By José R. Oro / January 16, 2021
“Mary, recalling your trip to Cuba, can you share with me your perceptions of that trip?”
“I have many thoughts about my trip there, but mainly I came away with a great regard for the Cuban people. They are very positive – even as many are living in poverty for US standards. Unlike what I expected, the atmosphere is not repressive at all. We were welcomed in every place and felt safe venturing out at anytime of the day or night. The people are well educated and respectful. I didn’t notice any differences between races, genders or status.”
“Mary, so you believe American tourists would feel safe traveling to Cuba?”
“Absolutely. I’ve traveled to many countries in South America, often greeted at airports with armed militia or armed personnel on the roads. I saw none of that in Cuba. There were no beggars on the streets either. Our hotels, though dated, were clean, well-run and safe. As I said before, walking anytime anywhere was never a problem. ”
“Apart from being safe in Cuba, there is a wealth of history, art and culture that Americans would thoroughly enjoy. In many ways a trip to Cuba is like taking a time machine back to the mid-20th Century. We’ve all heard about the cars and believe me they are fabulous. The Cubans have had to make do with what they have and have managed to keep these cars running and in great shape. The Tropicana Club that we have only seen in movies is a wonderful, watching women dancing with chandelier-like hats, singers, magicians, dancers and acrobats. That night was a hoot! Another wonderful evening was spent at the Grand Teatro de la Havana where we saw a ballet. The prima ballerina, Alicia Alonzo appeared that night and received a standing applause from the audience. Unfortunately, she has since passed on. The National Gallery showcases a wealth of Cuban artists and nearby the International Museum where other artists are on exhibit. Hemingway’s home in San Francisco de Paula, including his boat he El Pilar, and La Terraza bar at Cojimar where Hemingway drank and is overrun with visitors, toasting to a time past; the Nacional Hotel with pictures and memorabilia from past celebrity’s visits, the beaches where the Bay of Pigs happened, the Malecon – a 7 mile walkway along the strait of Florida with a number of forts . Geez, I could go on and on about the many wonderful and interesting places I saw when in Cuba – and I was only there for one week every time. “
“Did you notice any private legal businesses there and perhaps visit any?”
“Yes we did and I visited a number of new businesses at that time. One Bed & Breakfast we stayed in was completely renovated with all the modern conveniences. The lobby held a meeting and eating area and a bar. An employee was always present in the lobby to assist us and to secure the establishment. We also ventured out to a few restaurants that were privately owned. We learned the proprietors used their homes, renovated them and opened them up as restaurants. They were able to get modern equipment and furnishings and appeared to run a lucrative establishment.”
“How has the U.S. embargo worked there – did you perceive anything related to it?”
“My trip to Cuba was a few years ago, when some of the restrictions of the embargo were lifted. At the same time Cuba relaxed their privatization rules. That is why many small businesses were able to grow and prosper. At the same time, roads were collapsed, buildings were falling down, gas stations are far and few in between and supermarkets had a scarcity of products – especially fresh meats, fruit and vegetables. We witnessed a real dichotomy in Cuba where some were starting to get out of the poverty and others were still living in almost collapsed buildings.
As the U.S. embargo (that never ended) has since been put back into a more terrible effect, I can only imagine many of the poorer citizens are in worse shape and those reaching beyond have been stymied. The Pandemic, of course, is another huge factor.”
“Is there anything you would like to add about your trip to Cuba?”
“Cuba has a wealth of natural resources and a huge lack of many resources. I think Cuba would be a great trading partner, able to exchange minerals, biotechnological products and sugar cane. Cuba has a large potential of oil and gas on and off – shore that is yet under-developed. In exchange Cuba needs capital investment to improve their infrastructure. The U.S. – Cuba economic relations could be an important one with a near and lucrative partner for many of the U.S’s industries. The development of a U.S.-Cuba market would be a win-win for both.”
“Thank you, Mary for your interesting and candid answers. Please, come soon to Cuba again!
1.- Mary L. Porfido, MSc. is an American molecular biologist. She was born in New York City, resides in the state of Connecticut