Maggie Alarcón

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Ya es hora

In Blockade, Cuba/US, Cuban Embargo, Travel, US on October 21, 2015 at 2:59 pm

hourglass

 

Margarita Alarcón Perea

 

Era de esperar, la Habana lentamente se vuelve el lugar del momento en este hemisferio. Al igual que el ritmo de las olas de los mares, la Habana es un contínuum, un todo compuesto de muchos momentos en la historia; juega un papel – similar al de un actor – con el fin de entretener, hacer un planteamiento y crear una ilusión a la vez que permanece inmóvil.

En este caso la ilusión ha sido creada por personas que están bajo la impresión de que las cosas en la isla mágicamente han cambiado luego de los sucesos del 17 de diciembre de 2014 y que esa es la razón por la cual tantos vienen de visita a la isla.

Semanalmente desde principios de este año 2015, desde que se produjeron las primeras rondas de conversaciones bilaterales, miembros del cuerpo de la prensa, del Congreso, del Senado, a distintos niveles de gobierno, de las artes, el mundo de la ciencia, intelectuales, hombres y mujeres de negocio andan por toda la ciudad contemplándola boquiabiertos en un estado absoluto de fascinación.

Esto no debería sorprender a nadie. Era de esperar. La Habana históricamente ha sido un lugar mágico desde la época de Humphrey Bogart y Lauren Bacall o cuando el Buick del 56¨ era el carro del año. Por tanto, ahora que está en boga y resulta tan fácil llegarse a Cuba, ¿por qué no hacerlo?

No quiero que me malinterpreten. Estoy feliz de que tantos procedentes de los EEUU estén dando esos primeros pasos y se anden montando en aviones y viniendo de visita. Lo que me resulta simpático es como todos creen que ahora de repente “no hay problemas” con venir cuando lo único que ha cambiado en la isla es que la bandera estadounidense ondea delante del Malecón habanero luego de 56 años de ausencia. ¡Eso es todo! En lo que a lo demás respecta, el cuartico está igualito!

Así que recomiendo que la próxima vez que se pregunten algo respecto a Cuba y la Habana, no se vayan pensando que las cosas han cambiado en la isla y que es por eso que ahora pueden viajar de visita libremente y ver por uno mismo.

No estaría mal que se aseguren que en los próximos 15 meses se den pasos para garantizar que esos viajes puedan continuar, digamos que hacienda algo como eliminar el bloqueo estadounidense contra Cuba, ¿no creen que ya sea hora?

El tiempo pasa….

Los cambios en Cuba y los “peros” de EEUU

In CAFE, Cuba/US, Travel, US on January 20, 2013 at 9:32 am

 

Por Fernando Ravsberg

Tomado del sitio Cartas desde Cuba

 

El presidente Barack Obama acaba de anunciar que permitirá a los ciudadanos estadounidenses viajar libremente a Cuba. La medida fue adoptada en respuesta a la apertura migratoria masiva decretada por La Habana a partir del pasado 14 de enero.

En realidad la noticia no es cierta pero bien podría serlo si existieran intentos serios de acercamiento. No sería una mala política dar pasos simultáneos, sobre todo porque ya se ha demostrado que exigírselo solo a una parte no funciona.

Y si finalmente no se logra un entendimiento, por lo menos ganarían los 2 pueblos, el cubano que ya tiene derecho de viajar al extranjero y los estadounidenses que podrían recuperar la libertad de visitar Cuba sin tener que pedir permiso a Washington.

En pocos países unos y otros están tan tranquilos. Culturalmente Miami es casi una provincia de la isla, donde los visitantes cubanos se sienten como en casa, mientras Cuba se ha convertido en uno de los países más seguros para los ciudadanos de los EEUU.

A pesar del histórico enfrentamiento político bilateral, en la isla no existen los sentimientos anti estadounidenses que abundan en otros países del mundo. Los “yumas” son tratados con cordialidad y pueden pasearse por las calles sin el menor temor.

La llegada de John Kerry al Departamento de Estado podría ser un buen presagio. Aseguran que este político estadounidense, excombatiente de Vietnam, fue uno de los promotores de la normalización del restablecimiento de las relaciones con esa nación asiática.

En el caso de Cuba solicitó investigaciones sobre los fondos que Washington entrega a los exiliados cubanos para derrocar a Raúl Castro. Se atrevió incluso a cuestionar el presupuesto millonario que gasta TV Martí, una emisora que nadie ve en la isla.

Me imagino que no se trata de que Kerry apoye el socialismo cubano sino de que le duele que se gasten tantos recursos del bolsillo del contribuyente en programas que producen los efectos contrarios a los que en realidad pretende Washington.

Difícilmente la visita de un par de jubilados estadounidenses a Cuba provocará un alzamiento pero puede contribuir a una ampliación de debate interno.Al parecer, el Senador Demócrata cree que el aislamiento no es una herramienta eficaz para lograr cambios en la isla. Por el contrario, considera que la visita de millones de estadounidenses podría provocar a la larga una mayor apertura.

Es difícil saber si tiene razón pero, tras 50 años de fracasos, no vendría mal probar nuevos métodos. Yo realmente no creo que los turistas gringos sirvan para hacer proselitismo político pero el fin de la agresividad externa ampliaría el debate interno.

Sin dudas, el enfrentamiento con EEUU es uno de los factores que más estanca ese debate. Pocos en Cuba están dispuestos a sumarse a las posiciones de Washington, algunos para no ser acusados de mercenarios pero otros por puro nacionalismo.

La Revolución Cubana no es la causa sino el resultado de las políticas de Washington en Cuba durante siglos: de “la fruta madura”, de la exclusión de los mambises de la declaración de independencia, de la enmienda Platt y de las invasiones militares.

Para limar estas asperezas hará falta mucho más que la visita de una pareja de jubilados de Michigan a La Habana. Será necesario irse aproximando paso a paso, cediendo un poco de cada parte, sin esperar que el otro sea el único que se acerque.

Cierto es que Obama eliminó las restricciones que su antecesor, George W. Bush, había aplicado a los viajes de los emigrados a la isla y también liberó el envío de remesas  pero ahí se ha quedado mientras la sociedad cubana sigue transformándose.

EEUU está perdiendo oportunidades, la apertura económica de Cuba –trabajadores autónomos, entrega de tierras, acceso de capitales extranjeros a la agricultura- merecía una respuesta que podría haber pasado por algún tipo de flexibilización del Embargo.

También la liberación masiva de presos políticos cubanos se quedó sin respuesta práctica por parte de Washington, a pesar de que la excarcelación de estos prisioneros fue durante años una de las principales exigencias públicas de la Casa Blanca.

Y ahora Victoria Nuland, portavoz del Departamento de Estado, se limita a reconocer que la reforma migratoria cubana es positiva pero inmediatamente la descalifica afirmando que “Cuba se mantiene como uno de los países más represivos del planeta”.

Cada nuevo cambio le resta argumentos a Washington en su enfrentamiento con La Habana. La llegada de Kerry podría traer pasos de acercamiento o, cuando menos, renovar la producción de “peros” para cuestionar las reformas con más originalidad.

Alas y Raíces

In CAFE, Cuba, Cuban Americans, History, Politics, Travel on October 17, 2012 at 11:04 am

Para Mirta Lavastida Fernández que concibió aves de vuelo con alas y raíces.

 

Margarita Alarcón Perea

 

En Cuba la generación nacida después del triunfo revolucionario de 1959 tiene una dicotomía emocional: fuimos educados por padres que tuvieron la posibilidad de vivir las dos Cuba, la del ayer traumático de la dictadura batistiana y la del futuro esperanzador de la revolución de Fidel Castro. Recuerdo que no había reunión en casa donde mis padres y sus amigos no rememoraran los años de la lucha, la vida de antes, las vicisitudes y sobre todo, lo mucho que había que hacer, y cuanta euforia sentían por el deseo de crear ese mundo nuevo en la isla.

Todo era válido. Niños y jóvenes instruyendo a los iletrados, 45 y más días en el campo, los trabajos voluntarios, la expo 67 Rampa arriba y Rampa abajo, hasta el corte de caña con todo y que la zafra de los 10 millones no resultara ser lo que se esperaba; no importaba, Cuba y su población isleña pasaban por alto los errores, se regocijaba en los éxitos y seguía adelante con un espíritu incalculable de solidaridad y amor casi que contagioso.

Esa fue la generación de nuestros padres, la que  de alguna manera nos inculcaron a nosotros, sus hijos, ese apasionamiento y esa electricidad de vida. La generación que le dijo adiós a padres, abuelos, tíos, hijos, amigos y mucho más. Pero fue también la generación que dejó atrás al parque de la primera patineta, al banco del primer beso;  la de los atardeceres de la añoranza. Fue una generación a ambos lados de un estrecho que cada vez se hacía más ancho, que aprendió  a la fuerza que las palabras “irse” y “quedarse” cobraban un significado mayor que la simpleza de movimiento, significaba una actitud ante la vida.

Y así fueron pasando los años y nosotros los nacidos de esa generación fuimos creciendo entre ese meollo de separación, incomprensión y distancia.  Pero nuestros padres fueron sabios, y la vida nuestra mejor escuela. Esos mismos que en ocasiones y por momentos nos fueron educando entre el “bien y el mal” de nuevo tipo, también evolucionaron para comprender que la distancia no es el olvido como ora la canción. Muchos, quizás motivados por nuestra misma existencia y nuestras inquietudes y nuestras ansias de isleños, fueron cambiando o despertando, o quizás simplemente confiando más. La distancia y la soledad se hacen más largas cuando uno las prolonga.  La nueva generación, heredera de la revolución, pronto aprendió, como les dijera Serrat a través de Machado, que el camino se hace al andar.

Ya,  por fin, se han levantado los miedos y los tapujos, ya por fin las puertas se han abierto y no se volverán a cerrar. Cual padre que ha educado bien a su hijo, llegó el día de entregarle las llaves de casa … y volverá.

The US embargo against Cuba is ridiculous … by gimleteye

In Architecture, Arts, Blockade, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban Americans, Cuban Embargo, Culture, Education, Environment, Politics, Travel, US on June 12, 2012 at 11:04 am

… by gimleteye

From  EYE ON MIAMI blog

 

I returned from Cuba yesterday to Miami, less than an hour and a world away. Although I am Anglo. I have lived in the shadow of Cuba for more than two decades.

In Miami, my experience of Cuba has been filtered through a career as a writer, an environmental leader and civic activist struggling against the values and political organization of Cuban American business interests, primarily tied to construction, development and sugar farmers who control politics in Miami and from that base, Florida, and from Florida, the nation.

What hasn’t changed, as a result of my week long cultural visit to the Havana Bienal, is my certainty that while the injuries and suffering of Cuban Americans who lost family, possessions, and their country during the revolution are real, the embargo against Cuba is a failure that serves no purpose.

Cubans know the embargo and its hardships have united their own state; defining hard-liners and moderates and serving to rationalize regional and superpower investments. But it is not fair to say that the embargo serves equal purposes in the United States and Cuba.

Since the late 1950s and the revolution and diaspora, the Florida economy has grown mightily. These decades created a class of Cuban American entrepreneurs and leaders whose power is rooted in Florida land speculation, the construction of suburbs and condominiums, and farmers using Everglades wetlands as their cesspits. Their control is vested through local zoning practices, transportation and national farming and environmental policies endorsed by Congress and the White House irrespective of party control.

Cuba, meanwhile, is a time capsule rooted in the 1950’s. Its significant achievements in universal health care and education are deservedly a matter of national pride. But nowhere on earth has a society been so deeply framed by economic strangulation. Perversely, what the embargo has accomplished is to save Havana (the only part of the nation, I visited on this trip) from Miami-style destruction.

Havana is in an exquisite state of decaying preservation; an oxymoron that also describes the embargo. Equisitely decaying yet existing in its own decay.

In Havana, rainstorms are claiming 18th and 19th century structures that are unfortified against the elements. At the same time as 1950’s era Detroit-made vehicles carry the city on their millionth mile, neighborhoods and houses built in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s exist as testament to entrepreneurial spirit, corruption, life, love and ideological blindness. It is all captured in Havana and suppressed in Miami.

Last week I wrote that the bandwidth for political dialogue is wider in Havana than it is in Miami. Cubans understand perfectly that Hialeah politics are organized around Castro as enemy and villain. They also understand how socialist politics uses Miami as its own bulwark. But in depth, Cubans have their own worries. They may not understand all the ulterior motives: how in the US the revenge motives against Castro empower those whose real purpose is to make money here — millions and billions — by wrecking environmental rules and regulations, controlling building and zoning that might otherwise inhibit platted subdivisions in West and South Miami Dade or restrict water pollution and mercury contamination pouring out of sugar lands south of Lake Okeechobee.

The economic crisis in the United States has not served to open public discourse on these matters. To the contrary, the crisis — in part fomented by the local gears of the Growth Machine well documented on this blog — has served to contract public discussion. Newspapers and television have been crippled by debt and fail the public interest test time and again. Miami voters keep re-electing the same incumbent county and city commissioners based on the litmus test of their virulence against Castro.

Meanwhile, Cubans are engaged in uninhibited discussions around the questions of what happens next. Everything has changed around Cuba — China, Brazil, Latin and South America — and Cuba is finally taking tentative, selective steps to open its economy to change. While the pieces are not in place to make large scale, private investment possible — the small and limited efforts are yielding visible results that should encourage bolder action by a new generation of leaders.

What members of Congress need to understand is that the embargo is now a ridiculous farce. In the 1960’s it served to isolate a nation that had decided to accept a fire hose of economic aid from the Soviet Union. For a time, that assistance allowed an ideology to be artificially supported with no real economic growth.

Today, remittances from Cuban Americans — the majority, from the Miami area — are allowing Cuban entrepreneurs to by-pass the embargo. Small farmers, restaurant owners, and now — private homeowners and car owners, too — represent an army of embargo busters. Cuban Americans have destroyed the embargo on a small scale, while depriving American businesses of the chance to participate in the gradual opening of an economy poised to explode at a time when the domestic US economy, and in Florida particularly, is dependent on the kindness of strangers; foreign investors willing to pick up the slack of crushed housing markets.

One of the most interesting conversations I had was on the return flight to Miami with a Cuban American — I never got his name — who had just completed a visit to relatives in Cuba. He could only spend a weekend there because he had to return to work, Monday. I asked him, could the embargo ever work? He said, yes but that you would have to cut off everything. What he meant, was that the tens of thousands of lifelines extended through Cuban Americans to families in Cuba would have to be shut down.

In this way, the embargo would drive Cuba beyond the point of hunger to Eritrean-style deprivation. He said, Cuban Americans would in effect be condemning own relatives who have managed a margin of relative comfort, even wealth, through remittances.

My fellow traveler said: the embargo cannot be effective unless it drives their own families to ruin. Is that what Lincoln Diaz Balart and Ileana Ros Lehtinen and various Miami-Dade county commissioners and other aspiring Florida politicians want? Or do they just want to be re-elected? Havana knows the answer.

Miami — and the nation, by extension — shouts in an echo chamber on Cuba. It is clear Cuba will choose its own course, forward. Whatever hybrid emerges will not be dictated by Hialeah politics. the Latin Builders Association or its megaphones. US foreign policy to Cuba and the embargo have outgrown the purpose of Miami elections. Even Cuban American business leaders who reaped all the bitterness but none of the rewards — unless under-the-table violations of the embargo — must realize change is at hand if only they will listen.

Family’s Right to Travel

In Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban Americans, Cuban Embargo, Human Rights/Derechos Humanos, Immigration, Politics, Travel, US on June 4, 2012 at 2:36 pm

 
 
 
 
 
     …cruel and unjust punishment if ever there was any…

 

 

 

 

June 4, 2012

Contact:  Alvaro Fernandez

305 308-6079

Miami,Florida

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

PLEASE CONTACT ALVARO FERNANDEZ

 

Rivera amendment would only help break Cuban family ties

MIAMI- Almost 50 percent of family members who travel toCubaareU.S.residents who have yet to attain citizenship, according to figures released by executives of the travel toCubaindustry inMiami. As a result,the Cuban American Commission for Family Right (CACFR) has issued a warning that a new proposed amendment to the Cuban Adjustment Act, presented by U.S. Rep. David Rivera, would assure that these family ties are severely broken.

“In 2009, President Obama rightfully made family unity and the right of family members to travel a priority of hisCubapolicy,” said Alvaro F. Fernandez, CACFR president. Adding, “Rivera’s amendment would undo the president’s mandate, simply for electoral reasons.”

Rivera’s H.R. 2831 would amend Public Law 89-732 (Cuban Adjustment Act) and disallow Cubans who are not yetU.S.citizens to travel toCuba. It plainly states: “An alien shall be ineligible for adjustment of status under this section if the alien returns toCubaafter admission or parole into theUnited States.”

Translation: If you travel to Cuba, for whatever the reason before becoming a U.S. citizen, when you return you will be present in the country illegally.

Howard Simon, executive director of theFloridachapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, warned in an El Nuevo Herald article, “Many persons might be deported unjustly” if the Rivera amendment is approved. In the same article, he emphatically stated: “This is nothing more than a cruelty in the name of ideological isolation ofCubaand an unnecessary restriction on the freedom to travel.”

Silvia Wilhelm, CACFR executive director, said, “We will fight this cruelty proposed by Rivera. South Floridians and persons from around theU.S.are tired of Rivera’s anti-family, electoral antics.”

There are nearly two million Cubans in theUnited States. Most reside inFlorida. Industry figures indicate that almost 400,000 travelled last year toCuba– the great majority to visit and help family members on the island.

The Cuban American Commission for Family Rights was created in 2004 to fight all attacks against the Cuban family. Since then the Commission has been critical of negative actions imposed by both theU.S.government and the Cuban government.

 

******

 

Behind the wall

In Arts, CENESEX, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban Americans, Culture, Design, LGBT, Politics, Travel, US on May 30, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Margarita Alarcón Perea

Every two years the city of Havana gets a new makeup job. Not paint, and not cement. It’s a makeup job in the sense that it is unfortunately ephemeral but no less beautiful to contemplate and enjoy while it lasts. The Biennale of Havana is the makeup job I refer to and this year it has hit the town hard and is painting it bright red.

Artistic Practices and Social Imaginaries is the theme of this 11th Havana Biennial 2012 and most of the work present is made up of interactive groundbreaking concept art reminiscent of Alexander Calder back when he revolutionized the notion of art and movement as one.

Over one hundred artists from 45

 countries are sharing in this festival of graphic imagery, many in collaborative works, all taking over the streets, the pavement, buildings, scaffolding and breathing in from the energy of the city itself to create in some cases a city of their own.

“Behind the Wall” gives title to one of the more expressive and interactive of the exhibits which stretches along the Malecon Habanero, (Havana ocean front walk). Cuban artists of the younger more provocative generation living both inside and outside the island have chosen this part of town to show their work. Pieces that have in common the desire for peace, belonging, movement and acceptance.

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The Biennale will go on for a month from its inaugural date of May 11th. During this time, over 1,500 legal US visitors will be walking the streets of Havana partaking in the event, learning, and writing about the days they spend here. This year the Biennale is proving that art can create a bridge to bring people together on the common ground of beauty and self expression.

Arles del Rio “Fly Away”

Meanwhile, back home in the US, members of Congress are having a field day over a couple of visas granted to two Cubans. A couple of visas, TWO mind you, not 100, not even 200, just TWO. One was to the historian of the City of Havana and a world renown preservationist, Dr Eusebio Leal Spengler who also happens to be an honorary member of the French Foreign Legion and an invited speaker at the Brookings Institute. The other is Mariela Castro Espín, who is a sexologist, the director of the Center for Sex Education in Cuba and yes, well, her last names give her away, she is also one of the children of Raul Castro.

Neither Mariela nor Eusebio are travelling to the US to do proselytism on behalf of the “communist” regime. They are both visiting the US in regards to their fields of expertise, and because they were invited,  one to speak at  LASA “Latin American Studies Association” and the other at Brookings.

While members of Congress are insulting the current administration’s policy of reasonable and logical engagement with Cuba, and taking the Department of State to task over its decision to grant visas to a couple of Cuban citizens who happen to be academics other North American’s  are taking advantage of the Obama Administrations efforts to close the gap between both nations  by allowing travel and the parting in an artistic and scholarly  event that will help them better understand Cuba.

 

Rachel Valdés Camejo “…Happily Ever After…”

Report: Fire at Cuba charter flight co. was arson

In Blockade, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Cuban Americans, Cuban Embargo, Miami/Cuba, Travel, US on May 14, 2012 at 12:08 pm

By Christine Armario, Associated Press

A blaze last month that scorched the offices of a Cuba travel agency in Miami was deliberately set, fire investigators say, one of the first acts of violence in years against a company arranging visits to the island.

The Coral Gables Fire Department said in a report that investigators found a disposable lighter, the remains of a green bottle, and a piece of asphalt after the April 27 fire at the Airline Brokers Co.

Those items indicate the “potential use of a projectile to breach the building window, and the use of a liquid accelerant incendiary device in this fire,’’ the report says.

The report was obtained by the Spanish-language newspaper El Nuevo Herald, which published a copy on its website. Coral Gables fire officials referred all inquiries to the state fire marshal’s office, which did not return requests for comment by phone or e-mail Sunday.

The blaze severely damaged the offices of the company, which arranged the flights and travel for hundreds of Cuban-Americans and others to the island for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in March. The agency has also recently expanded its operations to include flights from Fort Lauderdale.

In the 1970s and `80s, bombings of businesses and Cuba travel companies considered sympathetic to the Castro regime were commonplace. Another uptick of violence occurred in the summer of 1996, when Marazul Charters, a company that arranges legal flights to the island, had two of its offices bombed. A second travel business, Maira and Family Services, had a bomb thrown inside its offices within the same month.

But in the last decade, such incidents have become unheard of and travel to the island has grown. President Barack Obama removed a cap that limited family visits soon after taking office. Last year, the Cuban government said it was expecting 500,000 U.S. visitors annually, most of them Cuban-Americans, many of whom still have strong ties and family on the island.

“It surprised me,’’ said Maira Gonzalez, whose former business was targeted more than a decade ago. “I thought people had matured a bit.’’

Gonzalez said her company went out of business about a year after someone threw what she described as a Molotov cocktail inside their offices early one morning. No one was in the building. Police said gas spilled but the device did not go off.

The incident scared off customers and business declined.

“We thought we were helping the Cuban community, but there are always others who think differently,’’ Gonzalez said.

The report on the Airline Brokers Co. fire noted that the business owner said she had been the subject of threats and other hostile activities in the past. But Vivian Mannerud told El Nuevo Herald she had not received any recent threats, even as they were arranging flights for the papal visit.

No possible suspects have been identified.

Visiting Cuba, but more specifically, Cubans

In Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban Americans, Travel, US on February 1, 2012 at 11:05 am

 

Travelweekly.com January 30, 2012

By Arnie Weissmann

Last week, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) issued a press release that read, in part, “It is irresponsible and reckless … to act as a travel agent for a brutal dictatorship.”

Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American, was talking about tour operators who send U.S. citizens to Cuba on “people-to-people” cultural programs. She was incensed that Smithsonian Journeys, a for-profit arm of the government-subsidized Smithsonian Institution, was participating, and as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, she initiated a congressional investigation into the Smithsonian tours.

Smithsonian Journeys says it has done nothing wrong and that it is among a group of tour operators that has applied for, and received, legitimate licenses to bring Americans to Cuba for cultural exchanges.

Ros-Lehtinen derided the programs as “little more than a tropical vacation.”

On the same day that Ros-Lehtinen issued her press release, Dan Sullivan Jr., CEO of Collette Vacations, returned from a three-day trip to Cuba — his first — where he previewed aspects of Collette’s 18 people-to-people departures in 2012.

He visited an international school of medicine that trains and provides doctors for developing countries. He was taken in one of the vintage American cars that still serve as taxis (in his case, a 1959 Ford Fairlane) to a dinner at a private home. He stayed at the once-grand (and still “solid four-star”) Hotel Nacional, where a photo on the wall shows Fidel Castro at the 1959 ASTA World Congress.

Sullivan spoke of the cultural pride that’s shared by both Cubans and Cuban-Americans, and he said his understanding of the people and the country was deepened during his visit.

He disputed the characterization of the experience as “little more than a tropical vacation.”

“The focus truly is on people,” he said.

And what he found was that “Cubans are very warm, friendly, hospitable and extremely engaging. They want many of the things we do: that their kids do well, get married, have a family, get a job.”

He did see evidence of propaganda in bookstores and museums, and photos of Castro and Che Guevara were ubiquitous.

He also saw, amidst charming examples of colonial architecture, the outward signs of poverty. Overall, he felt “very, very safe” in the areas he visited. He did not feel his tour was structured to only emphasize the positive. “They don’t just take you where they want you to go; you can walk around Havana.”

Sullivan said he came away with insight into daily life on the island. “They all have food; they get rations every month. Milk is subsidized to 3 cents a gallon. There are no taxes, and medical care is free. But housing is a challenge. Housing was the biggest complaint I heard about. You pick which in-laws you like best, because that’s who you’re going to live with.”

Economic opportunity, he said, often is found in tourism-related jobs that provide tips, making it possible for a bellman to earn more than a doctor.

He said most hotels in the Collette programs would be comparable to three- or four-star properties. Service was accommodating but “a little slower-paced” than most Americans are accustomed to, and maintenance was not what travelers might expect in more-developed countries. Nonetheless, the overall experience was “comfortable.”

In the end, Sullivan said his “expectations were exceeded.” Listening to his descriptions of Cuba as “unbelievable,” “fascinating” and “amazing,” I also better understood the sense of loss Cubans in diaspora must feel.

To Ros-Lehtinen’s point: It’s true, tourism provides economic support to tinhorn tyrants, entrenched party bosses, military strongmen and corrupt despots across the globe. The overarching question, however, is not only whether Americans should go to Cuba, but whether cross-cultural exposure among the world’s people is more inherently positive than the negative implications of providing hard currency to governments with whom we have disputes.

Cross-cultural exchanges are a two-way street. They’re not about sending “pockets of freedom” abroad, to use the Obama administration’s rationale for allowing people-to-people programs to Cuba. It’s also about what travelers learn.

I’ve been to my share of repressed societies, from Mobutu’s Zaire to Ceausescu’s Romania to Kim Il Sung’s North Korea. I make no apologies. Travel adds dimension to one’s understanding of the world.

Through a political lens, it’s easy to categorize countries as simply good or bad, but as Sullivan observed, “A country is made up of people. You don’t want to lose sight of that.”