By Patty Vila, SouthFloridaReporter.com, Cuba Expert, Aug 13, 2015 – I met friends for a cocktail in Little Havana one late afternoon in June to discuss Cuba & U.S. relations. A friend, who had not been to Cuba in more than twenty years, was planning to go to Cuba in July. As we were discussing what will become of our beloved island, my friend looked at me and asked, “Why don’t you come with me to Cuba?” I knew I wanted to go but my response was “Let me think about it.” Two days later, we met again. This time, with arms crossed, my friend said, “Come to Cuba with me.” With mixed emotions, I responded again, “Let me think about it.”
I was pondering whether or not to go on my drive home. I did not have an active passport because it was stolen a few months earlier. I went with my mom to renew it the day after Mother’s Day with the intention of planning a trip to Cuba. When I opened my mailbox at home, my passport had arrived. I took this as a sign that I needed to go.
On July 7th, I boarded a plane to Havana. I made a list of all the things I wanted to see, pictures to take, meetings to have, and conversations with “El Cubano De Pies” – the Cuban on the street.
The Cubans I met were excited to discuss the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between both countries. I asked Cubans of all ages what they thought about President Obama’s wish to have bilateral relations. The majority of Cubans were optimistic, hopeful and happy, but they all had the same question – How is this going to affect me? How is this change in policy going to trickle down to me? I heard this question many times throughout the week. My response to them was to stay positive. The needle is moving. This is a historic moment for both countries, and we need to be allies in order to move forward.
The majority of the world does not know that the U.S. and Cuba have had good relations in certain areas over the past 53 years. In particular, the National Hurricane Center in Miami and in Havana work closely during Hurricane season. The Cuban meteorologists are very knowledgeable and professional, according to Max Mayfield former Director of the National Hurricane Center and currently Hurricane Specialist at WPLG Channel 10.
Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Havana to raise the American flag over the U.S. Embassy on August 14, 2015. Kerry’s historic trip will mark the first Secretary of State to visit the island since 1945. The U.S. and Cuba restored diplomatic relations on July 20th for the first time since 1961 with both countries’ Interest Sections officially becoming embassies.
This is a new day, but let’s not be fooled with an easy road towards normalization. Human rights in Cuba continue to be a concern for U.S. policymakers. Human Rights Watch said Cuba “continues to repress individuals and groups who criticizes the government of call for basic human rights” in a 2014 report. Travel for all Americans, Guantanamo and more are other issues at the forefront of this road.
President Obama made this decision because he genuinely cares for the Cuban people and would like to see them have a better life, according to my source in Washington D.C. that works with the President.
Many of my journalism friends will be covering this story on Friday, August 14th. Like many more around the world, I will proudly be watching the American flag being raised in Havana. I truly support this approach of engagement. Internal debates are taking place in America and Cuba. One Cuban government official confided in me that the divide that exists in the United States is the same divide that exists in Cuba.