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.

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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Apple Cider Time

It’s hard to believe that it’s September … almost … and Fall is here.  Of course in tropical Panama it is Paradise  year-round, so no colored leaves and no fresh apple cider.  No place is perfect.  But, in Panama there’s also no cold weather, no slush, no snow, and in Boquete at least a perfect temperature with no heat or air conditioning, so no exorbitant electric and gas bills.

For me this 4th Quarter is shaping up to be a busy time, with lots of fall color and apple cider, and adventures to beautiful and some exotic places in the Americas.

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It’s back on the 200-passenger, little ship that I think of a “my yacht with a few friends” sailing along the St Lawrence Seaway in Canada, then “Down East” to New England enjoying the spectacular fall foliage.  I did these cruises on PEARL MIST with Pearl Seas Cruises last year and loved it!

queen-of-the-west-columbiaThen, still in that colorful fall foliage mode, something new for me, the Columbia & Snake Rivers in Washington and Oregon on American Cruise Line’s paddle wheel boat QUEEN OF THE WEST.    Pearl Cruises is a sister company of American Cruise Lines.  Since my daughters went to Willamette and the University of Puget Sound we spent some time around Portland, and went out to see Multnomah Falls, and I’ve always wanted to cruise the Columbia River up through the Columbia River Gorge area. So that should definitely be exciting!

300px-lewis_and_clark-expeditionSince we’ll be following many of the footsteps of Lewis & Clark I got to do something I’ve always wanted to do, research the Corps of Discovery and the journey of Lewis & Clark and put it together in a lecture.  Can’t wait to give it!

Then I’ve got a week vacation … understand the rest of this is all work … in Seattle with my daughter & her family.  The highlight of that is that I get to take my grand kids trick or treating!

Then it’s fly back to dear old Ft. Lauderdale, to get back on “my yacht” … and it really does feel that way, not just for me but for every guest on board.  It’s all-inclusive, the service is personal and superb, there is never a line and it’s comfortable and gracious. Staterooms all have private balconies, food is great,  guests are well-educated and well-traveled and interesting folks.  And with only 200 people on board I get to know the guests, so it’s fun.  So back to Ft. Lauderdale and back to Cuba on PEARL MIST.

dsc_0334I admit it was a little dicey there with Trump promising to scratch Obama’s executive order that made these Cuba cruises possible.  Thankfully, although Trump cancelled Obama’s policy and instituted Trump’s police, it turned out that Trump’s is the same as Obama’s, just basically a different name.  Whatever.  Cuba was great this past Spring and I’m eager to be back again.  If you haven’t been to Cuba you must go!  And go now before the giant ships turn it into another Nassau, St Martin, or St Thomas.

dsc_0299So it’s been hectic putting all of this together but it is, as they say, “in the can” and ready to go.  Then it’s home for Christmas & New Years, and likely back to sea again for the first months of 2018.

As you, hopefully, know our beautiful home and little coffee farm is for sale.  Since I’ve written the book ESCAPE TO PARADISE about moving to Panama, people always want to know why?  Isn’t Panama paradise?  Don’t you already have the ideal retirement?  And, “yes” to both questions.  However, as I plunge into the “Fourth Quarter” and I have all these opportunities, I want to see as much of the world as possible.  I thought, I think correctly, that it was a good idea to stick close to home this summer, hence Canada, New England, the Pacific Northwest and Cuba.  But things will change: they always do.  The ships will be back in the Holy Land, Egypt, the Black Sea, the Med, Asia, and I want to go.  With the amount of time I can travel, I want to be able to lock and leave, and I want my wife, Nikki, to be able to come along.  All of that means that after 13 years its time to downsize and move on to our next adventure.  Whether that will be in Panama, the States, or somewhere else remains to be seen.  Stay tuned!  In the meantime, help me find the right folks to take over our beautiful Paradise in Panama.

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