So you’ve always wanted to visit Cuba but never got around to it, right? Well, now that President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro are making nice with each other, one would expect Americans, who have been locked out of the largest country in the Caribbean for over 50 years, to be going back in droves. And once they do, all prices will soar. It’s an unshakable phenomenon.
At present, Canadians make about one million trips to Cuba each year, accounting for 30 to 40 per cent of that nation’s tourism. The rest is made up of Europeans (mostly Brits, Italians, Spaniards, and Germans). With Havana only 200 miles from Miami and 90 from Key West, even weekend trips to stock up on real cigars and rum will be practicable for Americans.
Sounds like a probable scenario. But just hold on, there’s a long way to go before weekenders will be making such trips. Just because President Obama announced this dramatic shift in American foreign policy doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk.
This coming January, the prez will be forced to deal with a Republican Senate as well as a Republican House of Representatives, and Republicans are mad as hell that he outmanoeuvred them on immigration reform and the introduction of Obamacare, a toxic political issue that most Americans would like to see scrubbed: 52 per cent opposed vs. 38 per cent in favour, according to an averaging of all major polls. Moreover, there are many Democrats who side with the Republicans against any lifting of the trade and travel embargo against Cuba. This is shaping up to be a long and dirty fight.
Even Marco Rubio—the junior senator from Florida, who has ambitions leading to the White House and whose parents left Cuba to settle in Florida in 1956—savaged Obama’s plan, considering it a betrayal of the Cuban people who fought and died (many in the Florida Straits) to re-establish democracy in their country. On the other hand, there are the supporters of the Obama initiative who say—with some justification—that the embargo has done little to shake out the Castro brothers and has only succeeded in keeping ordinary Cubans ordinary.
That Cuba and the US will in time normalize relationships is likely. But not while there are still many Cubans whose families and friends (most in Miami and also in Union City, New Jersey) remember the Bay of Pigs and the ordeal of crossing the Florida Straits in rafts.
In the meantime, Canadians and Europeans should take advantage of what Cuba has to offer at a price they can still afford. The rum isn’t bad either.