The News About Castro (Missed Opportunities)

“Well-informed sources in Miami announced the imminent fall of Fidel Castro, it was only a matter of hours.” — Eduardo Galeano, Soccer in Sun and Shadows

Before there was a Plan B, there was another plan. No, not Plan A. Call it Plan B-1.

Plan A was Argentina, but that fell through. I hurriedly researched various locations: Iceland and Mexico were chief among the contenders. But one country was at the top of my list: Cuba.

For more than five decades, Americans have been banned from traveling to Cuba. The U.S. has maintained an economic embargo established during the Cold War soon after Fidel Castro took power. Only a small number of people who had obtained U.S. government permission could travel there.

In 2015, the U.S. and Cuba reopened diplomatic relations. More Americans are allowed to visit Cuba now, but with limitations. You have to fit specific categories such as cultural and educational exchanges, journalism, and support for the Cuban people.

I missed a historic moment. I’m a journalist and that doesn’t sit well with me.What you can’t do is spend two weeks lounging on the beach and doing other tourist activities. The limitations make it hard on independent travelers. Officially, U.S. citizens who travel to Cuba might have to show U.S. authorities proof of the cultural or educational activities they had participated in and that they had spent most of their time doing those things. It wasn’t clear how much the Obama administration would enforce the rules.

The safe bet is to go to Cuba as part of a tour that follows an itinerary that meets the requirements. Those people see Cuba through the eyes of a guide approved by the Cuban government. They see what the government wants them to see.

Faced with such uncertainty, I chose Mexico.

On November 25, while I was in Campeche, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro died at the age of 90. I missed a historic moment. I could have been there. I’m a journalist and that doesn’t sit well with me. Covering the reaction to Fidel Castro’s death would have been all the proof I’d need to justify the trip.

I won’t defend Fidel Castro. He was a ruthless dictator who imprisoned people who disagreed with him. Thousands of people risked their lives on the hazardous sea to escape the country when he ruled it. He used the Cold War and the U.S. embargo as excuses to keep his people poor. He belongs in the same corner of Hell where Franco, Pinochet, and Chavez, his protégé, reside.

My interest in going to Cuba was never about Castro. It was about Cuba, itself. The country is only 90 miles from the U.S., but it might as well be on the other side of the world. Its music, its food, its culture — the big, relic American cars and the baseball — that is what attracts me.

I wanted to go to Cuba before it became like Prague after the Cold War, overrun with Americans looking to cash in on it.

The embargo and travel limitations don’t make sense anymore. Fidel Castro is gone. The Cold War is over. It’s time Americans got to visit the neighbors with no strings attached.

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