Saturday, November 5, 2016

Visiting Cuba

The situation for Americans who want to travel to Cuba has become "interesting" as by Presidential order Americans can now visit the Forbidden Isle though the Republican controlled Congress is refusing, as usual, to make any changes so as to foil the President's plan. So now cruise ships are docking in Cuba, commercial airliners are flying there on a schedule and motorcyclists are organizing self-ride tours. I desperately wish I could have joined this one:
Maybe next time ( and they take any brand of motorcycle).
Americans have to fulfill some extra  steps compared to traveling to other countries. From Slate Magazine:
The rule change allows American citizens to visit the island nation without the prior permission of the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control for the first time in a long while—so long as the visit falls under one of 12 approved categories. Here are those categories, per the White House:
1. Family visits
2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
3. Journalistic activity
4. Professional research and professional meetings
5. Educational activities
6. Religious activities
7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
8. Support for the Cuban people
9. Humanitarian projects
10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
12. Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.
My wife and I have been talking about going to Cuba soon. An airline ticket round trip to Santa Clara is around 250 bucks, then we'd rent a car for the three hour drive to Havana where you can get AirBnB reservations online...Suddenly Cuba seems very accessible. However I have my own reservations. Above you see the spread laid out for the first American cruise ship to dock in Havana and below we see the market for Cuban shoppers. I know everyone says Cuba will be ruined when McDonalds gets there etc...etc...But they are the people who forget that Canadians and Europeans have been investing in Cuba since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1989. What is of more import to me is how I will feel swimming in dollar bills in an economy held back as much as theirs is.
I have motorcycled across West Africa, as a child I walked the streets of Calcutta and watched the dead being hauled off the sidewalks and stuffed into carts for removal each morning and I have traveled some of the poorest  countries in Latin America, so street poverty is familiar to me. To me it never feels good to know that in the life lottery these folks lost out big time; but the Cuban situation is particularly vexing to me because it seems so preventable. The US has engaged with China and we have seen a tremendous change in what is ostensibly a one party state devoted to equality by fiat, yet we all know that China is unrecognizable as the state that Chairman Mao ran. The only reason the US has refused to engage with Cuba the same way is the family feud between the Castro family and the Diaz Balart family in Miami. Fidel dissed his wife's family who fled abandoning their many properties ripe for plucking by Castro's Communists. Miami Cubans have long held the balance of power in Florida elections and they have required the embargo to win their electoral support. They want to punish Castro, but instead the embargo has done so much harm to ordinary Cubans, not to mention US industry and even our own Midwestern farmers seeking export markets. That stranglehold is ending and the embargo is too, as soon as Congressional Republicans choose to go back to work, and also ignoring the dying older generation of Cuban anti Castroists. So from my perspective the shoddy nature of the Cuban economy is a byproduct of US internal politics, much as the repression in Guatemala, the horrendous poverty in Honduras and the street gangs in El Salvador are by products of US foreign policy. Poor Central America to paraphrase Porfirio Diaz "so far from God so close to the United States" and Cuba is to boot the victim of a banal family feud across the narrow Straits of Florida. Cuba's poverty is not even a requirement of US support of a dictator, or a need for military bases or any of the hundreds of reasons we support the wrong leaders overseas. It's just a family spat disguised as a high moral stand.
I know I'm over thinking it, because when you travel from the richest country in the world (for now) everything else is less in one way or another especially when your neighbors are so poor. It's like a European first world country sharing a  border with Nigeria or Chad. They don't but poverty stricken Arabs and Africans are making it feel like they do share common borders these days and its stressing out our European friends to have so many refugees hammering on their borders.. So my dilemma is broken down into purely selfish motivations: I live so close it would be absurd not to visit. I lived in Italy for close to a decade as an adult and I never went to Greece. When I retire from Key West I don't want to make the same mistake with Cuba- I shall never again live so close to that country filled with music and history, color and culture, so now is the time to go. Dog sitters for Rusty, crisp clean cash for the wallet (no US  credit cards) and a burning desire to spend a memorable weekend- all other considerations and over thinking be damned. And I shall beat McDonalds to it - barely as the golden arches are already  selling burgers at Guantanamo Bay...
Guatanamo McDonalds

Photos for this essay from Instagram natgeo and the Web