A Colorful Cuba, Ripe For Change
By Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media, for NJ.com
on February 01, 2015 at 4:00 AM, updated February 01, 2015 at 4:01 AM
On the morning of 9/11, I was on Church Street just across the north
tower of World Trade Center when it fell. I suffered serious eye
injuries and significant PTSD, and I was unable to work for a month and
a half. After returning to work I was still having problems multitasking
and dealing with stress. I was convinced to take some time off, so I
traveled to Cuba with a fellow photographer from The Star-Ledger.
As a journalist, I can legally travel to Cuba. Upon arriving in Havana,
a Cuban — after learning we were American — expressed his deepest
sympathies about 9/11. When he found out we were from the New York City
area, this stranger hugged us.
I grew during the cold war in the 1970s and ’80s in suburban Washington,
D.C., and vividly remember the air raid shelter at my school. Having
experienced the warmth and friendship of the Cuban people was
eye-opening. Since my first trip, I have visited the island country in
2004 and last November. I have spent time in the urban and suburban
areas of Havana and Santiago de Cuba and the smaller towns, and traveled
through the rural areas to Pinar del Rio, Trinidad and Baracoa.
The beauty of the country was breathtaking, and the welcoming
hospitality made this guest not want to talk about politics. One evening
though, I was relaxing in a restaurant and a man was playing guitar.
While talking to him, I found out he was an attorney and supplements his
income by tourist tips. I was hesitant to talk to him about anything
political, but after a while we had a lively discussion about each
country’s politics while being critical of both countries. He made an
impression when he told me I could publicly be critical of my government
while he could not, and that we wouldn’t even be having this
conversation if there was another Cuban there.
I’m not naive to think Cubans share the same freedoms Americans have,
but the U.S. policy toward Cuba is misguided. I look at how Americans
being able to travel and to share our values, and Cubans will demand for
a more open society with more opportunity.
One can look back historically how the Eastern block countries under
Soviet rule opened their doors to change, wanting products and goods
from the West as well as its ideals and freedoms. It has taken years for
these seeds of change to grow, but there are many economic and cultural
reasons to change a policy that hasn’t worked. And isn’t it odd that we
boast about our freedoms but — in the case of Cuba — most of us are not
allowed to travel 90 miles off our shore.
Cuba is a beautiful, colorful island with friendly people looking for a
better life. If our two countries put the past behind us and look toward
the future, we both can learn and grow from our neighbor. Americans in
general support President Barack Obama’s recent pronouncement regarding
Cuba. And improving ties is even supported by a majority of those with
the strongest bonds to Cuba who have often favored the embargo to punish
the Castro regime. A Florida International University Cuba Poll released
in June showed that Cuban-Americans in Miami support toward improving
ties between the two countries, with 68 percent favoring a restoration
of diplomatic relations with Cuba — and 90 percent of younger
Cuban-Americans wanting the change. Also 69 percent were in favor of
lifting the travel restrictions and giving all Americans the opportunity
to travel to Cuba, and 71 percent feel the embargo hasn’t worked.
One has to wonder how much longer this failed policy will go on. New
Jersey residents — and especially the Cuban community in Union City —
might get a direct flight shortly to the island nation, with United
Airlines looking into offering daily flights from Newark to Havana. As
our relationship with Cuba thaws, hopefully we can mend the past and
seize on this new opportunity.
Source: A Colorful Cuba, Ripe For Change | NJ.com –