¡Cuba, si!

There’s a lot of interest in travel to Cuba now. That is, travel by Americans, because most everyone else in the world has been going all along.

If you were to tell me, “I can only afford one trip this year. Where should I go?” my answer would be, “¡Cuba, si!”

Why? Because it’s the most different place you can go and not worry (too much) about being thrown in prison for 10 years.

I don’t know for sure, but I think most Americans imagine Cuba is a poorer version of Mexico, with better music and more baseball. Cuba is a lot poorer than Mexico, and there is great music and an obsession with baseball, but it’s more like Russia or China than the rest of Latin America.

Think about it: It’s a socialist country. If you harbor romantic ideas about communism or socialism, go to Cuba.

I went to Cuba about 10 years ago. I had been writing papers about the Cuban Missile Crisis for my master’s program, and my friend Bette was married to a Cuban guy named Lumino. Lumino was only allowed to visit Cuba, where his children and grandchildren lived, every two years. “Each time we go,” Bette told me, “It’s more desperate than the last visit.” She gave me a book titled Cuba: Neither Heaven nor Hell. I was intrigued.

So one cold Minnesota day when I had nothing better to do I Googled “tours to Cuba” and up popped the Marin Interfaith Task Force on the Americas. Within a couple hours I was signed up to go on a legal trip to Cuba.

I love it when trips come together like this, spontaneously and easily.

The Taskforce is basically a bunch of old hippies who live in the richest county in America (I don’t know how that works). They’ve been agitating against U.S. meddling in Latin America for decades. One of their strategies is organizing mission trips—not in the religious sense but to learn about situations on the ground first hand, to show solidarity, and to introduce new people to the cause.

There’s also the little fact that, in order for Americans to visit Cuba back then, they had to be on some sort of official mission. We were supposedly humanitarians on a medical mission to deliver medical supplies. While Cuba has one of the best public health systems in the world, they were so financially strapped due to the U.S.’s strangulating policies that they lacked basic things like soap and bandages. I write in the past tense because this is changing. But it will take a while to make up for decades of deprivation.

I want to note here that the Taskforce has a trip to Cuba coming up in April. The theme is “Environmental Justice in Cuba: A Study of Cuba’s Environmental and Social Policies and Practice.”

Anyone can join them; as their flyer says, “All are welcome to join this delegation! Professors, Students, Researchers, Activists!” They’ll tour Havana and the western provinces over 10 days and the cost is about $2,700, which includes everything except maybe your flight to Miami from wherever you live.

If you think that sounds expensive, I cannot emphasize enough how valuable it is that the Taskforce secures your travel visa for you and works with a tour company that knows the ins and outs of making arrangements in a country where everything is a mystery to outsiders. Plus, you would be covered by Cuban health insurance while you’re there! Ideally you don’t want to get sick or injured at all, but how cool would it be to experience the Cuban health system first hand, especially since I delivered a case of bandages to them 10 year ago? You’d have dinner party invitations for years based on that story alone.

I used student loan money to pay for my Cuba trip. I know, I know that’s a big no-no. You’re only supposed to use student loan money for tuition and education-related expenses. I would argue that actually going there was a much better education than reading books and articles and writing papers about Cuba. I’ll write about it in my next few posts.

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