All the U.S. based TV networks were there, so were many local TV stations pumping out hours of TV coverage of the Havana visit of Pope Francis. Local TV anchors who snared the coveted assignment described the moment as “historic” over and over again. The narration accompanying the images of historic cathedrals, throngs of Cubans on the narrow streets of Havana Vieja, the ever present 1950’s American cars caught the Cuban Embargo time warp, the cigar makers and the always present Salsa band, spoke of change coming to the Communist Island. The night before the Pope’s Saturday arrival the U.S. announced additional changes in regulations that for years had made it difficult to travel and do business with Cuba. So when the Pope landed American TV viewers knew the changes allowed even easier access for travelers who want to see Cuba.
The Cuban Government had rolled out the red carpet. A visit by the Pope, who had brokered the opening of diplomatic relations between the two Cold War adversaries leading to the potential of American travelers and eventually tourists pouring American dollars into the moribund Cuban economy, was for the Cubans an opportunity not to be missed. “TV coverage legitimized the Castro Government,” Dr. Joseph Azil, told atombash.com. Azil, who is a Senior Research Associate at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban America Studies. “it is sad,” he added.
Viewers got a slight glimpse of the ugly side of Cuba when several dissidents approached the Pope and were hustled off by Cuban Security. Reporters occasionally mentioned that the Pope was not going to meet with dissidents who oppose the Castro regime and lost in the coverage was how Cuban Security had rolled up a number of dissidents and prevented them from attending the Pope’s mass in Revolutionary Square. But, it was the positive, compelling images that consumed the airwaves.
What the Cuban Government got was a marathon of free TV Commercials for their unique Island Nation. Will those images translate into creating a bigger demand from travelers who want to experience Cuba? Probably not so much Stewart Chiron told atombash.com. Chiron is known as “The Cruise Guy” and is a recognized expert on cruise ship tourism. Chiron says, “certainly the TV will provide exposure for what is there, but I am not sure how much tourism it will produce.” “It is what it is,” laments Dr. Joseph Azil who suggests that some viewers will say “maybe I can buy one of those (1950’s) cars.” Azil says the TV coverage portrayed happy and colorful people and a country many American might want to see before “it changes.”