In May I had my hair cut in Havana. I am balding so I tend to shave my head, and to compensate I have grown a massive beard. Occasionally I have a barber clean me up with a trim so I can maintain a month or two before needing professional intervention again. Walking a few blocks off the Malecon on my last night in Cuba I wandered past a little hole-in-the-wall barber shop. For $5 the barber expertly cut my hair and offered additional services which I had to decline as it was getting late and I needed to catch a plane early the next morning. He also offered rum and conversation.
He relayed how he was worried about his prospects and about Trump. His trade was that of cutting hair for tourists and offering pulls of rum. He also was a homosexual and growing up in a country where his lifestyle was looked upon as a detriment and to be cut off from the accepting U.S. only compounded his feelings of dread. With my freshly shaved head I thanked him for his services and wandered back to my hotel through the near dark streets of Havana never once feeling uneasiness.
In the eastern city of Viñales a local tobacco farmer whose residence and farm were within the bounds of a National Park revealed his story to me. The government tells him what to plant and how much. What he grows he can only keep 10% of to sell on his own. The government takes 90% of any seed stock that is saved. To use the term ‘abject poverty’ would be an understatement. His children were catching wild birds for later meals. You could see that his skin was globally callused, almost as if he had crawled out of the ground that morning. Sheer desperation was in his face as he quietly described how all his hard work was hauled away in a government truck. Then he rolled me a cigar, pulling the leaves right off the rack using a shabby little table surrounded by pigs. Pigs chomping yucca. To date it is still the best cigar I have had. If I could only order them direct.
Stopping at another tobacco farm I asked the gentleman rolling cigars if the farm belonged to him. He said: “No, It’s Raul’s,” – as in Castro. He gave me a puzzled look as though that should be obvious. The uneasiness that I never experienced on the streets of Havana slowly crept in as I realized I was standing on a dictator’s farm.
Everyone should go to Cuba. We all should see the final result of the years of lies the Castro brothers laid onto the Cuban people. Everyone in America should bear witness to a city that is 90 miles from the shores of Florida yet unable to produce a single street without potholes or a store with full shelves. Having seen such devastation caused by communism is a more powerful lesson than any teacher or book has to offer. And this is why I am so puzzled as to why Trump would disallow U.S. citizens from once again traveling there.
Perhaps the crony capitalists of the U.S. do not want the competition that Cuba presents. Unspoiled beaches, diving, rum, tobacco- all at ⅓ the cost of Florida may prove too much of a threat to U.S. resorts. Maybe the GOP is trying to appeal to the Cuban expat vote. Or maybe Trump is simply just going against anything Obama did to appeal to his base. Whatever the reason, nothing is to be gained from a policy of childish foolishness.
Trump: Repeal the sanctions. Beating an already dead horse makes little sense. Let the American people go. Let them experience the real Cuba, staying at any of the multitude of AirBnB’s dotted across the countryside as my wife and I did. Let Americans embrace the people and culture and see the incredible oppression a people are subject to within the confines of too much government. Let them experience firsthand the amazing Cuban people and realize we are not so different. Such a pilgrimage could change the youth of our country, making them more willing to embrace the democracy they now take for granted. Only good can come from allowing the U.S. to engage the citizens of Cuba from the inside and to start a one-to-one revolution. Nothing in this world changes with indifference and distance. Cuba will be no different.