With all that is happening around the world, most events in Cuba have difficulty grabbing the headlines or even making the front page. Yes—Pope Benedict XVI recently visited Santiago and Havana. In fact, he was flying eastward from Mexico as our last travel group was flying west from Cuba. He obtained a promise from leader Raul Castro to make Good Friday a holiday in Cuba, but only for this year. It seems like little else was accomplished, except he was able to lecture Cuban leaders about human rights issues. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has again returned to Cuba for cancer treatment in what seems a hopeless attempt to prolong his life until the next elections in Venezuela. The governments of both Cuba and the U.S. continue to imprison citizens of each country under very questionable and mean-spirited circumstances. And Americans continue to visit Cuba in record numbers. This accelerating trend is unlikely to be reversed.
So what’s making the news today? The top ten stories about Cuba all have to do with what the new manager of the Miami Marlins baseball coach, Ozzie Guillen, said about Fidel Castro. Guillen expressed admiration for the Cuban former president, and started a firestorm of reaction in Miami’s Cuban exile community. There were protests, demonstrations, and demands that he be fired. Personally, I don’t care so much about what he or others think about Castro, but I am amazed at his gross stupidity and lack of sensitivity for unnecessarily making such comments. Of course he now claims he didn’t mean it. He has been suspended for five games, but I’ll bet he won’t finish the season as the Marlins’ coach.
Once again we see what seems to be a hypersensitive overreaction to the political situation in Cuba. As Americans, we constantly hear both positive and negative comments about President Obama, former President Bush etc., and many of us have begun to tune out, ignore the comments, and change the subject. I just want to warn my fellow Cuba travelers that you may be subject to fanatical comments from both sides if you mention that you are planning a trip to Cuba, or that you just returned from there. Just keep in mind that the fanatics are a minority, even in Miami. They have been able to demand a disproportional part of publicity regarding Cuban politics. So while there were demonstrations and picketing about the Marlins’ manager’s comments, I suspect that most Cuban exiles simply just thought to themselves, “What an idiot this guy is to say such a thing!,” and went on about their business. But if you only had a few minutes to see the evening news, you may think that every able-bodied Cuban-American in south Florida was out there on the picket lines. Like most Americans, they are far too busy just trying to survive in today’s economy.
As most of you know, our March Expedition just returned from Cuba. It was a fascinating and fun trip. Even though visitors from the U.S. represented only a tiny proportion of foreign travelers, it was apparent that there were a lot more Americans there than I’ve seen on past trips. In fact, the number has tripled this year over 2011, and it is expected to triple next year and each year into the future. This is definitely a wonderful time to visit.
The one thing that continues to stand out in our memories is the relative safety of the country and the genuine friendliness of its citizens. Since returning to the U.S., it is hard to ignore the lack of knowledge of our fellow Americans about Cuba. The incredible misconceptions of those who have never visited our Caribbean neighbor are difficult to accept. One of our travelers said that half her friends didn’t believe she really went to Cuba; the other half were continually worried about her safety! This was very humorous to those of us on the trip, but also very sad in many ways. Unlike in the past, the American government is now encouraging travel to Cuba, and has facilitated the licensing of groups to visit. It’s frustrating that more Americans don’t understand this concept, so they could take advantage of the many unique travel opportunities available today.