Tomorrow, Sunday, President Obama will be the first U.S. President to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge arrived on a battleship in 1928.
The president’s trip comes 15 months after he announced the restoration of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba.
When normal diplomatic relations were restored in 2014 I posted the following:
Jose was furious.
He got the windowless room in the basement that was so small he could touch two walls simply by extending both his arms.
I got the Maria Felix Suite.
The Hotel Nacional overlooked the Malecon, the broad esplanade, roadway and seawall which stretches for five miles along the coast of Havana, Cuba.
If you remember The Godfather movie where Michael Corleone goes to Havana, there is a scene in a hotel room with a balcony looking out over the city. The scene was actually filmed, I once read, on the coast near Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. Francis Ford Coppola could not film it in Havana without breaking the U.S. embargo. But it is supposed to be Havana’s Hotel Nacional and it could have been the Maria Felix Suite.
I have never stayed in a place as cool as that.
Maria Felix was the most famous Latin American movie star of the fifties. I was staying in the room that she always stayed in when she visited Havana.
The hotel was owned by the mob in pre-revolutionary days.
Even though the rooms were assigned randomly, I don’t think Jose has forgiven me even now. I didn’t even know who Maria Felix was. Jose, of course, did.
It was so unfair.
In 2000 I was in Cuba as part of a U.S. educators’ tour. We were visiting Cuban schools and meeting with teachers.
Let me assure you it was not all meetings and talk.
Cuba has more parties than just the Communist one.
It seemed that all the women were beautiful, all the men were good-looking, all the coffee was delicious, all the rum was strong, the cigars tasted of palm trees and sugar cane and music came out of every window and door.
Ry Cooder had just released the Buena Vista Social Club album, and Chan Chan could be heard in every tourist bar in Old Havana. Each bar claimed to be Ernest Hemingway’s favorite hangout and every one claimed to be the place where the Daiquiri was invented.
Still, at the time Cuba was going through some hard times.
The Soviet Union has just collapsed and Cuba had been heavily dependent on Soviet and Eastern Bloc markets for their sugar and for loans and assistance.
They called it the Special Period.
A euphemism for the fact that there was very little food or money.
Our group brought pencils, books and paper to the schools we visited and the teachers were very appreciative. The daily practice was for the teachers to collect each pencil at the end of every day.
Many of the reading books were 30 years old.
At the time the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba was 40 years old. It is now 54 years old.
It was stupid then. It is more stupid now.