When a catalogue offering a trip to Cuba showed up at our home, which coincided with my wife’s 60th birthday, we promptly signed up.
Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean. It contains about 109,820 sq km of land (making it the 106th largest country in the world) and is located between the Caribbean and the North Atlantic Sea, about 150 km South of Key West Florida. Regardless of its close proximity to us, the U.S. has prohibited most Americans from traveling there since 1960.
The US trade Embargo against Cuba, originally established in October, 1960, was purportedly in response to Cuba’s nationalization of properties of U.S. citizens and corporations. Because the embargo, in part, has restricted U.S. travel to Cuba, the island has remained an enigma to many Americans including my wife and me. We were therefore excited to have the opportunity to legally travel there. Our trip was made legal by an education exemption to the embargo put in place by the Obama administration in January, 2011. Taking advantage of that Education exemption, our group of fifteen traveled there under the auspices of the American Geographical Society.
The trip was intended to give us an inside look at this little known country, meet some of it’s people, be a memorable experience for my wife’s 60th birthday, and an unusual chance for me to try and understand our country’s embargo of this seemingly harmless country of 11,000,000 people.
My wife Jadwiga and I left Los Angeles on 11-4-2011, aboard American Airlines flight # 1520. We stayed the night in the Miami Airport International Hotel and the next morning we joined our fellow travelers and Dr. Joseph Scarpaci, our expert on Cuba and the author of several books on South America. In the morning, at 10:00 am, we flew to Havana on Delta Flight # 8876, arriving 45 minutes later.
During our eight days on the island I asked everyone I could about the embargo. Those that I talked with included a Cuban customs officer when we first arrived to Cuba (that caused a minor dust up at the airport), Dr. Juan Triana, former director of the Center for the Cuban Economy at the University of Havana, a your lady (Kelly), from the U.S. Interests Section (housed in the six story former U.S. embassy building that was opened in 1953 and last renovated in 1997). I also spoke with local guides, restaurant and hotel operators and workers, our fellow travelers and anybody else that spoke English.
I was surprised to find that virtually everybody I talked to had similar views of the embargo, that regardless if they were pro U.S. or pro Cuba, the embargo, now in its 49th year, hurt both the U.S. and Cuba.
The reasons I heard for keeping the embargo in place seemed to be that the politically aggressive anti-Castro Cubans in South Florida were more interested in hurting the Cuban government for its past sins of confiscating U.S. property without proper compensation and for the 1959 revolution, than helping America. I was also told the south Cuban Floridians had a lot of pull in our congress because of the importance of Florida’s 29 electoral votes in our presidential elections.
Others said that the Cuban government wanted the embargo to continue so it could blame the U.S. for all its ills including food and medicine shortages, disintegrating infrastructure, lack of housing and the poor shape of the Cuban economy.
Given what seemed rather thin reasons from all side for keeping the embargo in place, and given the facts that many Americans I talked to blamed the Cubans for the embargo, while the Cubans blamed the Americans, I decided to put together this timeline of the embargo, along with a bit of American and Cuban history, opinions, and related events, to see what facts, reasons or other areas of inquiry would surface.
Hopefully the work will also help others to focus on and better understand the embargo and question the forces and reasons behind it, given that at best, it may benefit a surprisingly small number of people.. Steven C. Markoff