Tag Archives: Cuba

The United States to Normalize Cuban Relations after Nearly 60 Years

The other day it was announced that after the United States would seek to normalize relations with Cuba after nearly 60 years of trade embargoes and other restrictions that have made it difficult for the average American to travel to the nation 90 miles south of Florida.

The closest I ever came to visiting Cuba was on a cruise ship in the late 80’s when the ship was heading back towards Miami from the U.S. Virgin Islands. As we approached the island the captain made an announcement along the lines of if you look out to our starboard side you will see Cuba.

I recall that the island was covered in a sort of rainy haze which made it both intriguing and beckoning at the same time. I also remember briefly thinking that I hoped the captain did not drift into Cuban waters by mistake and lead to an international incident.

Stories of the pre Cuban Missile Crisis and Bay of Pigs Cuba have always fascinated me. I was not alive during the tense days when the U.S. Naval blockade was in place to keep Russian ships from supplying missiles to the island so it is likely that my opinion towards Cuba may be different if I had lived through those tense days that almost led to World War III.

Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba is where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. Photo R. Anderson

Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba is where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.
Photo R. Anderson

Instead, for me Cuba represents a land where Earnest Hemingway and other figures spent their days fishing and their nights in smoke filled rooms, or crowded ballparks enjoying the freshest of Cuban cuisine and culture while getting from point A to point B in various cars from Detroit.

I guess one could say I want to experience the vision of Cuba that I have in my head. I want to sit and watch a baseball game played in a ballpark where the air and the accents are both thick and rich with history.

I want to sit in a road side cafe and eat my weight in Cuban pork and plantains while watching the hustle and bustle along the street.

I want to visit Finca Vigia, Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.

I want to see those old cars that were on the road when Hemingway walked the streets and are still being driven today due to the ingenuity of the Cuban people to keep those cars roadworthy for all these years.

I had always held out hope that the embargo would be lifted during my lifetime so that I could visit all of the sights and sounds of the island mentioned above and now it appears to be the case.

Of course normalizing relations with Cuba, and opening up a United States Embassy on the island, takes time and certain travel restrictions will still be in place for the foreseeable future so a trip to ring in the new year on Cuban soil is out of the question at this time. But it does seem closer to becoming a reality today than it did before the President’s announcement.

Cuban cigars that were once traded on the black market due to sanctions against Cuba will soon be available without fear of prosecution.  Photo R. Anderson. Photo R. Anderson

Cuban cigars that were once traded on the black market due to sanctions against Cuba will soon be available without fear of prosecution.
Photo R. Anderson.

Make no mistake there are serious issues that still need to be resolved in Cuba and lifting an embargo that was either effective, or ineffective, depending on what side of the fence you are on, is merely the first of many steps.

The news of normalized relations was met with both elation and protests within the Cuban American communities of Florida.

Throughout the embargo many people have risked their lives to escape Cuba and build a better life for themselves and their families in America. Countless more lost their lives making the journey or were intercepted and sent back to Cuba.

The issues that led to those harrowing water crossings will not change overnight and should not be forgotten. But, normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States could lead to grass roots changes that take shape in the decades to come.

Another huge issue with the announcement that has yet to be fully fleshed out as a result of the open relations with Cuba is the impact on Major League Baseball.

Shortly after the President announced the change in posture with Cuba, Major League Baseball issued a statement of its own stating in part that they were actively monitoring the situation and would respond when appropriate.

Just as I am sure there are regular citizens on both sides of the issue of opening relations with Cuba I am sure there are people in the ranks of baseball that are on both sides of the issue as well Cuban.

The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team in 40 years to play a game in Cuba in 1999. With normalized relations with Cuba coming it is likely one will not need to wait another 40 years for another game in Cuba involving MLB teams. Photo R. Anderson

The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team in 40 years to play a game in Cuba in 1999. With normalized relations with Cuba coming it is likely one will not need to wait another 40 years for another game in Cuba involving MLB teams.
Photo R. Anderson

For years baseball players from Cuba have risked their lives and left their families behind defecting in hope of finding greener pastures elsewhere. And while it has become easier for MLB teams to sign Cuban player over the past couple of years there are still hurdles that only impact Cuban players.

It is entirely possible with the normalized relations that Major League Baseball teams will set up academies in Cuba similar to the ones that are in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other countries to evaluate international talent.

Major League Baseball has a history in Cuba with the Giants, Dodgers and Pirates all having held their Spring Training camps in Havana at one time or another. Additionally, the Havana Sugar Kings were the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds from 1954 to 1960.

After a 40-year absence Major League Baseball made a brief return to Cuba in 1999 when the Baltimore Orioles and the Cuban national team played an exhibition game in the Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana. The Orioles won 3-2 in 11 innings.

With many issues left to resolve it will likely be years before the floodgates open wide to Cuban players leading to additional competition to be one of only 1200 players to be on one of the 30 Major League Baseball teams’ roster.

Realistically in the near term, it will be far more likely that one will still need to travel to Cuba to see a roster filled with Cuban baseball players. A day will likely come though when almost every team in the Major Leagues has some sort of Cuban influence.

Of course the Cuban influence I would most like to see return to American Ballparks is some good quality Cuban pork. Are you listening Minute Maid Park?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to try and find an authentic Cuban sandwich.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Cuba Home to Old Cars and Pet Pelicans Among Other Things

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with the idea of visiting Cuba.

Of course, with all of the travel restrictions and trade embargoes in place traveling to Cuba is not really an option for me at the moment.

The closest I ever came to visiting Cuba was on a cruise ship in the late 80’s when the ship was heading back towards Miami from the U.S. Virgin Islands. As we approached the island the captain made an announcement along the lines of if you look out to our starboard side you will see Cuba.

I recall that the island was covered in a sort of rainy haze which made it both intriguing and beckoning at the same time. I also remember briefly thinking that I hoped the captain did not drift into Cuban waters by mistake and lead to an international incident.

In the end we passed without incident and as Cuba got smaller and smaller on the horizon behind us I was even more convinced than ever that I wanted to one day step foot on that mysterious rock.

Stories of the pre Cuban Missile Crisis and Bay of Pigs Cuba have always fascinated me. I was not alive during the tense days when the U.S. Naval blockade was in place to keep Russian ships from supplying missiles to the island so it is likely that my opinion towards Cuba may be different if I had lived through those tense days that almost led to World War III.

Bell tolling books

Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba is where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.
Photo R. Anderson

Instead, to me Cuba represents a land where Earnest Hemingway and other figures spent their days fishing and their nights in smokey rooms, or crowded ballparks enjoying the freshest of Cuban cuisine and culture while getting from point A to point B in various cars from Detroit.

I guess one could say I want to experience the vision of Cuba that I have in my head. I want to sit and watch a baseball game played in a ballpark where the air and the accents are both thick and rich with history.

I want to sit in a road side cafe and eat my weight in Cuban pork and plantains while watching the hustle and bustle along the street.

I want to visit Finca Vigia, Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.

I want to see those old cars that were on the road when Hemingway walked the streets and are still being driven today due to the ingenuity of the Cuban people to keep those cars roadworthy for all these years.

I want to tour a cigar factory and see people using the same hand rolling techniques that their great great great grandfathers used.

I want to do all of these things and more in Cuba but sadly under the current rules of travel that is not an option for me at the moment.

Our friends north of the border in Canada can come and go as they please to Havana but for those with America stamped on the cover page of their passports it is a different story.

Of course, I certainly hope to get to visit Cuba without having to become a Canadian citizen first and feel that I will get a chance in my lifetime to do so.

While I have many things on my list to see when I do get to Cuba, there was another item that I heard about that also seems worth checking out on the island 90 miles away from Florida.

I recently learned that there is a family in Cuba with a pet pelican named Pancho. When I saw the pelican above in St. Petersburg a few years back it never occurred to me that pelicans would make a good pet. Photo R. Anderson

I recently learned that there is a family in Cuba with a pet pelican named Pancho. When I saw the pelican above in St. Petersburg a few years back it never occurred to me that pelicans would make a good pet.
Photo R. Anderson

I am of course talking about Pancho the pet pelican.

There was a story in USA Today about Pancho, a pelican that wanders the streets of Havana with his owner who nursed him back to health.

Now, before I saw the story I had never even considered the idea of having a pelican as a pet.

I am a huge fan of pelicans and I love to watch them fly and do their pelican thing but never once in my wildest dreams would I have thought that a pelican would follow me around without me having to carry a fish to lure him.

So while conditions in Cuba and the surrounding political system may not be the best for individual freedoms I think that a country that allows its citizens to have pet pelicans cannot be all bad.

Okay, let me clarify before I get angry cards and letters that I am in no way endorsing communism as a preferred form of government over democracy. I am merely stating that I think it is pretty cool that there are people in Cuba with pet pelicans regardless of what form of government they live under.

When I lived in Florida I had many friends from Cuba who told me first hand of the atrocities that they had witnessed under Fidel Castro so I know that it is not all pet pelicans and sunshine.

These atrocities are one of the reasons why so many people continue to flee the island for a chance at a better life filled with more freedoms and other opportunities that they cannot have in Cuba.

But from a pure coolness factor of walking around with a pet pelican one has to give the nod to Havana.

And while we are giving people nods and shout outs one cannot forget Diana Nyad who at age 64 recently became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective cage, hitting dry land on a Key West beach nearly 53 hours after jumping into the ocean in Havana for her fifth try in 35 years.

While I am not a smoker I do collect cigar boxes and ones marked "Havana" always seem to be a bit more special. Photo R. Anderson

While I am not a smoker I do collect cigar boxes and ones marked “Havana” always seem to be a bit more special.
Photo R. Anderson

So I guess it was reading about that historic swim as well as Pancho that had me longing once more for a visit to Cuba. Of course, another reason for my renewed quest is the fact that I have been craving some really good Cuban food lately.

And it should not really shock anyone that Texas is not really a hotbed of Cuban Cuisine so the choices here are certainly limited.

So, I will continue to plan things to see and do in Cuba while I wait for the travel restrictions to be lifted and for the opportunity to present itself for me to be free to move about the country.

After all, why should the Canadians have all of the fun, eh?

Now if you’ll excuse me all of this talk about Cuban food has made me a bit hungry.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson