The newspaper said the new openness to Cuba isn't affecting the Keys. Golly, that was a quick conclusion. Aside from the fact no one really knows exactly what restrictions are in place, and more importantly the punishment for violations is undefined, it seems a bit early to conclude that the path to openness is going to bypass sleepy old Key West.
The Republicans who now control Congress are led by loud voices who favor the embargo so we know that isn't going to be repealed. Which leaves the Communist Kenyan in the White House to do the sensible thing and repeal what he can. At long last. I am betting Cuban cigars those phallic symbols of repressed Middle American desire, will start to appear in small quantities at high prices on Duval Street alongside legally imported Havana Club Rum, which I have tasted while traveling in the Free World and not found to be particularly delicious. Already the Botanical Gardens are stepping up the number of "cultural exchange" visits they organize to Cuba. I am sure they will see more "gardeners" like me who can barely tell poison wood from lignum vitae rushing to learn about Cuban flora on the forbidden isle.
I know what a gumbo limbo is (see above) but I am no botanist, or gardener even. I think for a while the repressed opening to Cuba will produce some excitement but gradually Cuba will become just one more destination in Latin America and tours will show off Hemingway's haunts and Meyer Lansky's sleeze and all will be normal in the world of tourism. President Obama will fade into history as just one more hidebound ineffectual president, rather than be the object of gross bizarre and downright mendacious conspiracy theories and The Ted Cruz/Marco Rubio traveling circus will no doubt move on to more important matters like intruding government into people's sex lives, as the young bucks in Congress grow and hopefully wiser. Cuba will still be there.
And so will Key West. And this is when it will get interesting, in a few years, when the choice is a cruise to Cuba and or Key West, arrive by plane or boat...a vacation in the safety of the familiar, or an adventure across the water. And I believe there will be room for both destinations without one taking from the other. The politicians and their posturing will fade into the background where they belong, and the vacation choice will be driven by other considerations.
Cuba will never cease to be exotic, offering vibrant culture, mountains, jungles, rivers, beaches and warmer winter weather on the south shore, the true Caribbean Sea beaches, than Key West. But Key West has familiarity, safety, and it's own peculiar charming character that Cuba can't compete with in any way. Plus those drivers of the winter economy aren't going to flock to Cuba to buy winter homes! some might but Key West isn't going to be denuded of snowbirds...and in summer there will always be families more comfortable on a Key West beach than in Varadero.
In the end though it's the people who make the choice of where to visit and one thing about Key West that stands head and shoulders above every other destination is the combination of the exotic and the safe. One thing that I have noticed about this funny little town at the end of the road is that it attracts people who crave that combination of safety amid the exotic. Among people I have spoken to the slight shabbiness of Key West is part of the attraction, were the town crisp and clean and organized it would lose its safe edginess. If you seek true adventure, the kind with an uncertain outcome, Cuba beckons already.
For those of us that live around here, I guess nothing much will change in the short term. In the long term perhaps we will get ourselves interesting vacations close by. Cool. No one loses. Except the posturing politicians of all stripes. And who cares about that.