Our trip to Cuba with Earthbound Expeditions was a success.  The only complaint that I heard was that we were overfed.  I have heard worse.

Of course, Cuba is not like Puerto Rico or St. Martin, or any other island in the Caribbean.  It is fraught, as much a symbol as a place.  Our history with Cuba is tortuous, from the sinking of the Maine in 1898, to the Castro revolution and its aftermath, the Bay of Pigs, the Missile Crisis of 1962, the Mariel boatlift, and Guantanamo.

Whatever your opinion of Cuba, and its government, the island and its people exist in a separate plane from the politics.  Cuba is a Third World nation.  It is poor.  The government is not open and democratic.  The people on the street, and I admit that this is a small and unscientific sample, live their lives.  They shop, they eat ice cream, they do what jobs they can find.

I believe that they are better off now than when Cuba was ruled by Fulgencio Batista, a vile dictator who was a puppet of the Carlos Marcello Mafia family.  The people were not free then, either.  Nostalgia for those times is misplaced.  When Castro threw Batista out, the tyrant fled to Spain with an estimated $70 million, first to the Dominican Republic and his pal, Rafael Trujillo, then to Portugal and Antonio Salazar, finally to Spain and Francisco Franco.  Birds of a feather, and all.

I understand that the Castro government is not what we would wish for the Cuban people.  The embargo we set on Cuba, first by presidential decree in 1962, and then by the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, is cheerfully ignored by most of the world.  It isolates us more than Cuba.

If we imposed the same standards across the range of our diplomatic relations with all other countries, we would have to embargo a great many of our “friends.”

Fidel is old, and not well.  Raul is old, but has shown a flexibility beyond anything his brother demonstrated.  I have no idea who is waiting in the wings to succeed the Castros.  I do know that the small opening of recent US policy is important.  Remember that there are many in Cuba who are as firm in their mistrust of the US as there are Americans who cast a wary eye on Cuba.

I hope that, soon, Cuba joins the nations whose governments we don’t love, but with whom we trade and have diplomatic relations.  We once felt this way about China, and Russia and Viet Nam.  The current policy has produced nothing but mutual animosity and distrust.  Let’s see what a few-hundred-thousand American tourists and businesses can do.

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