My wife and I and our three adult children visited Cuba in April. We created our own itinerary and stayed in Casa Particular in La Havana, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba. As Josh Karliner so well describes in his essay, we found Cuba to be many things, some obvious and others less so. It is an Island of contradictions that has been shaped by its peculiar relationships with the world’s two superpowers. In each case, Cuba has had to struggle for its independence first from the U.S. in its post-colonial period and then from the USSR when the U.S. piqued at Cuba’s revolution and struggle for economic independence, blockaded it into the arms of the USSR. Our family has traveled throughout South and Central America and there is a vitality in Cuba and in the Cuban people that we rarely found elsewhere in the Americas. Everyone, whether they were totally with Fidel or a critic of the regime, spoke of their strength in surviving the blockade and the “Special Period”.
Their pride and love of what they accomplished, whether it was their amazing health care and educational systems, was obvious. Some of Cuba’s advances in health care, disease eradication, and cancer treatment have been truly revolutionary. At the same time, they were acutely aware of the contradictions inherent in their success, a success which was accompanied by relative poverty and lack of access to the U.S. consumer market. Many saw the potential changes associated with Obama’s shift as good but not enough. Yet, they welcomed the opportunity to continue to make contact with average Americans such as us. We too thought that the openings and opportunities for true interaction with Cuba and Cubans were likely to increase.
However, we recognized that Trump’s election could lead to a rollback of the Obama changes. Many people asked us what we thought Trump would do. Our typical answer was that he was so unpredictable but maybe, just maybe he might leave things in place as American business was benefitting from the new Cuban ties. Unfortunately, Trump couldn’t resist destroying a positive legacy from the Obama period.
We hope to return to Cuba in the next few years to stay with the people who hosted us and to explore places we were unable to get to during our two weeks. Cuba is an amazing place which has accomplished wonderful things and we hope that it continues doing what it does best.