Pope Francis has left The Island! His aircraft departed Santiago in eastern Cuba for Washington D.C., and landed just before 4pm Eastern time at Joint Base Andrews. The base is located several miles southeast of the White House. The Pope was personally greeted first by President Obama, his wife Michelle, their children, and his mother-in-law. There were also numerous other Catholic, political, and military officials. In the next few days his visit will require the most extensive, expensive, complicated, and restrictive security net in the history of the world. The variety and number of things that can go wrong are astronomical. I sincerely hope things go as smoothly for the Pope in America as it did in Cuba.
A lot of articles and broadcasts reported the events in the three cities of Havana, Holguín, and Santiago. Religion was mixed with international politics, and the historic events were seen live all over the world. I appreciated the historical significance of the Pope’s visit. But evtually I think the most significant long-term effects will be the acceleration of an already-growing tourism sector, due to wonderful publicity during the past four days. Many Americans apparently have now learned that Cubans are not only humans, but friendly humans. And some learned that the “little Caribbean island” is actually 750 miles long with a coastline longer than California’s.
I know many of you have already mentioned your fears of “American tourists ruining the country!” No worries. Cubans are thrilled with the rapid but erratic normalization process between their country and the U.S. I believe that most people against this process are now a relatively small percentage of hardliners in both countries. They are usually older, and they long for the “good old days.” Many are changing their minds, giving up, or dying off. However, those who are left have a disproportional amount of influence, power, and money, and it’s still possible that they could do something to derail normalization.
Those U.S. citizens who obsess about the “Americanization of Cuba” tend to forget that Cuba and its citizens are acutely and painfully aware of how much blood and treasure has been spent fighting complete control by the United States. But Cuba will welcome investment by Americans (especially Cuban-Americans) to help rebuild their country. It has been ravished by the twin disasters of a communist/socialist economy and an American embargo. Proponents of each side blame the other, unable to recognize that both were responsible.
Whether we like it or not, many more Americans will be visiting Cuba every year. A significant percentage of them will return on multiple trips. Even though it is still difficult right now for most large American businesses to invest, many Americans (including me) will continue to make personal micro-investments with individual Cubans. The cost of Cuba tours and the prices of Cuban real estate will likely continue to skyrocket. This will lead to more bed-and-breakfast inns being established as the prices of hotel rooms increase. Then more money will flow directly to individuals and less to the government. The next step would be to accelerate and expand this trend, while keeping taxes at a minimum. And eventually, perhaps Cuba might send economic advisers to the U.S. to help their northern neighbors rescue the American economy. If they do, I hope they charge us as much as they can get away with!
No worries–this will be all for the best. ¡Viva Cuba libre!