It was the late 70s and President Jimmy Carter opened Cuba to American visits for a short period of time. I was part of one of the first groups to legally make the trip to our communist neighbor 90 miles south of Key West.
My traveling companion-Charlie-was a reporter for a major newspaper and I was the newsroom manager at our state capitol. We were two young guys looking for a different vacation and we were not disappointed.
What we saw was a different world that was as close to this country as Lansing, our state capital city, to the city of Detroit. We traveled for more than a week from Varadero Beach in the north to Cienfuegos in the south and back to Havana. In between, we made it to the Bay of Pigs. We were struck by:
- Poverty that existed just about everywhere. Food was sparse and very limited. At hotels, portions for meals that we paid for we small and there was no opportunity for extra serving. Those who tried to get more were lectured.
- Freedom was even more limited. Cubans who took the risk to talk to us were watched closely. They had real fear about being seen talking to Americans.
- Most people we talked to had some connection to the United States. Many had family in Michigan and other states. They loved American cars and followed American athletes.
We can have relationships with their people with trade and exchanges without endorsing a less than free government.
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