This will be an interesting week for Cuba.

April 18, 2018 – Let me just add, you want to read a well-balanced, informative op ed piece in the New York Times by Christopher Sabatini, a lecturer at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and executive director of Global Americans, entitled “We Shouldn’t Ignore Cuba.”

Raul Castro is expected to step down as President of Cuba and for the first time there will no longer be a Castro at the helm.  But not to fear, Raul Castro will remain the head of the Communist Party in Cuba which runs everything anyway.  But there will be a new face at the helm, a man who wasn’t even born when, as the Cubans always say, “the triumph of the Revolution” occured.  It will be interesting.

Castro Diaz CanelRaul when on the international, diplomatic stage, always dressed in a business suit, but when addressing the Cuban people he appeared in his military uniform.  Cuba is, after all, a military dictatorship.  The likely successor is  Miguel Diaz-Canel,  57, trained as an electronics engineer, but like many Cubans did something totally different than that for which he was trained.  He spent 30 years working his way up through the party to be the number-two man, in effect Raul Castro’s vice president and the second in command of the military, although he never appears in a military uniform, unlike his boss.  Sometimes when Raul was challenged by the Revolutionary elite he would say, “I am not my brother.”  In the case of the rapprochement with the U.S., Fidel had made clear that it was not his idea.  So maybe the fact that Diaz-Canel never appears in a uniform is a way of stating hat he is not Raul.

DSC_0227My sense is that while younger Cubans have great respect for “the triumph of the Revolution,” and the Castros, and the good things that have resulted from the Revolution, and face it, there have been some good things, younger Cubans are ready to turn the page and move on.  Make no mistake about it: Cubans are in love with Americans.  Maybe not the U.S. government, and certainly not with Donald Trump, but with ordinary Americans, the neigbhors next door, ordinary Cubans are in love with US.  Sure, they’d all like to hop on a plane and visit the U.S., maybe not to stay, but to take home as much of the culture, and commercial junk as they can.  Of course with China on the verge of stepping into the vacuum, they may get more commercial junk from China than they can possibly imagine!

My take is that there is a great vacuum in Cuba and someone is going to step in and fill that vacuum. The likely suspects are the Russia (yet again), China, or the U.S. neighbors next door.  The choice is ours.

PEARL MIST was the second ship to go to Cuba from the U.S. after Obama opened the door, and I have been on every trip except the first.  I think something like 15 trips, and in that time, about two years, there have been some interesting changes.

First, Cuba has just introduced ATM machines.  They only work for Cuban banks.  Due to the two hundred plus prohibitions of the U.S. Embargo there can be no financial interactions.  So the ATMs are new and Cubans are literally struggling to figure them out.

DSC_0238Second, there is a lot more begging for money, hand lotion, soap (they figured out this stuff is pretty easy for cruise passengers to come by), and a lot of this has been encouraged by well-meaninging U.S. Americans, some of whom genuinely want to share, and others of whom just like to strutt their stuff and get a kind of kick out of throwing what they don’t want to people in real need.  It’s a tough line to walk, and I keep urging the cruise line to come up with a way that folks can help in a way that is genuine and still respectful of the Cuban people and culture.

Third, and I’m sorry, but this is really sad.  One of the great things Obama did was to get Raul to open up Cuba to the Internet.  Now don’t think that everyone has Internet.  Less than 5% of Cuban homes have Internet.  No Mc Donald’s or Starbucks with free wi-fi.  But there ARE hot spots in the plazas, along Havana’s famed Malecon, some of the pedestrian streets in Santiago de Cuba.  These aren’t free.  You buy an Internet card with the tourist money. [There are two currencies in Cuba.  The local currency of the people, the CUP, each worth roughly the equivalent of 4 U.S. cents, and the tourist currency called the CUC which although it actually costs U.S. tourists 87 cents for one CUC, is roughly the equivalent of one U.S. dollar.]  So one hour of Internet access costs 1 CUC or the equivalent value of 1 U.S. dollar.  In a country where the average Cuban only makes the equivalent of U.S. $24 a month, Internet access is no bargain!  Yet Cubans are addicted already!

DSC_0226Wherein the past, in the cool of the evening, folks would gather along Havana’s famed Malecon seawall, known fondly as “the world’s largest sofa,” singing, socializing, drinking, sharing with friends, they now sit with their faces glued to their smart phones!  Same story in the cities great plazas.  Everyone under 50 sitting staring at their phones.  Texting is replacing talking.

So now what?  It will be an interesting week.  There’s a great article in THE TELEGRAPH, “Cuba prepares for life after the Castros.” And if you are thinking of seeing Cuba, now is the time to go!  And by the way, going on a monster ship that spends a few hours in Havana is NOT seeing Cuba.  No way  Jose!

Colorful, Welcoming, Safe Cuba

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Just back from over two months in Cuba …

Unfortunately, the US detente with Cuba got swallowed up in the US political craziness last November when President Trump put a crimp in the Obama Presidential Order permitting US citizens to travel to Cuba, the name of which, going down the list, was changed to the “Trump Presidential Order” but pretty much left unchanged … until last November when Trump tightened the screws.  Conveniently, about the same time, mysterious ailments began to be noticed in US Embassy employees in the recently reopened Embassy complex in Havana.  Whether this was due to the stress and uncertainty that plagued the State Department at the time, and probably still does even after the old Secretary of State was fired, or by some hitherto unknown sonic weapon from outer space, of which no evidence could be found by either the Cuba intelligence department or the CIA, or just by newly stationed Embassy employees enjoying too much Cuban “Vitamin R” … that delicious, authentic, Cuban rum! … no one will ever know.  Maybe it was just another Washington ruse.

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At any rate, Cuba right now is an amazing and wonderful destination, particularly on a small ship like PEARL MIST, that goes all the way around the island, and just doesn’t pop into Havana for 5 hours.  Cuba is extremely safe!  Walk around anywhere at night … people are delighted to welcome their US neighbors!  Yes, they understand that governments continue to play tit-for-tat pissing games with one another, but the people can see beyond the bullshit, and people-to-people they are warm and welcoming.  And if there is anything positive to say for living in a police state, it is that there are no guns, no mass shootings, and virtually no street crime.  It is safe … very safe.  Just don’t drink too many mojitos!

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My Cuba book was a hit onboard!  I sold out of every copy I had, but you can still get it on Amazon.

Just like in the 60s in the US, young people wore Che T-shirts as a way of giving the finger to the political establishment, the hot fashion item in Cuba for young people isn’t Tommy Hilfiger, or Calvin Klein but US flag apparel.

The time to visit Cuba is now, before it is overrun by giant cruise ships dumping thousands of $495-special-passengers in downtown Havana.  Hell, Royal Caribbean’s new ship, what’s it called, MONSTER OF THE SEAS or something-or-another of the seas, holds 9,000 people!  Imagine!  9,000 people, about 2,000 crew and 7,000 passengers.  Much as I love cruising and have enjoyed the industry, unfortunately, what the cruise industry loves it ultimately destroys.

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Come join me this fall on the 200 passenger PEARL MIST that can dock right in town, including in tiny places like Casilda, just a 10-minute drive from the charming UNESCO World Heritage Site town of Trinidad.  And in the meantime, get my CUBA book!

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