In my last article I predicted that (1) Fidel Castro will not survive through the end of the year, due to his age and medical/surgical conditions. Also, (2) The Embargo will continue in place, while the Normalization process will move forward. More predictions: (3) The U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo will begin the process of closing this year. When the media speak about “closing the base,” they are almost always referring to only closing the prisons holding the Islamic P.O.W.’s from the wars (Crusades?) in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. President Obama made this promise to close the prisons while campaigning for President in 2008. After the prisoner issue is resolved, I predict he will transfer control of the naval station back to the government of Cuba before he steps down, in a similar way that President Carter transferred control of the Panama Canal back to the government of Panama
Before some of you get too agitated, consider that the base at Guantanamo has outlived its usefulness. Historically it was considered necessary for the navy to remain there, primarily because of its strategic position close to the Panama Canal. It was also considered critical to maintain control over Cuba just in case the Cubans decided to manifest their national dream of becoming an independent country. During World War II, it was an unheralded but strategic naval base where American ships were repaired, refitted, and resupplied. They were then sent to the North Atlantic to help defend the British and fight the Germans. My navy friends tell me that in today’s world, it is no longer strategic for many reasons. It is very costly for American taxpayers to maintain in an era of tight budgets. Today, its only apparent uses are to house the Islamic prisoners and to continue irritating the Castros.
(4) The number of Americans visiting Cuba this year will skyrocket, and so will the prices, due to supply and demand. Prices for existing tours have already increased significantly. President Obama’s announcement back on December 17th has resulted in many news stories (some of which are actually accurate). Americans are finally learning that they always could travel to Cuba legally, but many are shocked at the tour prices. There are several large tour companies that specialize in tours which are authorized by Specific Licenses. (These tours are expensive partly because the companies have to obtain and maintain these licenses, and keep informed about hundreds of pages of ever-changing travel regulations.)
(5) Even more Americans will travel to Cuba, because they will discover that they can (and always could) travel much more economically on their own and in smaller groups on General Licenses. GENERAL LICENSES ARE SELF-GENERATED, AND PERMISSION OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT IS NOT REQUIRED! THIS IS THE LAW! Individuals and groups can duplicate the itinerary of the larger tour companies, and travel for about half the price. They can stay at the same hotels, travel in the same modern air-conditioned buses, and have the came Cuban guides. Budget travelers can stay in casas particulares–bed-and-breakfast inns. The only significant requirement is that they not go as tourists. But they can go as researchers and research tourism, or any other topic. (One definition of “research” is to go somewhere, look at things, and talk to people.) The travelers in my groups research the Cuban health care system. I have also determined that it is impossible to understand the health care system without learning about other inter-related topics such as Cuba’s history, geography, economy, culture, music, tourism, the architecture, the mountains, the beaches, and anything else that is deemed relevant. In addition, my tours offer more authentic people-to-people contact, compared to tours by larger companies where the “people-to-people” Cubans have usually been pre-approved by the Cuban government. Once again, Go Figure! Don’t expect anything involving Cuba Travel and U.S.-Cuba relations to make any sense. If you are the type who insists that everything in life should be rational and logical, you will GO CRAZY!