TORONTO — Taylan Evrenler had been to Cuba twice before but his visit last week, that included a trip to Havana, is easily the most memorable. He was detained and questioned by police over a two-day period and was only allowed to leave when he agreed to make a payment.
“You have to pay 4,250 pesos or else you are not going on your flight,” Evrenler said he was told by police on the second day of questioning, adding that he was warned he would not get the documentation necessary to return home to Toronto otherwise.
Evrenler was staying at a licensed Cuban guest home called a Casa Particular in Havana last week because he wanted to visit an international trade expo.
When he went to check out of the home, he said he was met by two non-uniformed Cuban police officers who accompanied him to a police station.
Inside, Evrenler said he was ordered to surrender his passport and cellular phone. He said he waited most of the first day and was told to return the following day.
“They gave me back my phone and was told to come back at eight in the morning and everything’s finished,” said the 28-year-old high risk analyst.
But after returning the next day and waiting about three hours, he said he was interrogated in Spanish, and limited English, and told he owed money for “damages” caused at another guest home on a previous trip.
“It was absolutely false,” Evrener told Global News, who said he had not damaged anything on the previous visit.
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“I was scared.”
Faced with what he said was no option except to pay up, Evrener said he travelled “pretty much all over Havana” on Sunday when the city’s banks were closed.
Eventually, he found a financial institution that would provide a cash advance on his MasterCard.
Evrener’s account follows a series of Global News stories about a Vancouver couple who were detained at a Cayo Coco hotel because they didn’t pay approximately $400 in damages demanded by the resort.
Katharine Foran, 26 and Adam Babuik, 30, say they were not allowed to leave their hotel and could not pay for a broken lamp bulb and broken wall because their credit cards did not function at the hotel. Eventually, they were permitted to return to Canada.
Legal experts say travellers to Cuba aren’t guaranteed the same treatment as they could expect in many other countries.
“There’s a lot of evidence in the case of Cuba that it is not a legal system where the normal rules we expect would apply,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman.
“I don’t think it’s surprising an incident like this occurred.”
The Cuba tourist office in Toronto said it has no authority to investigate incidents involving guest homes, a spokesperson said.
The office director said he was too busy to sit down for an on-camera interview to discuss questions about tourist safety in Cuba.
Calls to the Cuba Embassy in Ottawa and Cuba Consulate in Toronto were not answered.
Evrener eventually paid police even though he said he did nothing wrong.
“It was very scary,” he said.
“Someone accuses me of something I didn’t do and unless you pay you’re pretty much trapped.”
But despite the experience with police, Evrener said he would like to return to Cuba in the future.
“I fell in love with the country,” he said. “It’s beautiful.”