Jim Lewis: Cuba unfairly portrayed in the media
A recent travel industry magazine reported that 75% of Americans have no interest in visiting Cuba. However, most Americans who visit say it was one of their best trips abroad. To the casual observer, this probably makes no sense.
Comments, observations, and articles about Cuba often produce conflicting perspectives and conclusions. If you could ask citizens from various countries around the world if they like Americans and American culture, you would probably receive more positive comments from Cubans than from anywhere else. They closely follow our movies, television programs, music, sports, and politics.
So why the disconnect? I first visited Cuba in 1999. I began leading medical research groups to Cuba in 2012. I visit at least twice a year. I have good friends there. I’ve met many fellow Americans with similar experiences. I’ve read dozens of books about the country.
And yet, when there are newsworthy events about Cuba, the media flock to interview individuals such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. He is an intelligent, well-spoken Cuban-American. He was born in Miami and has never been to Cuba. Like other Cuban-Americans who have served in Congress and never visited Cuba, he seems to have a vision of Cuba that his parents told him about — Cuba of the 1950s.
President Trump has likewise never been to Cuba. Secretary of State Pompeo and National Security Advisor Bolton have never been there. As far as I can determine, nobody close to our president or in his cabinet has ever been to Cuba. Why? Is it because it is a “communist” country?
President Trump has visited China. He recently flew to Vietnam to meet with the leader of North Korea. Of these four communist countries, Cuba is clearly the least repressive. It survives economically because of a robust and sophisticated black market. The largest private sector involves tourism. Our government should encourage us to visit Cuba to support this private sector. Instead, it spreads misleading information that implies it is too complicated or dangerous to visit this safe and friendly nation
Along with a large majority of our fellow citizens, a significant majority of Cuban-Americans in Miami now favor an immediate end to the embargo. Many conservative governors and representatives from Republican states have been to Cuba in the last few years to sign agricultural and technological trade deals.
There has been extensive cooperation between Cubans and Americans in many fields, including medical/pharmacological research, oceanographic projects, Caribbean disaster emergency relief, and even military co-conferences. Today, much of this cooperation has been downgraded or discontinued.
In 2017, President Trump made a speech at a small gathering in Miami of Cuban-American hardliners. He hinted that he would make travel to Cuba by Americans much more restricted, but no regulations or guidelines were changed. The purpose of his speech was simply to discourage travel; not prohibit it.
In June 2019, President Trump tightened the screws further on the Cuban economy. He created the perception that it will now be even more difficult for Americans to travel to Cuba. As in the past, these actions won’t affect the Cuban government or its leaders. However, it already is having a detrimental effect on everyday Cubans — those people who love us and our culture.
Is this really how we want our government to treat these people? Cubans just want us to visit, have fun, spend money, and learn about their culture. They are not asking for handouts or charity (unlike many other countries). Cuba will continue to offer great terms for American investors.
So why visit Cuba? It is safe, friendly, and beautiful. It has vibrant cities with colonial architecture, beautiful beaches, and lush forests with hiking trails. There are over 4,000 smaller islands. Cuba’s coral reefs are rated among the clearest in the world. Cuban music and art are consistently considered to be world class.
There is a lot of American history in Cuba. For example, historic San Juan Hill is now a beautiful U.S. military memorial park and cemetery. I’ve been there several times with our groups. We’ve never seen any graffiti or vandalism.
In conclusion, it continues to be legal and safe to travel to Cuba (but not on U.S.-based cruise ships). If you decide right now to visit Cuba, you could legally be in Havana tomorrow night.
For more information, you are welcome to attend a free seminar about new Cuba travel guidelines at 5:30 p.m. on July 23 at Madelyn Helling Library in Nevada City. My website is JamesLewisRN.com.
Jim Lewis lives in Grass Valley.
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