Since November of 2016 when I first set foot in Cuba, I was hooked. Finally, a place in the Caribbean I found full of culture, excitingly different, vibrant with culture, abundant in architecture and natural beauty. A break from the typical Caribbean Island visit. A place like no other on Earth. A people resilient and kind. It also happened to be the "forbidden fruit" that as a professional traveler makes it extremely enticing.
President Obama relaxed rules on travel early in his tenure. He also demonstrated a willingness to engage and forge relationships, along with private investment and the promotion of human freedoms. U.S. and Cuban relations hadn't been better in 50+ years since the Revolution. Tourism flourished, and living standards rose. People learned about the history of Cuba, what it was and is today. Cruise Lines were permitted, and there was an audible hum of optimism in the air. Those were the good old days that were not so old. In a matter of a few years, we were headed in the opposite direction.
Why is Cuba what it is today? What happened to create fertile ground for a revolution and what lays ahead in the coming years and decades? These are all important questions, and like most things of late, it depends on what political party you ask. Cuba is the third closest neighbor to the United States, and we’ve been feuding for decades. Here’s a little background to sum it all up.
Starting in 1940 and running through to 1952, Cuba had a democratic government. It enjoyed a healthy middle class in the cities, 75% of the population were literate, the number of doctors per capita rivaled the most developed of nations, and its Capitol, Havana was a shiny and bustling city. Often referred to as “The Paris of the Caribbean”, Cuba had reason to be proud. Development was occurring at a rapid pace, and American tourists came in the droves.
There were also downsides. The U.S. government had unleashed the mafia in Cuba, making it their new playground. Casinos, Hotels and Resorts sprang up everywhere. Money was being made hand over fist. While mafia gangs, big corporations and government officials made enriched themselves, rural Cuba was a different story altogether. Racism was prevalent, movement restricted, poverty abundant and education poor. You’d be lucky to have made it through the second grade before being put to work in the fields. On the one end you had the living standard of a modern European country in the cities and the other, no better than plantation life. Herein plays the drumbeat of a revolution.
Sound familiar? The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. You don’t have to look very hard to find some of the mightiest of nations have fallen due to this disparity. History sorts out who’s to blame, and I’ll do my best to make it clear in this particular circumstance. Let me make it plain as to who is responsible for the rise of a socialist/communistic society in Cuba. It is U.S. Government and the corrupt politicians that took their orders from Washington.
In 1952 President Batista took over in a coup, destroying the democracy he worked for so many years to create. Cast aside were the ideals of freedom for the people. Treasured Institutions were no longer regarded, and consolidation of power was the order of the day. This was the beginning of the end, and right under the nose and with the participation of the U.S. That’s right, Batista was propped up and mafia rule was endorsed by JFK and Washington. A daring young lawyer was about to take the island, and although the odds were stacked against him, the countryside was not. His name is Fidel Castro.
The U.S. had missed an opportunity to encourage stability and economic development for all Cubans. Since the revolution the American Government has tried to topple Castro with an invasion as well as multiple failed assassination attempts by the CIA. The wealthy and middle class had just been overturned with their businesses and property now nationalized. A new era begins in Cuba.
Tens of thousands of Cubans fled the island for the United States, and an embargo was imposed. Decades go by, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Cuban economy cause a great deal of suffering. One thing that remains is the embargo, crippling the people of Cuba to no end. They make it through however and continue to defy the United States to this day, which brings us to the more present time.
With tourism thriving in Cuba from the changes of the Obama administration, the middle class again begins to grow, and opportunity is everywhere. I took full advantage of the situation by visiting the island and spending money in privately owned restaurants, homes and businesses. The race was on to see Cuba the way it is, not the way it might become. Years later, and once again, the relationships take a turn for the worse when then President Trump was elected.
While visits to North Korean President Kim Jong Un are being promoted and supported, regulations tighten on Cuba. While genocide takes place in China, and we continue enormous trade with this communist nation, relationships with Cuba sour. Travel to Cuba becomes more difficult, and eventually cruise ships are banned from doing business with the island.
Why? Power and special interests. If anyone thinks that the embargo is designed to promote democracy and human rights in Cuba, they are sadly mistaken. The tens of thousands of Cubans that fled Cuba are now throughout the United States, but primarily in South Florida. The minds of those Cubans are to be fought over by each president since JFK. Those initial immigrants have now had children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Stories of Cuba are passed on down the line from those that had their homes and businesses taken. Their votes belong to the candidate willing to keep a hard line against Cuba. Trump was no different, and most Cubans identify as Republicans due to the rhetoric and propaganda promoted by the party. This rhetoric has influenced local and national elections. It’s elected Presidents. Meanwhile, the Cuban people continue to suffer at the cost of power from both the U.S. and the Communist Party in Cuba.
The stance against Cuba has nothing to do with individual freedom or democracy. Its roots are in revenge, anger, power and the grand prize of Florida’s 29 electoral college votes. The sweet smell of Presidential victory is thick in Florida and becoming even thicker. Trump exits stage right and on comes the Biden Administration. Offering hope of change again, Biden promises to reset relations with Cuba. I just put promises and a politician in the same sentence, so what do you think is going to happen?
There’s a pandemic raging, and economy tanking and a new sheriff in town. Biden has a lot on his hands and the promises to reset relationships gets pushed to the background. The left wants the reset, the right doesn’t, and the independents are mixed. The midterm elections, which usually go bad the first time around for a newly elected President are already under way.
Meanwhile, the situation in Cuba gets worse. Food shortages from failed crops and the inability to import what it needs causes anger in the population. Tourism is reopened in Varadero and the COVID cases begin to rise. Three vaccines are created by laboratories in Cuba, with “Abdala” having a reported 92.2% efficacy. Protests understandably begin and become deadly. Cuba looks to be having its own insurrection, which leaves President Biden forced to make a decision.
Does he help or hinder the relationship with Cuba? After 40 years in politics, Biden is no stranger to tactical moves designed to keep power, and this is the path he takes. Rather than helping our neighbor with critically needed medical supplies, food and humanitarian aid, he looks toward the outcome of the midterm elections. Doing what is right no longer matters, but how is that any different than what we’ve seen for so long? People are shocked of the demonstrations and the Cuban governments response. Shouts of freedom can be heard from coast to coast. Individuals are repeating what has been said over the last 60 years, which is to topple the regime, keep the embargo and force the government to provide more freedoms to its people. Ironically the U.S. Government is punishing Cubans for a situation it created.
Cubans do deserve more freedom and opportunity. There are many problems with the government of Cuba, but we only need to look in the mirror and find the same. Biden has made a huge error in not tackling the issue of Cuba earlier. He actually used the pandemic and economic hardship of the people in Cuba to once again stoke the flames of anger. Looking at this from an objective point of view I find it deplorable.
Biden turned his back on an opportunity to greatly improve relations through building bridges and rather decided to burn them. I’d love to see change in Cuba, but the answer is not by punishment. The government of Cuba suffers little. It’s the people that get caught in between this battle, and therein is the problem. The United States has been the only 1 of 3 countries in the United Nations to support the embargo. Everyone else knows what this is about, while the American public is lied to from both sides.
All the while other actions are at work. When the U.S. steps out from diplomacy, somebody is always willing to take its place. Those countries are China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela and more. If your neighbor makes it clear they’re dead set on making life difficult, then one seeks out other friendships. This is what we’ve done. We’ve caused untold suffering of the Cuban people and opened the door to our adversaries. Congratulations to the Biden Administration for an epic failure, and hypocritical move when a gigantic opportunity was available.
Open relationships with the Cuban government would lead to more personal freedoms, economic development in both Cuba and the United States. It would create more jobs, support stability and prosperity in the region and raise the standard of living for the average Cuban citizen.
I don’t write this article in support of the Cuban Government. I write it because we’ve got it so wrong, and someone needs to speak out. Very likely, many Cuban Americans reading this article won’t respond so kindly, and I understand that. The point is not everything is as it seems, and it’s time for a real change. Where are those adults in the room?
Please take a moment to write President Biden and remind him about his promises. Promote Cuban Freedom by supporting its people. www.whitehouse.gov/contact/
The Black Hills (Paha Sapa)
Roaring out of the Earth in Great Plains of South Dakota are the magnificent Black Hills. Over 60 million years ago, through a great uplift the Black Hills rose high above the land, but their creation began deep within mother earth. Their origin began in the Precambrian Period, some 2 billion years ago. At one point it is estimated the Black Hills attained a height of 15,000 feet above sea level. Now, after millions of years of erosion, the highest point, Black Elk Peak reaches 7,244 feet. Although half the original size, the Black Hills are still the highest point from east of the Rockies to the Swiss Alps. Most of the Black Hills are composed of granite, along with quartz, feldspar and mica. Wandering through the area, you'll notice the ground glitters as if being surrounded by jewels in every direction.
The Native Americans of this region called this mountain range Paha Sapa, meaning The Heart of All Things. This was and is considered a sacred area by many, including the Lakota Tribe. The Lakota are made up of seven bands or tribes. These are the Sichangu, Brule, Oglala, Itazipcho, Miniconjou and Sihasapa. The Black Hills is considered a part of their origin story, with the rights of ownership in dispute to this day.
Significant points of interest for visitors to this area are the Cathedral Spires, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, Iron Mountain Road, Needles Highway, Sylvan Lake, Crazy Horse Memorial, and further to the East, Badlands National Park. This area is popular with nature enthusiasts, rock climbers, sightseeing, hiking, horseback riding and much more. The mountain range is 110 miles long and 60 miles wide generally being divided between two areas, the Northern and Southern Black Hills. In the Northern Black Hills, you'll find majestic Spearfish Canyon, filled with hiking trails, waterfalls, the nearby Wild West City of Deadwood and one of my personal favorites, Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary. In my experience, the Northern Black Hills plays second fiddle to the Southern Black Hills to tourism, but this shouldn't be the case. The Northern Black Hills are a place of beauty, healing, history and recreation.
The Southern Black Hills are very special for a number of reasons. Generally, when people think of the Black Hills of South Dakota, they conjure up images of Mount Rushmore, with the faces of four great Presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln. This is certainly quite an accomplishment and beautiful work of art. There is a great visitors center with a short film, and exhibition hall documenting the idea, construction and impact the monument had on the area. Doane Robinson and Gutzon Borglum set out to create a monument that would inspire the nation, and more importantly bring much needed tourism dollars to the region. They succeeded, and now over 2 million people visit Mount Rushmore each year.
While Mount Rushmore stirs up pride and patriotism in many, the Native Americans of this area feel differently when gazing upon the monument. For them and others, it is viewed as a desecration to a sacred mountain. Mount Rushmore was named after an east coast attorney sent here to survey mining claims. Those he asked had no idea of the name of the mountain, so it was named after him - Charles E. Rushmore. Before this the mountain was known to the Lakota as Tunkasila Sakpe Paha, or Six Grandfathers Mountain. The Six Grandfathers are North, South, East, West, Above and Below. This was a place the Lakota came to pray, carry out ceremonies and considered the center of the universe. Protests, petitions altering the mountain and disputes over the land continue on into the foreseeable future. It's my belief that we understand as much as possible, and from both sides the history of this special place.
If you make a visit to Mount Rushmore, you can't miss the drive on Iron Mountain Road. Construction of this road was meant to compliment the mountain, cause as little disruption to nature, offer spectacular views and provide a playground for automobiles. Iron Mountain Road winds through forests and tunnels which, when looked through align perfectly with Mount Rushmore, offering great photo opportunities. The road covers 17 miles, has 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, 3 pigtails, 3 tunnels, and two spits. It runs from Mount Rushmore, and terminates near Custer State Park.