My travel-bud Roland loves Cuba. He's been there three times and every time I bring up some groovy place for us to go, like Myanmar, Madagascar, Mali or Albania he always starts in with how amazing Cuba is. I'm hearing the same thing from one of my neighbors who's working on a movie soundtrack there. But I've never gone. I want to... but I never quite got around to it. I have a feeling it's all greasy food fried in deadly oils and pork and no fresh fruits and veggies like I like to eat. But I was still excited today when I read about New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's trip to Cuba. He said he's for "enhanced tourism travel for Americans." I think most Americans would agree.
But, as a nation, we've long ago ceded our foreign policy in regard to Cuba to a few wealthy gangster families of former Batista operatives and their allies.
"I'm not an envoy of the (Obama) administration. I'm carrying no message. I'm here as a governor seeking agricultural trade," he said.
"Obviously I do plan to submit my impressions to the administration after I conclude," he said. "I will do that as a citizen and as a governor. They're my impressions alone."
As a congressman, Richardson secured the release of three Cuban political prisoners during talks with then-President Fidel Castro in Havana in 1996. As U.N. ambassador in 1997, he held talks on terrorism with then-Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina.
Richardson supported Obama's declaration during last year's U.S. presidential campaign that he would be open to meeting current President Raul Castro without preconditions. The governor also has opposed lifting the U.S. embargo, while advocating negotiations with Cuba to promote human rights.
The Obama administration has relaxed restrictions on Cuban Americans' travel and money transfers to family on the island. Most U.S. citizens cannot visit-- technically, the U.S. Treasury Department bars them from spending money in Cuba-- in tandem with the U.S. embargo imposed in 1962 to weaken Cuba's Communist government.
The U.S. and Cuba also are resuming talks on migration and direct mail, but they have sparred over a U.S. suggestion that Havana release its political prisoners. Cuba insists that any dialogue have no preconditions.
Roland uses the Lonely Planet Cuba Country Guide but for a little context it's also important to read Reese Erlich's book Dateline Havana: The Real Story of U.S. Policy And The Future of Cuba. So will we all be allowed to go there? Obama doesn't seem to have much backbone when it comes to standing up to the extreme right-- and he does have a lot on his plate before addressing a problem that's extremely important to one small segment of a powerful special interest. By more and more forces are lining up for a liberalization-- and a normalization-- of relations between a country 90 miles from Florida. I suspect if Obama is re-elected, he'll deal with it then. Meanwhile, a broad bipartisan coalition in Congress seems to be pushing for a quicker timetable.
CUBA UPDATE... From Afghanistan
The aforementioned Reese Erlich wrote me from Kabul, where he's working, to let me know that "Cuba has lots of healthy, fresh vegetables and yummy fruits, not to mention rum with which to mix the fruit." I'll keep it in mind!
And an update from the U.S. Treasury Department: Change we CAN Believe in! Some concrete first steps towards normalization.