The island of Cuba and its circumstances, both presently and historically, are not easy subjects. The effect Cuba has had on the United States and its politics goes back more than two centuries, but perhaps more importantly is the profound and enduring effect the US has had on the life of Cuba and its people.
My wife Karen and I had the very recent privilege of spending seven days in Cuba under the auspices of an organization called People to People International. It is presently not easy and now nearly impossible for Americans to set foot on Cuban soil, based upon the dictates of the Cuban government and new directives and policies of the Trump administration. In fact, the rules became more restrictive the very day we departed, and even these special People to People programs are in jeopardy, which prompts me to want to share what I learned in my time there. It is not my intention to make a political argument here, but rather to write from the perspective of a humanist, a poet, and this magazines arts editor in the hope that I might be able to scratch away at a pane of glass that has been painted over to see if a little light might be allowed to pass through.
The idea of these People to People programs is to forge communication between Americans and Cubans in a manner that is intimate and personal and provides a poignant exploration of the culture and humanity of the Cuban people. As such, it's not a vacation in the traditional sense, but more an educational and diplomatic endeavor. For seven days we went from one part of Cuba to another and met with painters, potters, dancers, singers, sculptors, musicians, historians, architects, naturalists, farmers, ranchers, baseball heroes, and even what is, in a way, a new breed of Cuban called an entrepreneur. There are many of those and the number is growing. It was a delightful, colorful, enlightening and exhausting experience that I am unlikely to ever forget.
Historically, Cuba was a colony of Spain that was populated with slaves the Spaniards brought from Africa to cultivate and harvest sugar cane, a new and very desirable commodity in Europe and its colonies in North America. Over centuries the British and the French grappled over the island as well, and the mixture of the indigenous peoples with these groups lent a rich and complex culture to the island that persists today. Cuba only won independence from Spain in 1898, which makes it a relatively new nation. The man credited with achieving...