Thursday, June 27, 2013

Retired University President Reflects on His P2P Trip


Trani: End the embargo on Cuba

World Affairs Council honors VCU president Eugene P. Trani.
Posted: Sunday, June 23, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 11:38 am, Sun Jun 23, 2013.

A recent four-day trip to Havana illustrated the complicated and indeed puzzling nature of Cuban-American relations.
The official United States policy is that we do not have formal diplomatic relations with Cuba, and we have maintained an economic embargo by which it is illegal for American corporations to do business with Cuba.

Current American policy, of course, dates from Fidel Castro’s coming to power in 1959, overthrowing the government of Fulgencio Batista. Castro’s expropriation of the assets of American corporations and his embrace of the Soviet Union as an alternative to American economic support for Cuba made relations with the United States difficult from the beginning.
The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, in which Cuba became ground zero for the closest brush with nuclear war that we have ever seen, cemented the bad relations for the last half of the 20th Century.
The Soviet support of Cuba lasted right up to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. That event shattered the economy of Cuba and many hoped would lead to normal diplomatic and economic relations between the United States and Cuba. But 22 years later, normal relations are still not in the cards.
In fact, with the passage of the Cuban Democracy Act (the “Torricelli” Law) in 1992 and the Cuban Liberty and Democracy Solidarity Act (the Helms-Burton Act) of 1996, relations have become even more difficult. The result is a patchwork of policies that appear to contradict one another and do not seem to be a sensible and rational policy for the United States to follow.
On the one hand, more than 200,000 Americans are now visiting Cuba on American Treasury Department-approved licenses annually. The sight of American Airlines planes dropping off and picking up American citizens at the José Martí International Airport in Havana seems at best surprising.
My trip, conducted by Insight Cuba, was one such officially approved trip. Further, there are now more than $2 billion of remittances sent by Americans to their Cuban relatives annually. So there are some points of progress in overall Cuban-American relations.
At the same time, there are many significant problems that tend to hurt the Cuban people most at risk in economic terms. The visit of a cruise ship to a Cuban port results in that ship being unable, no matter which flag registry the ship has, to dock in the United States for six months. This policy really hurts the Cuban tourist economy, which could greatly improve employment and job creation across Cuba.
If Cuban materials are used in the construction of cars (more than 4% nickel for example), these cars cannot be sold in the United States, a policy which works against the rise of an automobile-based manufacturing segment of the Cuban economy.
The American embargo has had, therefore, very significant impact on different parts of the economy in Cuba. In fact, such varied political leaders as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; George P. Shultz, former Republican secretary of state; and the late former Democratic presidential candidate, George McGovern, have called for the embargo to be lifted and relations to be renewed between Cuba and the United States. Even polls of Americans show a majority in favor of an end to the embargo and re-establishing of normal relations between the countries.
My own trip to Cuba reinforced the call for such actions. We spent four days visiting with many different kinds of groups in Havana, community projects, senior citizens, a health clinic, youth programs, artist and recording facilities, musical ensembles, historic sites such as Revolution Square and the Ernest Hemingway house and an environmental training facility, and not once did we hear anger toward the United States or the American people.
What we heard was puzzlement about the embargo and strong feelings that it was hurting the people of Cuba. In fact, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the absolute poverty rate has increased significantly in Cuba. It was also evident that there is visible decline in major infrastructure areas such as housing.
Today, there seem to be both humanitarian and economic factors, particularly with the significant growth of the non-governmental section of the economy that could factor in a change in American policy. There is also a major diplomatic factor in that no other major country, including our allies, follows our policy.
What a positive statement for American foreign policy in Latin America and throughout the world it would be for the United States to end its embargo and establish normal diplomatic relations with Cuba. We would be taking both a humanitarian course of action and making a smart diplomatic gesture. The time is right and all our policy makers need is courage to bring about this change.
Eugene P. Trani is president emeritus and University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.
My comment:
The only error Dr. Trani makes is to under count the number of Americans visiting Cuba every year. The number of Cuban Americans who travel on a general license (no application required) is around 400,000, more than a quarter of the Cuban American population. Probably another 100,000 other Americans will go this year through general licenses (universities, religious organizations) or specific licenses (people to people).

Cuban American hard liners are against all of this travel because the complex evolving reality of Cuba is obvious to any visitor and leads to opposition to the embargo and the absence of normal relations.

The US embargo is real and terribly destructive and universally opposed, as is documented every year by the United Nations. The only significant ally the US has in the UN debate every year is Israel which allows its citizens to freely vacation, work and invest in Cuba.

President Obama can open the door to all purposeful non-tourist travel with a general license, allowing Americans to visit on their own and stay in privately owned bed and breakfasts. He can also suspend virtually any part of the embargo, including purchases by and sales to the growing private and cooperative sector.

Why is he waiting?

John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development.

No Single Supplement and Complimentary Buena Vista Social Club Excursion on July Cuba Program with International Expeditions

Guests on International Expeditions' July 25 Cuba people-to-people journey enjoy money-savings perks along with a program blending cultural immersion with a "green" twist.

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Interact with the people of Cuba on IE's engaging program
Interact with the people of Cuba on IE's engaging program
IE had a more interesting and inviting Cuba travel itinerary. We liked the idea that we were able to stay in different places around the island and see the country from that perspective and not just being in Havana.
Helena, AL (PRWEB) June 26, 2013
International Expeditions has announced that it will waive the single supplement fees - a savings of $750 - and offer all guests a free excursion to hear the famed Buena Vista Social Club on its July 25 Cuba people-to-people program.
IE’s 10-day itinerary surveys all of Cuba’s cultural “must sees” including Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Bay of Pigs, Vinales and of course, Havana. Throughout the journey, guests interact with local artists, Cuban entrepreneurs, a youth choir and even a chef specializing in locally grown, vegetarian cuisine. But what really sets IE’s people-to-people program apart is the emphasis on engaging with Cuban naturalists, birders, biologists and conservation groups while traveling to Topes de Collantes National Park, Zapata Wetlands, Las Terrazas and several botanical gardens during the course of the trip. While many know about Cuba’s art and music scene, getting outside of Havana allows guests to spot some of the country’s 28 endemic birds and drop-in on small local festivals and schools.
“IE had a more interesting and inviting Cuba travel itinerary," said Ed Mahoney of Clinton, Ohio. "We liked the idea that we were able to stay in different places around the island and see the country from that perspective and not just being in Havana."
International Expeditions’ licensed 10-day Cuba program starts at $4,198 per person, and includes virtually everything except domestic airfare, charter flights from Miami to Cuba and items of a personal nature. Reservations are also being accepted for monthly departures beginning after the hurricane season in October.
Earlier in June, IE received a two year license renewal from the U.S. Department of the Treasury to provide authorized people-to-people Cuba travel for U.S. citizens through June 2015.
Celebrating 33 years of nature travel, International Expeditions specializes in small-group journeys to Earth’s most exhilarating destinations. A pioneer of environmentally responsible travel, IE is committed to preserving natural habitats and improving the welfare of the people and communities it visits. International Expeditions has been named to Travel + Leisure’s list of “World’s Best” tour operators & safari outfitters seven times and to National Geographic ADVENTURE magazine’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
Emily Harley
International Expeditions 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

TTU students explore Cuban health care, culture

TTU students Megan Caldwell and Martin Martin-Tomas talk with a a 92-year-old man during their nine-day trip to Cuba. Nursing and Spanish language students worked together during the trip to understand the culture and health care system of the communist country.
TTU students Megan Caldwell and Martin Martin-Tomas talk with a a 92-year-old man during their nine-day trip to Cuba. Nursing and Spanish language students worked together during the trip to understand the culture and health care system of the communist country.
TTU — No cell phones, no Google and no Internet. For eight days, some of Tennessee Tech University’s nursing and Spanish language students lived a simpler life in communist Cuba.

After two years of planning by Marketta Laurila, Spanish professor, and Melissa Geist, associate professor in the Whitson-Hester School of Nursing and interim dean of the College of Interdisciplinary Studies, nine TTU students went to Cuba.

“We wanted this collaboration between the Spanish language students and the nursing students because there is a growing Hispanic population in Middle Tennessee and most of the hospitals where our students will be working are seeing that,” Geist said. “We wanted them to explore the culture and the people.”

The Spanish students paired with nursing students as translators as the group explored historic Havana and visited senior health centers. The upper-division Spanish students, who were all Hispanic by coincidence, were challenged by medical terminology and intrigued by the differences between their native cultures and what they saw in Cuba.

“They were placed in a role where they were translating for others, which is a vital part of their education,” Laurila said.

The nursing students also were surprised by the cultural differences. They wore their scrubs and stethoscopes to one of the health centers to discover that Cuban nurses wear street clothes.

“The Cubans mentioned that type of uniform worries most Cubans and makes them think of disease,” said senior nursing student Sarah Flanigan, of Tullahoma. “The senior citizen center focused on group discussions, spending time with other people and activities that got them out of the house instead of prescribing medicine, giving diagnoses, or recommending surgery.”

“I think that America could greatly improve our healthcare system by focusing more on people’s happiness as well,” she said.

The group visited the estate and favorite hangouts of Ernest Hemingway, saw a concert by the remaining members of the Buena Vista Social Club, went dancing and visited an organic farm. Everywhere they went, they were without the communications technology Americans have come to rely on.

“Our cell phones didn’t work, and there are very few places you can get the internet,” Geist said. “They are so used to Googling everything that when something would come up, they would say, ‘Google it.’ Of course they couldn’t, and it became something they would say all the time and just crack up.”

Laurila and Geist first went to Cuba two years ago, on a trip for faculty and study abroad coordinators to explore overseas study options. This year’s trip was almost cancelled two weeks before they were due to leave because intricacies of working with agencies licensed by the U.S. government to help Americans travel to Cuba, which is still under embargo.

Now that they have organized a trip on their own, they hope to take students to the island nation every few years and make it a signature program at TTU. The pair had help reducing the students’ trip costs from the university’s Academic Affairs and Advancement offices.

“We felt like it was important for students to see completely different ways of life and compare it to their own,” Laurila said.

“It’s an interesting moment in Cuban history and it’s interesting to be a part of that, even for a brief moment.

“It broadens their perspective that there are other kinds of governments, other kinds of cultures.”

Friday, June 7, 2013

Tampa Chamber Delegation Returns from Historic Trip to Cuba

Trip reconnects historic US gateway to Cuba

Published: Tuesday, Jun. 4, 2013 - 9:55 am
/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A delegation of members of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce took a historic experiential learning trip to Cuba from May 29 – June 2.  The delegation returned with a renewed perspective on living and economic conditions in Cuba with their sights on continuing the discussion on how best to pursue the goal of re-instituting economic ties with the nation.
"Tampa is the historic US gateway to Cuba and we have over 90,000 Cuban Americans living in our region. This trip was a first step in rebuilding those historic ties.  It's the culmination of a decision the Chamber made 18 months ago to visit the nation. It also ties directly to years of hard work with Congresswoman Kathy Castor's office and Tampa International Airport to reestablish flights to Cuba," said Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. 
The Chamber delegation of 38 civic and business leaders travelled to Cuba on a People-to-People license which is issued for the goal of enhancing cross-cultural relations between Americans and Cubans.  The group visited Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Cuban Institute of Music, Santo Angel Neighborhood, the Cuban Chamber of Commerce and U.S Interest Section, among other cultural and historic sites.  The group also had the opportunity to interact with many locals that shared fond stories of relatives travelling to/from Tampa prior to the embargo as well as their general knowledge about Tampa and its historical significance to Cuba.
Tampa's relationship with Cuba dates back to 1539 when Hernando de Soto sailed from Cuba toTampa Bay.  As early as the 17th century, Cuban fisherman would frequent the Tampa Bay area on a seasonal basis, and, over time, the maritime connection became well established. In the 1850s Captain James McKay established regular commercial shipping service from Florida to Cuba through Tampa. In the 1880s Cuban immigrants established Tampa's Ybor City neighborhood as the cigar capital of the United States. On November 26, 1891 Jose Marti delivered his famous "Con Todos y Para el Bien de Todos" speech in Tampa. 
The Chamber is planning to debrief with members of the delegation to discuss actions as it relates to future trips and the Chamber's overall strategy as it relates to Cuba.  The Chamber will continue to support the Airport's efforts to make Tampa the U.S. hub for travel to Cuba and encourages those with questions about visiting Cuba to visit their recently-launched website,  For continued updates about the Chamber and its position on Cuba, please visit
About the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce is committed to serving our members and enhancing our community by building business success.  The Chamber provides a greater return on investment and involvement by providing innovative leadership, inside access, influential advocacy and increased opportunities. 
SOURCE Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber organizing trip to Cuba

The Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce is organizing a trip to Cuba later this year.
The business group has received authorization from the U.S. government for the trip. President Barack Obama has eased travel to Cuba after decades of restrictions.
The Ahwatukee Chamber’s trip is slated for November, runs eight days and seven nights and costs $4,100 per person.
The itinerary includes stops in Havana and other parts of the socialist, Caribbean island.
A California travel company, Chamber Explorations, is leading the trip for the local chamber.
The Redondo Beach company works with business and other groups to organize international trips to destinations such as Spain, China, Germany and Italy.
The 450-member Ahwatukee chamber will host an information session about the trip on June 25 at its East Valley offices.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., was a prime backer of easing trade and travel restrictions to Cuba during his tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Family Program Offered in August by Insight Cuba

Insight Cuba Rolls Out Family-Friendly Summer Tour Offering Kids An Unforgettable Cuban Experience

Children Fly Free on August 24th Departure

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y., May 29, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Looking for an off-the-beaten trip for the whole family that will leave a lasting memory? Insight Cuba, the leading operator of licensed, people-to-people travel to Cuba, is offering parents a special opportunity to experience this enigmatic destination with their entire family in tow. Typically limited to children ages 12+ on most Insight Cuba tours, the Family in Cuba Tour is open to families with children ages five through 17, and features inspiring kid-friendly activities designed to spark cultural appreciation of this once-forbidden island from even the smallest globetrotters. The tour, exclusively offered from August 24 --31, 2013, includes complimentary roundtrip airfare from Miami to Havana for kids, with savings up to $489 per child.

"When I first brought my five-year-old daughter with me to Cuba and she played with other children at a primary school, I had goose bumps when one of the parents told me that this is the first time she's known of a Cuban child that has played with an American child," said Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba, who was determined to share his experience with other families and their children.

The eight-day / seven-night Family in Cuba Tour provides unique access to Cuban children and places the average traveler rarely gets to experience. With its warm, welcoming people, bustling cities, and unique culture and history, this exotic island nation offers endless opportunities for an exciting, educational journey for family members of all ages.

Families will relish time spent in Havana, an astounding UNESCO World Heritage city where cars from the 1940's and 50's roll past a mix of aged Spanish colonial buildings, cobblestone streets, and the Malecon, Havana's seaside boulevard. Highlights of this family departure include a horse-drawn carriage ride through Old Havana, a tour of the local farmer's market, and a visit to a local papier-mache studio offering a unique glimpse into the daily lives of Cubans while providing an unrivaled educational experience for families.

Outside of Havana, additional stops include the eastern province of Pinar del Río, known for its scenic national parks, its expansive tobacco fields, and cheerful farmers. Families will get to partake in a traditional Cuban barbeque with local community members and their children.

Insight Cuba handpicks exclusive experiences and keeps its groups to 24 people maximum. Rates for the special Family in Cuba Tour start at $3,395 per person, double occupancy and include: first-class accommodations, Cuban guide, Insight Cuba tour leader, all meals, U.S. Department of the Treasury license and Insight Cuba letter of authorization, all entrance fees to scheduled activities and events, all in-country ground transportation and transfers, travel health insurance, emergency medical evacuation, trip cancellation insurance (up to $1,000; additional coverage for a fee), an Insight Cuba guidebook, and a 24-hour emergency service hotline.

Complimentary airfare is provided for children between the ages of five and 17 (at time of travel) and does not include costs for Cuban Visa, administrative fees, baggage fees or any other fees levied by the charter air provider. The promotion is valid only on the Family in Cuba Tour departing August 24, 2013. One child maximum per paying adult.

For more information on the Family in Cuba tour, visit or call 1-800-450-CUBA (2822). To stay connected with Insight Cuba, follow @insightcuba or 'Like' Insight Cuba on Facebook:

About Insight Cuba

Insight Cuba is the leading provider and pioneer in legal people-to-people travel for Americans to Cuba. Since its inception in 2000, the organization has sent more than 6,000 participants on 350 tours and crafted over 100 custom group programs. When travel to Cuba was reauthorized for all Americans in 2011, this not-for-profit company (a division of Cross-Cultural Solutions) was the first to bring American travelers back to Cuba. Six programs with 100 departures are scheduled through September 2013 featuring original experiences that put American visitors in direct touch with Cuban people and culture.

SOURCE Insight Cuba

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