Cuban chocolate is a very high standard chocolate that is widely used in Canada by professional bakers. The first cocoa plantations in Cuba were started by France in the 1650s in the Guantanamo region. As of today, this region in southeast Cuba is the same area where the majority of cocoa farming still occurs. Most of it is used for export.
Milton Hershey first visited Cuba in January 1916. He reportedly fell in love with the country at first sight. Hershey was excited by the huge sugar plantations in Cuba. In 1916 the world was battling in the Great War, and sugar, essential to milk chocolate production, was in short supply. During his first visit to Cuba, Milton Hershey decided to purchase sugar plantations and mills so that he could mill and refine his own sugar for use in his Hershey Chocolate Factory.
Museum of Chocolate
When you travel to Cuba, be sure to visit one of my favorite mini-museums: the tiny Museum of Chocolate in Old Havana. It offers a tour through the history of cacao, its harvesting, production and commercialization. Panels placed in the museum’s rooms exhibit texts with the history of chocolate from its discovery by the Spaniards in America. It was used by the native population before colonization. The display also has posters showing famous foreign and Cuban industries and enterprises related to chocolate.
Cuban Chocolate Art
The permanent exhibition presents a collection of china cups for chocolate, from the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Italy. There are many examples of a variety of domestic and religious designs from the 18th and 19th centuries. You can view a French bow cup used by men to drink the delicious liquid without wetting their moustaches. Bakelite molds and containers donated by the Royal Museum of the Real Square in Brussels enrich this collection. There are also ceramic chocolate cups, pots, containers and large English bowls found in archeological excavations in Old Havana.
Cuban Chocolate Munchies
Visitors can view demonstrations of techniques to manufacture candies, every Tuesday and Friday at 11:00am. The museum was once the home of the Count of Lagunilla. It was the starting point of the procession of the Holy Way of the Cross and now offers a journey through the history of cocoa cultivation, production and marketing. The Museum of Chocolate is located on Mercaderes Street, just a three-minute walk south from the Hotel Ambos Mundos.
President Donald Trump today made a stunning speech in Little Havana (Miami) regarding changes in policies involving Americans traveling to Cuba. I believe he fully met his goal of fulfilling his campaign promise to a relatively small minority of Cuban-Americans in south Florida. President Trump can now check another box on his list of completed campaign promises.
If you were not paying close attention, it would be easy to assume that legal travel to Cuba has now been shut down. In reality, the new guidelines will have minimum effect on the logistics of travel. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), a division of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, has already published an update (link below). People-to-People group travel to Cuba will continue to be allowed, and actually encouraged. Individual travel may now be technically illegal, but keep in mind that just two travelers can still constitute a “Group.”
In my opinion, the most serious fallout from President Trump’s speech will be the PERCEPTION that it will be more difficult to visit Cuba. This is why it is more important than ever for travel specialists to continue to educate and inform Americans about this situation.
We must continue to emphasize that Cuba is a beautiful, friendly, and safe country to visit. Cubans love Americans and American culture. Cuba is a kid-friendly country that is ideal for family educational experiences. Regardless of how some Americans might feel about its government, Cuba continues to sign trade deals with some of the most conservative governors and congressmen in the U.S.
We salute President Trump for following through on his campaign promise, while allowing legal travel to Cuba to continue. Thank you, Mr. President!
Most of you have heard about the National Health Care System of Cuba. It is difficult to find totally unbiased articles about it. Just like with the U.S. system—you can pick articles to “prove” that each system is wonderful, and you can pick articles to show that each is terrible. On our expeditions for health care professionals, we discuss the pro’s and con’s of health care in Cuba. We attend presentations with a representative from the Ministry of Health. On past trips, these representatives—usually physicians—have openly pointed out their success and failures. Many have visited the United States and attended conferences. They would like easier access to medical information from the U.S. They are also amazed at the cost of health care per person in America, especially when so many here have no regular health care at all.
Cuban health care is focused on prevention. For example, a pregnant Cuban woman will see her family physician 8-10 times during her pregnancy. Also, 99.9% of Cuban women deliver in hospitals. (The other 0.1% deliver on the way to the hospital.) The Ministry of Health simply does not want to take a chance on dealing with complicated deliveries outside of a hospital.
On the other hand, there are some situations that make visitors cringe. For example, the families of patients sometimes have to bring their loved ones linen and food to the hospital. It is not mandatory, but if the hospital is simply short of supplies for whatever reason, this is the way an immediate need is met. The hospital staff feel terrible about these situations, but they do the best they can.
Cuban health care is a very complicated subject. Cuban medical personnel want to learn more from institutions in the United States. They also provide visitors acceptable health care in designated hospitals. They provide specialized health care for patients from other countries. Cuba also sends thousands of health professionals yearly to other nations in exchange for hard currency or discounted petroleum products.
In my opinion, one of the fastest-growing sectors in the next five years will be “Health Tourism” for Americans. Currently, numerous cash-paying U.S. citizens travel half-way around the world for specialized treatment and surgeries in countries such as India, Thailand, and The Philippines. Cuba is much closer, American culture is very familiar, and the quality of care for visitors is high. Yet, relatively few Americans have traveled to Cuba for health care in the past, because most did not realize that it would have been perfectly legal to do so. (Travelers always could have gone to “Support the Cuban People” by paying cash for health care.)
Below are links to a variety of recent articles about health care in Cuba.
President Trump just announced today that the U.S. will withdraw from the environmental Paris Agreement on Climate Change, signed by over 190 countries. We will now join that elite group of nations who rejected this agreement: Syria and Nicaragua. This brings to mind the U.N. Resolution to end the U.S. Embargo of Cuba, which for the past few decades has been supported every year by most the nations of the world, except for the U.S. and Israel. (Israel voted against it, even though individual Israelis have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Cuba.)
In many ways, it is admirable for our president to follow through on campaign promises—even if it was promised to a limited group that is only a small fraction of the general population. It has been reported that our president really enjoys checking a box on his list of campaign promises. However, extreme loyalty has its limits.
Apparently Cuba is next on the list. Last summer, President Trump promised a relatively small group of Cuban-Americans in Miami that he would reverse President Obama’s policies, which had resulted in the beginning of the Normalization process. I doubt that President Trump realized that the majority of Cuban-Americans in south Florida, and at least 80% of those younger than 50 years old, now want the path to Normalization to continue.
In the last couple of days, many articles have been written about this subject. As usual with articles about Cuba, projections and opinions are all over the place. Some writers expect nothing to change, while others predict a complete reversal of President Obama’s policies.
My prediction is that President Trump will propose a minor, almost insignificant change that will sound like a big deal. An example might be: limiting the amount of rum and cigars that American visitors can bring back. In the 90’s, the amount of each product brought back was limited. Under President Bush, it was completely prohibited (although most of us who traveled during that time ignored this restriction). Under President Obama, the government graciously allowed up to $100 worth of cigars and rum to be brought back legally, so we ignored the new regulation. I remember seeing Cuban cigar salesmen in Havana giving out hand-written receipts for “$100 for cigars” after selling products worth ten times that amount to American tourists. Later on in this process, the $100 “limit” was abolished, so that currently there is no limit to the value of products for personal consumption.
I suggest President Trump re-establish the limit of $100. That way he can fulfill his promise to the relatively small group of Cuban-Americans opposed to Normalization. He will be their hero. He can have a well-publicized press conference in Miami, making the announcement on live television that he has reversed yet another one of President Obama’s foolish policies. He can check the box on his list.
Meanwhile, visitors to Cuba will continue doing what they have done for decades—bring back whatever they want. It is even easier today, because customs forms have been eliminated in Miami and most other international airports. Cuba visitors no longer have to even declare what they are bringing back. It is such a relief to finally have a president who is looking out for the interests of EVERYBODY!
Even if President Trump cancels every element of President Obama’s path to Normalization, and if he goes beyond that and re-establishes policies of the Bush Administration around 2004—AMERICANS WILL STILL BE ABLE TO LEGALLY TRAVEL TO CUBA ON A GENERAL LICENSE! Just as today, they will have to affirm that they will not be tourists, and they have a purpose to visit Cuba. This is not difficult to do. Most tourists do not like being called “tourists” anyway. And if none of the other 12 categories of General Licensed Cuba travel fit their situations, the category “Support for the Cuban People” applies to EVERYBODY—even children! (Cuba is a wonderful, safe, kid-friendly place for family vacations.)
In conclusion, I am positive that President Trump will not do anything significant that will make travel to Cuba more difficult. Unfortunately, I also believe that anything he does will unnecessarily scare significant numbers of visitors into cancelling their Cuba travel plans. This will be compounded by yet another unexplainable factor: although Spirit, Frontier, and Silver Airlines have discontinued flights to Cuba, the remaining U.S. airlines providing direct service (American, Alaska, United, Southwest, Delta, and JetBlue) have Cuba Travel pages on their websites that are confusing, unhelpful, and hard-to-find. Customer service over the telephone is also unacceptable. The representatives are often confused and uninformed concerning regulations and policies regarding flights to Cuba. I am sure this results in many travelers becoming frustrated. Eventually many will change their plans.
Now, more than ever, is a great time to visit Cuba, especially for Americans. It will be nice for a change to get away and spend some time in a safe country with a stable federal government.
In spite of the rapid changes in modern Cuban society in the last few years, questionable articles continue to be written by those who have never been to Cuba. In this era of fake news and alternate facts, it is no longer surprising to read about “widespread religious persecution” in that country. Just keep in mind that if a Cuban commits a crime, such as stealing a truck, and is then sent to prison, he may claim he was jailed because of “religious persecution.” Then his relatives (who may believe him) write to family members in Miami. Soon there will appear articles written and distributed in the American media about “political repression” and “religious intolerance” in Cuba. I am not claiming this happens in every instance, but I think it is important to be suspicious about such articles.
About 10 years ago I visited Cuba with a mixed group of travelers, including fundamentalist Christians, who brought boxes of Bibles to organizations in Cuba. These bibles came through customs unimpeded. They were later openly distributed to Cuban citizens without incident. Since then, religions in Cuba have continued to make big comebacks. Remember, three different Popes have visited Cuba in the last 20 years. Pope John Paul made the first papal visit in January of 1998. Pope Benedict XVI arrived in March of 2012. Pope Francis visited in September of 2015, almost a year after the Normalization process began between the US and Cuban governments. Pope Francis and Havana’s Cardinal Ortega were instrumental in these secret negotiations with the United States. So does it seem logical that the Cuban government is now imprisoning priests from all over the island for no reason?
By the way, I want to mention that we will be starting our Catholic Culture Expeditions to Cuba beginning July 8. In most situations, groups will consist of members of the same parish, along with their priest. We are really excited about these programs. For more information, visit “Tours/Our Tours” on this website.
To read more about the current situation of religion, read “What’s the state of the Church in Cuba?” in today’s Catholic News Agency periodical. Click on the link below: