de los
paisajes en las cuencas tributarias de la ensenada de Sibarimar (Guanabo e Itabo,
Cuba)” [Environmental degradation of landscapes in Sibarimar’s basin (Guanabo and
Itabo, Cuba)] (2011), Cuadernos Geográficos 48:161-88; and “Aplicación del diag-
nóstico geoecológico del paisaje en la gestión del turismo litoral Caso Destino Turístico
Litoral Norte de Holguín, Cuba” [Application of a geoecological landscape diagnosis
in the managament of coastal tourism: The case study of North Holguín, Cuba] (2012),
Investigaciones Turísticas 3:1-18.
Enrique Navarro has obtained his PhD in geography from the University of Malaga
(Spain) in 2000. His research focuses on urban planning and environmental carrying
capacity, sustainability indicators, and the development of models in mature coastal
destinations of the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Some recent publications
are “Carrying Capacity Assessment for Tourist Destinations. Methodology for the
Creation of Synthetic Indicators Applied in a Coastal Area” (2012), Tourism
Management 33:1337-46; and “Coastal Zone Management: Tools for Establishing a
Set of Indicators to Assess Beach Carrying Capacity (Costa del Sol—Spain)” (2009),
Journal of Coastal Research SI 56: 1125-29.
Antoni A. Artigues is an associated lecturer of human geography in the Earth
Sciences Department at the University of the Balearic Islands, Spain. His main
research interest is urban social geography. Recently, he has published “Restructuring

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González et al. 243

or Deregulation? An Analysis of Tourist Sector Real Estate Restructuring Plans in


Playa de Palma (Mallorca)” (2012), Cuadernos de Turismo 29:11-34.
Ricardo Remond has a PhD in geography and is a professor at the Faculty of
Geography of Havana University (Cuba). He has specialized on GIS applications to
planning and environmental and tourism issues. His recent papers are “An Analysis of
the Spatial Colonization of Scrubland Intrusive Species in the Itabo and Guanabo
Watershed, Cuba,” Remote Sensing (www.mdpi.com/journal/remotesensing), and
“La degradación ambiental de los paisajes en las cuencas tributarias de la ensenada de
Sibarimar (Guanabo e Itabo, Cuba)” [Environmental degradation of landscapes in
Sibarimar’s basin (Guanabo and Itabo, Cuba)] (2011), Cuadernos Geográficos
48:161-88.
Ismael Yrigoy is a PhD candidate in the Department of Earth Sciences at the
University of the Balearic Islands (Majorca, Spain). He received his MA in territorial
studies at the Autonomus University of Barcelona. His research focuses on the gover-
nance processes underlying the renewal of touristic spots in Majorca, Spain. His latest
papers are “La urbanització turística com a materialització espacial de l’acumulació
de capital hoteler: els casos de Platja de Palma (Mallorca) i Saïdia (Marroc)” [The
tourist urbanization as a spatial materialization of hotel capital accumulation: The
case studies of Platja de Palma (Mallorca) and Saïdia (Morocco)], Treballs de la
Societat Catalana de Geografia 75, and “The Economic Crisis as the Other Side of
Power: Accumulation, State and Elites,” Habitat International (under revision).
Maité Echarri has a PhD in geography and is an adjunct professor at the Faculty of
Tourism of the University of Havana (Cuba). She is specialized in tourism studies.
Her last research papers are “La imagen de los destinos turísticos cubanos. Un acerca-
miento desde la Habana Vieja” [The image of cuban’s tourist destination. An approach
from Old Havana] (2012), Anuario Turismo y Sociedad (Universidad Externado de
Colombia) 13; and “Los indicadores en el estudio de la sostenibilidad turística: su
medición en el Centro Histórico de La Habana” [The use of indicators in the study of
tourism sustainability and its measurement in Havana historic quarter] (2011), La
Nueva Gestión organizacional, 11.
Yanira Arias, MSc, is specialized in environmental and territorial management. She
worked for 10 years in the Department of Tourism Planning of the Provincial Bureau
of Physical Planning (Varadero, Matanzas). She currently works at the CITMA
Environmental Center in Varadero. Her last published papers are “Sin duna no hay
playa, sin playa no hay turismo” [Without dunes there is no beach, without beach
there is no tourism] (2010), Revista de Ordenamiento Territorial y Urbanismo 15; and
“Planeando la zona costera: entre la teoría, la ley y la realidad. Polo turístico Varadero”
[Planning the coastal zone: between theory, law and reality. Varadero tourist resort]
(2011), II Convención Internacional de Geografía, Medio Ambiente y Ordenamiento
Territorial, Universidad de La Habana.