Ken Hall: US travelers can still bring good will to Cuba

When we went to Cuba this winter, we flew from Miami on American Airlines to join a group tour, see some performances, meet some Cubans, stay at two very nice hotels and eat at a variety of restaurants.

Even though President Trump says he is imposing limitations on travel, if we decided to do it again, we could.

We might need to substitute one restaurant or hotel for another, but the kind of trip we took, the kind that accounted for the vast majority of American tourists we ran into, will continue with only minor changes.

So what was this all about?

It was the president’s sad attempt to do what he does best – increase hostility.

You could join another march in protest. Better yet, you could schedule a trip soon, meet some Cuban people and explain in person that we would much rather get to know our neighbors than fight with them.

When President Obama re-established diplomatic relations — better known as “normalization,” as opposed to Trump’s attempt at “abnormalization” — he made it possible for the cautiously adventurous traveler, people like us and a lot of others we know, to dip a toe into the Cuban experience.

A group tour of Cuba provides the same kind of comfort as a group tour of France or China or anywhere else.

The operator makes sure you get where you are going, reserves the rooms, arranges some of the meals and gives you a bit of free time to explore.

For all of the bluster about cracking down, those tours will not be affected, and any need to swap one forbidden location for a new approved one will be the responsibility of the tour organizer. We tourists will not be affected.

Those who find such tours with their schedules and bus trips stifling will still be able to do it on their own in Cuba, but it will take more work.

As the initial explanations put it, they will be asked more questions and have to “self-certify” that they did not stray.

I don’t know about you, but I’m always ready to self-certify that I have followed the rules.

If you go, no matter how, you will find that traveling in Cuba has limitations because of some things that did not change under the Obama approach and will not change now.

Our banks are not allowed to operate there, making your credit card worthless. Our phones do not work there, and the Internet will remind you of dial-up days.

A more open relationship between our two countries has not quickly improved communications or human rights in Cuba.

That does not surprise me, because it’s only been a few months, and changes take years.

But it also does not surprise me, because anyone who travels widely will learn that commerce and communication do not automatically bring more freedom.

In the past few years, I’ve been able to freely use my phone, my laptop and my ATM card in some countries around the world that are either near or below Cuba on those lists ranking nations by how much freedom their residents enjoy.

The difference when it comes to Cuba is the embargo, a failed 50-year attempt to impose democracy.

Today, all it does is impose restrictions on American travelers., June 26, 2017

This entry was posted in Exchanges. Bookmark the permalink.