Saturday, April 27, 2013

Dear Colleague Letter in Support of a General License for Purposeful Travel

From: The Honorable Sam Farr

Sent By:

Date: 3/21/2013

Dear Colleague:

Over the past four years, President Obama has issued a series of policy changes aimed at bringing US-Cuba relations into the 21st century. Please join me in signing this letter thanking the President for these policy changes and encouraging him to take the next step by using his executive authority to allow all categories of permissible travel to be carried out under a general license.

In 2009, President Obama announced Reaching Out to the Cuban People, a set of policy changes that fully restored the rights of Cuban-Americans to visit their families in Cuba and send them unlimited remittances. This has resulted in the reunification of hundreds of thousands of families and has provided the capital for Cubans to take advantage of economic reforms in Cuba and start their own businesses.

In 2011, President Obama took another important step by reauthorizing purposeful travel for all Americans, fostering meaningful people-to-people interaction between American and Cuban citizens. But these trips require a specific license granted to specialized travel service providers*. Unfortunately, the licensing process has reportedly been expensive, slow, cumbersome, and arbitrary, causing delays and – in some cases cancellations- of trips that enable Americans to exercise their right to purposeful travel to Cuba.

Please join me in signing this letter encouraging President Obama to resolve this problem by allowing all current categories of permissible travel, including people-to-people, to be carried out under a general license.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Caitie Whelan ( in my office.


Member of Congress

* licensees are not “travel service providers”, legally a different licensed category of tour operators which book tickets and programs for people to people groups, etc.  J McA


President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

We are writing on the fourth anniversary of Reaching Out to the Cuban People to thank you for instituting unlimited family travel to Cuba and eliminating restrictions on remittances by Cuban-Americans for their families. These changes have helped Cubans heal the wounds of generations and fostered the ability of untold thousands of Cubans to live more economically independent lives. Now, it is time to fully support American citizens’ purposeful travel to Cuba, and we encourage you to allow all current categories of permissible travel, including people-to-people, to be carried out under a general license.

Since the final Reaching Out to the Cuban People regulations were adopted on September 3, 2009, hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans have taken advantage of this opportunity to reunite with family every year. Moreover, as economic reforms in Cuba have opened opportunities for Cuban citizens to leave state jobs and work in small enterprises, family remittances have provided the capital for Cubans to start their own businesses. In addition, your decision in 2011 to open some categories of travel for all Americans has been an important step towards enabling civil society in both countries to become acquainted and work together in areas from science and environmental protection to religion, culture, and art.

Changes have occurred in Cuba, as well. Namely, in January of this year, Cuba rescinded restrictions on most Cubans’ foreign travel, including to the United States – a step the US and others have encouraged the island nation to do for many years. This action gives your Administration a predicate for doing more. 

Exercising your executive authority to allow all current categories of permissible travel, including people-to-people, to be carried out under the general license is the next logical step.

This action would speed the processes you have already unleashed: increasing opportunities for engagement and reconciliation, while also helping Cubans create more jobs and opportunities to further expand their independence.

Thank you for your commitment to bringing our foreign policy into the 21st century and promoting diplomacy through the best resource our country has to offer: the American people.


1. Karen Bass, D-CA-37

2. Timothy Bishop D-NY-1

3.  Capps D-CA-42

4.  Capuano D-MA-7

5.  Castor D-FL-14

6.  Yvette Clarke D-NY-9

7.  Clay D-MO-1

8.  Cleaver D-MO-5

9.  Cohen D-TN-9

10.  Conyers D-MI-13

11.  Danny Davis D-IL-7

12.  DeLauro D-CT-3

13.  Donna Edwards D-MD-4

14.  Ellison D-MN-5

15.  Eshoo D-CA-18

16.  Farr D-CA-20

17.  Fattah D-PA-2

18.  Garamendi D-CA-3

19.  Grijalva D-AZ-3

20.  Holt D-NJ-12

21.  Honda D-CA-17

22.  Huffman D-CA-2

23.  Hank Johnson D-GA-4

24.  Kaptur D-OH-9

25.  Langevin D-RI-2

26.  Lee D-CA-13

27.  John Lewis D-GA-5

28.  Carolyn Maloney D-NY-12

29.  Markey D-MA-5

30.  McCollum D-MN-4

31.  McDermott D-WA-7

32.  McGovern D-MA-2

33.  Meeks D-NY-5

34.  Michaud D-ME-2

35.  George Miller D-CA-11

36.  Moran D-VA-8

37.  Nadler D-NY-10

38.  Napolitano D-CA-32

39.  Neal D-MA-1

40.  Nolan D-MA-8

41.  Norton D-DC

42.  Pingree D-ME-1

43.  Pocan D-WI-2

44.  Polis D-CO-2

45.  David Price D-NC-4

46.  Rangel D-NY-13

47.  Rush D-IL-1

48. Schakowsky D-IL-9

49.  Bobby Scott D-VA-3

50.  Serrano D-NY-15

51.  Slaughter D-NY-25

52.  Speier D-CA-14

53. Bennie Thompson D-MS-2

54.  Mike Thompson D-CA-5

55.  Waters D-CA-43

56.  Watt D-NC-12

57.  Waxman D-CA-33

58.  Welch D-VT

59.  Yarmuth D-KY-3

If your Representative is not yet on this list, please call her or his office and ask why not:  202-224-3121.  Call once a week until you receive a satisfactory answer.  (If already on the list, call to say thanks.)  --JMcA

A sample memo to a member of Congress:

The Case for Signing the Dear Colleague Letter by Rep. Sam Farr

1)  Rep. xxx has been a long time advocate of freedom of travel to Cuba, serving as a prominent cosponsor of the last legislative effort to end restrictions.

2)  There is no hope that legislation to end travel restrictions will be adopted by a Republican controlled House.

3)  The President has the power to authorize any kind of travel that is purposeful, i.e. within the thirteen categories codified into law in 2000.

4)  Only the President, through his instructions to the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, determines the way licensing is authorized.  Bush tightened licensed travel to near death.  Obama restored it to life.

5)  The President granted general licenses to Cuban Americans, universities and religious organizations.  They do not have to apply or report to the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

6)  By the stroke of a pen he can extend the same right to all other forms of purposeful travel, e.g. people to people, athletic, cultural, conferences.  To qualify, individuals and organizations would simply have to affirm they are not going to Cuba for tourist purposes.

7)  Still precluded would be large scale commercial sun and sand holidays.

8)  This would remove travel from the bureaucratic politically sensitive hands of the Office of Foreign Assets Control which second guesses in advance the motives of American citizens (prior censorship).  Members of Congress who oppose all travel might continue to fume about high visibility travelers like Beyonce and Jay-Z, but they could not blame the Administration.

9)  Constituents of Rep. xxx will benefit from removing bureaucratic control over travel.  YYY spent months seeking renewal of its People to People license, justifying every moment of its completed programs and fine tuning future ones.  Significant business was lost and staff had to be laid off.  Others have faced the same months long process which OFAC explains on grounds of limited personnel rather than its own overwrought procedures.

10)  The current licensing system forces Americans to participate in structured group tours that are organized by Cuban State companies, require staying in State hotels, and favor eating in State restaurants.  Needless to say the Cubans influence strongly what is included in programs.

11)  A general license  will allow individuals, families and groups of friends to organize their own program.  They will be able to stay in privately owned bed and breakfasts (casas particulares), and will tend to use privately owned restaurants (paladars).  They will be able to rent cars and use public buses and trains, just like Canadians and Europeans.  In other words they will have a more spontaneous grass roots unsupervised people to people experience and contribute far less to the State budget. 

12)  General license trips will also be considerably less expensive, opening the door for a far wider range of American visitors from back packers to fixed income retirees.  Direct flights from other cities' airports will become economically viable rather than being limited to Florida with its high concentration of Cuban Americans.

13)  Signature of the Dear Colleague letter by a larger number of Representatives, including members of the House leadership, will enable the President to resist the intense pressure against liberalization of travel from the Cuban American lobby who do not represent opinion in their own community, much less the two-thirds of Americans who favor the end of all travel restrictions.

14)  Because of Cuba's migratory law reform last January, Cubans have more freedom to come to the US than Americans have to go to Cuba.

As always, if I can be of any assistance, please do not hesitate to call me.

Warm regards,

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

People to People Ambassador Programs Receives License

SPOKANE, Wash., April 24, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- People to People Ambassador Programs, the leader in global educational travel experiences for students, educators and professionals for 50 years, will begin offering adult travel programs to Cuba beginning in July 2013. In response to high demand from the organization's alumni of career professionals, People to People Citizen Ambassador Programs (Ambassadors Group, Inc.) acquired a travel operator "people-to-people" license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which allows U.S. citizens to legally visit Cuba.

Vocational Travel and International Good Will

Citizen Ambassador Programs offers a wealth of opportunities for career professionals who want to get a first-hand look at Cuba, such as exploring the challenges of Havana's infrastructure on a public works program or visiting a polyclinic on a medically focused program. Program delegates will meet with locals and have a culturally immersive experience under the umbrella of collaboration and exchange within one's vocation.

Dr. Karen Jacobs, former president of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and clinical professor at Boston University, will guide a "Mission in Understanding" delegation in August 2013.

"My program will provide delegates an opportunity to learn about Cuba as a country and to further the People to People mission of peace and global awareness. Participants will gain insight into the social, education, health and youth development of today's Cuba," said Jacobs.

Highlights of the program include an explanation of the projects carried out for the rehabilitation of Old Havana, taking part in a walking tour of the village, attending a neighborhood street party where participants will interact with locals, and exchanges at local community projects.

"The adult travel programs really give professionals a hands-on immersion in the Cuban culture and direct interaction with locals in their same profession," said Nicola Balmain, Vice President of Travel Services for People to People Ambassador Programs. "That peer to peer exchange, accompanied with our best in class guides and local experts, add up to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Cuba."

Trips are seven nights in country with regularly schedule departures from Miami in July 2013 through December 2013.

For more information about People to People's Citizen Ambassador Programs visit or call 877.787.2000.

About People to People Ambassador Programs

People to People Ambassador Programs is the world's most recognized student educational travel provider. Since the 1960s, more than 500,000 people from around the world have traveled with People to People Ambassador Programs to help further global understanding through cross-cultural exchange. Offering unmatched safety measures and unparalleled access to foreign cultures and countries, People to People Ambassador Programs promotes personal success in a globalized world and fosters international friendships for both students and professional adults.

People to People Ambassador Programs is the exclusive educational travel provider of People to People International (PTPI), a nonprofit organization founded in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to promote peace through understanding worldwide. Together, PTPI and People to People Ambassador Programs are united in a mission to bridge cultural and political borders through education and exchange. For more information, please visit

About Ambassadors Group

Ambassadors Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: EPAX) is an education company located in Spokane, Washington. Ambassadors Group, Inc. is the parent company of Ambassador Programs, Inc., World Adventures Unlimited, Inc., and BookRags, Inc., an educational research website. The Company also oversees the Washington School of World Studies, an accredited travel study and distance learning school. Additional information about Ambassadors Group, Inc. and its subsidiaries is available at In this press release, "Company", "we", "us", and "our" refer to Ambassadors Group, Inc. and its subsidiaries.

Ambassador Programs, Inc. operates delegations to Cuba under license CT-2012-297557-1 issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control.

SOURCE People to People Ambassador Programs

/CONTACT: Doug Williams, (310) 503-8680,

/Web site:

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Central Holidays launches Cuba program

By Gay Nagle Myers
Central Holidays entered the Cuba arena with the launch of its first people-to-people cultural exchange program, offering 19 departures from Aug. 9 through Dec. 12.

Central Holidays' strategic partner, Premier World Discovery/CE, was issued a license by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which authorizes registered guests of the company's programs to legally visit Cuba.

The eight-day Discover Cuba itinerary includes the Unesco World Heritage site of Old Havana, the Cathedral of Havana and the Maqueta de la Habana Vieja Museum as well as visits to the Vinales Valley and Pinar del Rio, an excursion to Guanabacoa, Hemingway's farm, a cigar factory, a tobacco farm, craft markets and a dance studio.

Tour participants will meet with locals, artists and dancers during the trip.

The price of $3,899 per person, double, covers roundtrip air from Miami, hotels, transfers, 16 meals, services of a guide, visa fees, motorcoach transport, tips, health insurance and baggage handling. The single supplement is $500.

Information about the Cuba program will be available on at by April 26. Information currently is available at (800) 935-5000.

Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Under the radar, Cuba and US often work together

stumbleupon: Under the radar, Cuba and US often work together   digg: US Works With Sudan Government Suspected Of Aiding Genocide   reddit: Under the radar, Cuba and US often work together Under the radar, Cuba and US often work together
PAUL HAVEN | April 10, 2013 03:44 PM EST | AP

HAVANA — Cuba and the United States may be longtime enemies with a bucket overflowing with grievances, but the fast return of a Florida couple who fled U.S. authorities with their two kidnapped children in tow shows the Cold War enemies are capable of remarkable cooperation on many issues.
Indeed, diplomats and observers on both sides of the Florida Straits say American and Cuban law enforcement officers, scientists, disaster relief workers, Coast Guard officials and other experts work together on a daily basis, and invariably express professional admiration for each other.
"I don't think the story has been told, but there is a real warmth in just the sort of day-to-day relations between U.S. and Cuban government officials," said Dan Whittle, who frequently brings scientific groups to the island in his role as Cuba program director for the Environmental Defense Fund.
"Nearly every time I talk to American officials they say they were impressed by their Cuban counterparts. There really is a high level of mutual respect."
Almost none of these technical-level interactions make the headlines, but examples are endless.
Just last week, Cuba's top environmental official Ulises Fernandez and several island oil experts attended a conference in New York of the International Association of Drilling Contractors after the State Department expedited their visas.
And in March, Cuba's leading weatherman, Jose Rubiera, traveled to North Carolina on a fast-track visa to give a talk about hurricane evacuation procedures. Last year's Hurricane Sandy, which slammed Cuba's eastern city of Santiago before devastating the northeastern United States, was a cruel reminder that nature cares not about man's political squabbles.
The American government maintains a Coast Guard representative in Cuba, and the two countries work together to interdict suspicious boats. A U.S. diplomat involved in the process told The Associated Press that security officials on both sides are on a first-name basis, and that the Cubans happily accept FBI and Coast Guard baseball caps as gifts.
He and other diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss bilateral issues publicly, but all said they had noticed a thaw in daily interactions that belies the subzero temperatures that characterize official relations.
The two countries have been at odds since shortly after Fidel Castro's bearded rebels marched into Havana in January 1959 and began to set up a Communist state. Washington has maintained an economic embargo on the island for 51 years.
More recently, the countries have been locked in confrontation over the fate of jailed American contractor Alan Gross, who the Cubans want to exchange for five of their intelligence agents sentenced to long jail terms in the U.S.
Angry barbs between Havana and Washington on issues such as democracy, human rights and sovereignty are still the norm, and even delivering each other's mail is a challenge. The countries, separated by just 90 miles of warm Caribbean seas, long-ago ended direct service.
"There are so many weird and abnormal aspects of the relationship between Cuba and the United States, things that don't occur between other countries, that when something normal happens it is a surprise," said Carlos Alzugaray, a former Cuban diplomat.
He said Cuba has in recent years taken a pragmatic approach, more often than not cooperating on drug enforcement and judicial issues, something he hoped would one day lead to better ties.
"It is important to highlight ... that in judicial matters there is a willingness to cooperate and that could open a path to other types of cooperation," he said, citing the return of Joshua Michael Hakken and his wife, Sharyn, as a case in point.
Cuba is believed to harbor dozens of American fugitives from the 1960s and 1970s, many of them veterans of domestic militant groups like the Black Panthers.
But Havana has clearly shown in recent years that it has no interest in becoming a refuge for common criminals – deporting suspected murderers, child molesters and kidnappers who were foolish enough to think they would be beyond U.S. law enforcement's reach.
The Hakkens are accused of kidnapping their young sons from the custody of Sharyn's parents and sailing with them and his wife to Havana. Cuba promptly informed the State Department of the couple's weekend arrival on the island, and worked with U.S. officials to send the family home swiftly.
Both sides praised the joint effort.
"We would like to express our appreciation to the Cuban authorities for their extensive cooperation to resolve this dangerous situation quickly," the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which Washington maintains instead of an embassy, wrote in a Wednesday statement.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell termed cooperation as "extensive," but said the case should not be taken as a sign of political opening.
"I'm not sure I would read into it one way or another," he said. "This was cooperation on a specific law enforcement matter."
Diplomats agree, and point to less dramatic examples of cooperation as more germane.
U.S. and Cuban diplomats must get authorization to travel outside each other's capitals, something that was once used as a cudgel by both sides to get revenge for political slights. Lately, they say, permission has been granted on an almost routine basis.
American diplomats have travelled increasingly throughout the island, for work and play. For its part, Cuba's top envoy in Washington, Jose Cabanas, recently visited Georgia, Houston and New Orleans, among other places.
At times, diplomatic cooperation has reached levels that would be surprising even between friendly nations.
During last month's World Baseball Classic, a U.S. Interests Section official personally carried emergency visas for several Cuban coaches and support staff on a trip to Guam and handed them off to a Tokyo-based colleague, a U.S. official told AP. At the time, Cuba was playing its early round games in Japan and would have needed the visas if the team had advanced to the semifinals in San Francisco.
Several weeks ago, U.S. Consul General Timothy Roche spoke with Cuba's Communist Party daily Granma about American immigration policy, believed to be the first time in 10 years that state-media carried such an interview with U.S. diplomatic staff.
Even on thornier issues like the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay – which Cuba has denounced as a torture camp – the two militaries hold occasional joint exercises to prepare for brush fires and other emergencies.
Jorge Pinon, a leading expert on Cuba's oil industry and research fellow at the University of Texas, said American and Cuban energy and environmental officials have for years worked past the political morass and established strong working bonds.
When politics allows, he said, those ties could be the basis for something bigger.
"Just like ping pong opened China and the U.S. relationship," Pinon said. "The environment, working on drugs and other subjects of common interest could certainly be those bridges which will make us trust each other and be able to have a civil conversation on other topics."
Associated Press writers Peter Orsi and Andrea Rodriguez contributed.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Chicago Dancers and Jazz Musicians Create Link

'Havana Blue': Finding inspiration in Cuba

Choreographer Frank Chaves and trumpeter Orbert Davis traveled to Havana to find cultural inspiration -- but also discovered a bit of their own pasts

April 06, 2013|Howard Reich | Arts critic 
  • Jessica Wolfrum, left, and other members of the River North Dance Company rehearse for "Havana Blue," which unfolds in six movements with two musical interludes. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune)
Jessica Wolfrum, left, and other members of the River North Dance Company rehearse for "Havana Blue," which unfolds in six movements with two musical interludes. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune) (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)

As Afro-Cuban rhythms pulse on the sound system, the couples intertwine on the dance floor, swaying gently to the music.
“With feeling!” implores choreographer Frank Chaves.
“Make sure you're really touching bodies here … make as much effort as possible!”
Considering the sensuousness of the music, by Chicago jazz trumpeter Orbert Davis, and the sinuousness of Chaves' choreography, the couples really aren't having trouble making physical contact. But Chaves is asking for something more: heat and ardor, sensuality and sweat of a sort you can encounter in only one place on earth: Havana.
Chaves knows precisely what he wants because a few months ago he journeyed to Cuba with Davis in search of many things: art, inspiration, personal history. He had left the country with his family in 1960, when he was 6 months old, and long had yearned to return to his birthplace.
Davis never had been to the island nation, but he, too, dreamed of traveling there, to explore the roots of jazz and, perhaps, unlock some ancient family history as well.
In October, the two artists made their long-awaited trip to Havana, joined by a small entourage from Chaves' River North Dance Chicago and Davis' Chicago Jazz Philharmonic. The odyssey produced “Havana Blue,” a multimovement piece the dancers are rehearsing on this spring afternoon at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts on North Dearborn Street.
The work will have its world premiere Saturday at the Auditorium Theatre, with Davis' CJP accompanying the River North dancers.
Creating the suite apparently transformed two of Chicago's leading artists.
“It was a pretty life-changing experience for me,” says Chaves, after the rehearsal.
Adds Davis, sitting alongside Chaves, the venture revealed “the seed of Afro-Cuban music,” while unearthing for him his ancestors' roots in Africa.
The two men traveled to Cuba mainly to find source material for their work, which was commissioned by the companies they head and by the Auditorium Theatre. But their discoveries, they say, become the basis not only for “Havana Blue” but also for a deeper understanding of their own lives and art.
Though born in Cuba, Chaves not surprisingly has no recollection of his infancy there.
“My memories were created by everything I heard (later) from my family and uncles and aunts and cousins,” he says. “The Cuba I knew was: They would go to the Biltmore (Yacht and Country Club) and play tennis and then brunch and go to the Copa and have cocktails in the afternoon and have dinner and dance all night. That was the Cuba I had in my head.
“There's nothing like getting there and seeing the real thing … everything in such a state of disrepair. People seemed to be living on balconies. It's hot, all the clothing is out there (drying on clotheslines). It was amazing to me to see everything … totally falling apart. But everything on the inside — the culture, the arts — was so rich.”
That included performances by seven dance companies that Chaves and friends attended, and the opportunity to meet the legendary nonagenarian Cuban choreographer Alicia Alonso, who subsequently invited him to watch her work.
“I was truly star-struck,” recalls Chaves — an understandable reaction considering Alonso's stature in Cuba and in dance. She was a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre in New York in the 1940s and later in the decade returned to Havana to form what would become the Ballet Nacional de Cuba — all despite severe visual impairment, surgeries and periods of immobility.
“She's in the studio with 15 opera singers and 15 dancers, and she's choreographing a brand new piece — an opera by Handel!” says Chaves, recounting their October meeting.
“I have these opera singers this close to me, belting this out. I walk in the room (and) people clear a path for me to sit next to her. She whispers to me: ‘It's still not in great shape yet,'” adds Chaves, referring to the choreographer who's now virtually blind. “She has a married couple (working with her): The woman tells her what's happening; the guy is out there implementing. It was surreal.”
But also inspiring, considering the hardships Alonso faces, as well as the one Chaves endures.
“I suffer a 
 great deal — I have degenerative spinal cord disease,” says Chaves. Its effects are seen in a slight limp as he works with his River North dancers.
The time he spent with Alonso and otherwise soaking up Cuban culture, however, transcended such issues.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Westfield State University baseball team enjoys memorable trip to Cuba

The Republican Sports DeskBy The Republican Sports Desk 
on April 06, 2013 at 5:28 PM, updated April 06, 2013 at 10:01 PM
4613_wsu_baseball_.JPGAthletics Director Richard Lenfest Jr., center, and members of the WSU baseball team, which last month played games in Havana, Cuba. 
WESTFIELD – For once, the scores did not matter.

The Westfield State University baseball team traveled to Cuba from March 8-11 to take on some of the country’s finest players. The Owls lost both games to the Manuel Fajardo University of Sports and Physical Education, 5-3 and 7-0, but team members said the experience could not be measured by any numbers.

“It’s just amazing seeing the different cultures,” said WSU coach Ray Arra, whose team was competing against players ages 18 to 38. “The national treasure (in Cuba) is baseball. Someone said there are three things to do in Cuba: play baseball, box or run track. It was just a tremendous experience.”

Arra marveled at the skill of the players, who play on per-month stipends in the subsidized country. Some of WSU’s competition was absent, however, because they were returning from competing in the World Baseball Classic.

The opposition trotted out a righty in the day’s first game, who the Owls tagged for three runs, but the lefty starter in Game 2 silenced WSU entirely.

The Owls came into the series expecting to play collegiate-level teams, but the realization that they were playing major league-caliber athletes didn’t seem to phase them that much.

The exhibition matchups were the first showings of live pitching for WSU this season. If anything, the WSU players were more shocked they were playing a two-game series in the biggest stadium in all of Cuba, a 45,000-seat structure in Havana.

“We went down there expecting to play their collegiate-level teams and we ended up playing one of their pro teams,” said freshman catcher and Westfield native Evan Moorhouse. “The atmosphere, in the middle of our stretching, we were kind of just in amazement. Their passion for the game is beyond what you’re used to around here. They’re taking every at-bat as a 3-2 count in the bottom of the ninth with the winning run on base.”

Fellow freshman and South Hadley native Connor Sheridan echoed Moorhouse’s thoughts.

“They combined all the fundamentals of the game together,” Sheridan said. “Their fielding was really polished. They knew what they were doing. They didn’t really have a lot of weak spots, that’s for sure.”

The Owls baseball team is the first Division III team to take the trip since President Barack Obama lifted the ban on student travel to Cuba in November 2011. WSU President Evan Dobelle has worked with Westfield State Athletics Director Richard Lenfest to expand the worldview of WSU student-athletes.

The women’s basketball team will embark on a trip to Puerto Rico next season, the field hockey team has already traveled to Argentina and the men’s soccer team has already traveled to Barcelona, Spain. Several other teams have gone abroad as well.

“For us to have this opportunity has been amazing and the student-athletes on our baseball team had a wonderful time and really appreciated the opportunity,” Lenfest said. “This will go a long way as something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”