I want to visit Cuba. No, not because I’m a closet Communist admirer or that I think I would look good sporting the Che Guevara beret look. I want to go there because it’s only one of three Spanish speaking islands in the whole of the Caribbean. Because it was a place that Ernest Hemingway, one of my favorite authors, loved so. He lived outside of the capital city, Havana, for twenty years and only left after Fidel Castro nationalized American property there, thus forcing him to forever abandon his beloved Finca Vigia. I can witness Communist propaganda firsthand at Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, Vietnam (more commonly known as the Hanoi Hilton) and can stare at giant portraits of Chairman Mao in China, but as an American, I legally can’t drink a mojito along Havana’s malecon (seaside walk) or see the hill that Teddy Roosevelt and his band of “Rough Riders” so famously charged up during the Spanish-American War.
I was born 25 years after the United States embargo against Cuba was enacted. Twenty-six years later it’s still in effect and a half a century after it all began, Americans are still technically barred from traveling there. (I say technically because travel to Cuba by Americans is not prohibited, but it is illegal for them to have transactions there. When traveling one tends to have transactions.) The embargo was put into place as a means of helping to bring down Cuba’s totalitarian communist government. And yet it hasn’t after all this time.
Six years ago I almost had my chance to go to Cuba (legally that is). I was going to study abroad at the University of Havana through a program administered by an American-run study abroad organization with which my college was affiliated. But as luck would have it, a couple of months before I was set to apply, former President Bush shut down all educational programs in Cuba. So earnest college students like myself who were not even alive at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, who were only small children when the Soviet Union collapsed, are being affected by an outdated and useless embargo. Doesn’t being a global citizen mean not being restricted by one’s government on where they can and cannot travel? Doesn’t a democratic state mean making one’s own informed decisions, not being told on what you should think of another country’s people who have no control over the actions of their own government?
It’s not as if Cuba is like North Korea, a country that is shut off to the world, a country that purposely curtails tourism. Tourists from Canada, Spain, Britain, Germany all flock to Cuba. They visit places like Havava, Cienfuegos, and Matanzas. The American government has always claimed that the embargo was put into place to help the Cuban people, to help the country become a free and democratic state again. But after all this time, the embargo is what’s hurting and crippling the Cuban people the most. On a daily basis they go without items most people in the developed world take for granted such as toilet paper and light bulbs. The flight from Miami to Havana takes only thirty minutes. That close and it’s off limits. One can buy a guidebook to Cuba in bookstores like Borders and Barnes and Noble. We Americans can dream of visiting Cuba, or planning the perfect trip. We just can’t go there and it’s a deep shame.