TORONTO — Two Canadian tourists say they were virtually held hostage in their Cayo Coco, Cuba hotel room because their credit cards couldn’t be accessed to pay $400 in room damages.
“I could not sleep at night knowing any other tourist would go through this,” said Katharine Foran, 26, of Vancouver, who just returned to Canada.
Foran and her partner, Adam Babuik, 30, also of Vancouver, say they ran into trouble before checkout at the Hotel Playa Coco.
Admitting they damaged a wall and broke a light bulb inside their room, they were ordered to pay the hotel for damages. They say they agreed.
Foran says the hotel couldn’t process payment using their credit card; not because of insufficient funds, but because of the card issuer.
“Because we were a part of a credit union in Vancouver, they didn’t accept that in Cuba,” said Foran, who told Global News the couple’s other card, a TD debit Visa, couldn’t be processed either.
“This is not fair: You can’t hold someone hostage in a room for a broken wall, a broken lamp.”
The couple say they were prohibited from making phone calls or contacting the Canadian Embassy in Cuba or to get legal assistance.
“I was floored,” said Foran.
When family members in Vancouver couldn’t reach the couple in Cuba, one filed a missing person’s report with Vancouver police, which confirmed information was circulated to agencies including the RCMP and the Canadian Border Services Agency.
Incredibly, the couple’s release may have been ordered by Cuba’s highest political official.
At one point while in detention, they say a police officer took a phone call from someone who made loud demands.
“The police told us the president said to let us go,” said Foran.
“We asked afterward and they said it was (Raul) Castro,” president of the Council of State of Cuba, she said.
Soon after, they were escorted to the airport, put on a Sunwing aircraft and flown back to Toronto, without paying any of the charges demanded.
Initially, the couple said Air Canada wanted to charge additional fees for their return to Vancouver. However, after a request by Global News, Foran and Babuik were allowed to fly home to Vancouver at no extra cost.
Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development and Cuba’s tourist office in Toronto did not return phone calls about the couple’s allegations.
The couple say they were made to feel like criminals.
“It was not a debt for a damaged wall and a lamp; it was like we had killed someone in Cuba and we were going to go to jail for it,” said Foran.