It’s time both countries realize what their own citizens see — that closer ties benefit both sides.

DSC_1041Preparing to take a luxury yacht through the Panama Canal, then onward around Cuba, the end of this month, and then later this year rejoin PEARL MIST lecturing on board for our cruises around Cuba, round trip from Ft. Lauderdale, I’m particularly interested in following news from and about our next-door neighbor.

Trump, who couldn’t wait to reverse Obama’s policy of prying open the door to Cuba, has announced that the US Embargo on Cuba will continue.  The Cuban government claims the Embargo damages Cuba to the tune of $4 billion US a year.  But the Embargo, which hasn’t worked for over 50 years, continues to hurt only the Cuban people, not the Cuban government.

It now appears that the mystery illness targeting US Embassy workers in Cuba and China is as some of my Cuban friends suggested, the work of Russia, not Cuba, China, or some new CIA security system installed in the reopened US Embassy in Havana that had unforseen human consequences. [As with agent orange in Viet Nam, the US sometimes rushes ahead with new, unproven military-type “technolgy” without understanding the long-term consequences, or else just not telling anyone about the potential reisks.]  If it is the nefarious actions of Russia, one might ask just what benefit the US is getting from Trump’s cozy relationship with the former KGB agent, Putin.

At any rate, I found this editorial in the TAMPA BAY TIMES to be interestsing …

fter an encouraging start, the breakdown in America’s reset with Cuba is a loss for both sides and for the state of democracy across the region. Havana and Washington are both to blame, but the Trump administration’s hard line with Cuba is out of sync with the times and damaging to the interests of Florida.

DSC_0228The Tampa Bay Times’ Paul Guzzo chronicled the latest development in the relationship this week. Tampa-based Florida Produce once symbolized the potential of new U.S. trade with Cuba. In 2015, as nearly a half-century of enmity began to thaw, the company asked Cuba for permission to open a 100,000-square-foot facility in Havana to house and sell American goods. Cuban leaders seemed inclined, the Obama administration was eager for new ties and exporters were interested. But today the project is in limbo, and Florida Produce symbolizes something else: a lost opportunity for the two countries to capitalize on a new era in relations.

Business leaders once saw a flurry of excitement over Cuba. The Trump administration’s harder approach, mixed signals from Cuba’s leaders and fresh concerns over the treatment of U.S. personnel in Cuba have all combined to stall this budding relationship. Trump erected new hurdles to doing business with Cuba by banning U.S. companies from partnering with entities that have links to Cuba’s military. Last year, he tightened rules on travel between the two countries, and more recently, suspended consular services at the recently reopened U.S. embassy in Cuba’s capital after a mysterious attack that left American diplomats complaining of hearing loss, concussion-like symptoms and other ailments. Though the cause of that episode remains unexplained, experts are now examining whether microwave strikes were weaponized to harm dozens of U.S. diplomats and their family members.

The Trump administration’s hard line and the continuing resistance by Cuba’s communist government to improve human rights and liberalize conditions on the island nation virtually guarantee a freeze on relations for the foreseeable future. Still, travel between Tampa Bay and Havana is on the upswing (71,376 passengers flew between Tampa and Havana through April of this fiscal year, reports show, up from 53,512 during the same period in 2017). Cruise ships are sailing more often to Havana. And even officials with Florida Produce have not given up on the warehouse project.

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President Barack Obama showed the value of presidential leadership in forging a new state of relations between Washington and Havana. Yet Obama could have gone further to promote bi-lateral trade. Cuban Americans in Florida and elsewhere played a vital role in helping re-establish some semblance of economic and diplomatic ties.

The person-to-person contacts between Cubans and Americans and the continued lobbying for stronger economic and political ties will help counter the impact of Trump’s change in course. Still, the loss of momentum denies the U.S. an opportunity to expand the ideal of American democracy across the region. And it denies Florida the fullest potential of a new and emerging market only 90 miles from its shore. It’s time both countries realize what their own citizens see — that closer ties benefit both sides.

A Matter of Opinion

Not to knock housewives from Utah, except for Ms. Foster  who judges books by their title, or cover, or heaven knows, and pretty much killed sales of my CUBA book.  Maybe she thought it was a romance novel, or a cruise travel books with hints how to pour vodka into plastic water bottles and try to smuggle it on board, or how to travel around Cuba on $5 a day using US money, I don’t know.  I did do a little research on Amazon about her, her background, and what other books she had reviewed.  I promise, I did not judge her by her picture, nor that she reviewed the movie BAYWATCH and called it “A great movie!”  I’m sure if we’d met under different circumstances I would like her, which is the same way I felt about the woman who back ended my car, if you could forget about the damage.

I wrote this book primarily for the guests who travel with me on 10-day cruises around Cuba, so folks who’ve come to know Cuba.  I’ve never purchased my book on Amazon, but I have purchased a few hundred on Amazon’s Create Space company which I sell on board.  Uniformly the guests LOVE the book, judging it not just by the title or cover, but on the basis of their experiences in Cuba.

Ralph de la PortillaSo rather than just fret about Ms. Foster’s, in my humble opinion, warped review, I asked someone who really does know Cuba and know Cuba travel.  Ralph de la Portilla  describes himself as an “A B C” or an American-born Cuban.”  He is a professional travel guide, conducts gastronomic tours and other tours working with Little Havana Tours in Miami,  organizes group tours to Cuba, and has led tours for Collette, Classic Journeys and Road Scholar.  He holds a Master of Science degree from Florida International University School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

So here’s what Ralph had to say about the CUBA book …

Detrich’s publication on Cuba, “Cuba: A Guide For Cruising Around Cuba,” is required reading for the modern American traveler planning on visiting the island nation via cruise ship. It really is concise and delivers a realistic perspective of what one can expect of the ports of call that are frequented by cruise lines that circumnavigate the country. The book also offers a unique take on other destinations within Cuba that are certainly off the beaten path. The historical background and the various onshore activities are expertly delineated in this easy-to-read piece, and considering the fact that Cuba is one of the most complicated touristic destinations on Earth, it’s that simplicity which readers will truly appreciate.  Not just “worth-the-read,” but compulsory if considering a cruise to Cuba…

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!