Russian tourists in Cuba

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The BBC's Michael Voss reports on a new trend: russians tourists nostalgic for the Soviet past, who travel to Cuba on vacation.

DAVID BARON: Nearly 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, large numbers of Russians are heading back to their former cold war ally, Cuba. But now they're going as tourists. For many of these tourists, the island offers a nostalgic glimpse into their own past. The BBC's Michael Voss reports from Havana.

MICHAEL VOSS: Cuba may be famous for all the vintage American cars still on the roads, but they're outnumbered by rusty Soviet-built Ladas. For more than three decades Moscow helped keep Fidel Castro's revolution alive subsidizing this Communist-run island on America's doorstep. At one point, there were 20,000 Soviet's stationed here. Men like construction engineer [INDISCERNABLE]. Now he's back for the first time on vacation with his grandson.


MALE SPEAKER: I wanted to bring my grandson because I have so many happy memories from my time here. And Cuba still sustains the Socialist line. There are new buildings, but otherwise it hasn't changed. I have deep feelings for it.

VOSS: [SOUNDS LIKE] Loretta Aldama is [INDISCERNABLE] Cuban tour guide. In the 1970s she went to study in the Soviet Union on a scholarship. But it's only in the past couple of years that Aldama's been able to use her Russian skills again thanks to the new surge of Russian tourists.

LORETTA ALDAMA: They are very happy when they see their cars, Russian cars, still running in our city. The first question when they come to Cuba is how is Fidel Castro? Because we love Fidel Castro.

VOSS: Fidel Castro has rarely been seen in public since undergoing major surgery almost four years ago. But the system he created remains more or less intact. Every morning school children line up to chant ?We are the Pioneers of Communism. We will be like Che.? They wear red and white Pioneer uniforms with distinctive red scarves, just as children did back in the former Soviet Union. To tourist [SOUNDS LIKE] Mariana Resova, these school uniforms are a nostalgic reminder of her own childhood.


MARIANA RESOVA: I used to be a Pioneer and wear the exact same uniform. My daughter's never seen one. There are no Pioneers anymore. I have many friends in Moscow who were based in Cuba in the 1980s and they all recommended that I should come here. I'm really glad we did.

VOSS: It's not all nostalgia. There's plenty of time to relax on the island's beaches. Two and a half million tourists come here each year, mainly Canadians and Europeans. The number of Russians remains small but growing fast. 30,000 last year. 45,000 predicted this year. But one group still isn't visiting in great numbers: Americans. Before the Cuban revolution, this was America's tropical playground. But the US travel ban remains in effect. One of the last vestiges of the Cold War. For The World, I'm Michael Voss in Havana.