Cuba and Our New President

President Obama seems to be one of the most popular subjects of the conversations I’m having in Cuba. The general impression is very, very positive with the average man and woman on the street, from taxi driver to politician, and all of them have high hopes for our new president. I even noticed that Hiroshi Robaina, the well-known tobacco grower, was wearing an Obama wristwatch when I visited him earlier in this week in Pinar del Río. Check out the photo.

Photo by James Suckling

Hiroshi Robaina sports a wristwatch to show his support for President Obama.

Read my blog from earlier this week about this year’s tobacco harvest.

I haven’t spoken to a person on the island who doesn’t wish that the current U.S. restrictions on travel to the island, as well as remittances, be relaxed. This is apparently what President Obama has already promised in his first 100 days. He would allow Cuban Americans to travel to the island when they wish as well as letting them send an unlimited amount of money to relatives in Cuba. Allowing other Americans to travel to Cuba would take some sort of legislation instead of an executive order, if I am not mistaken.

Whether the President actually does anything remains to be seen. He has a lot more important matters at the moment, such as passing a successful stimulus package to bolster the U.S. and global economy. Perhaps changing things with Cuba will be a little easier task?

I noticed that Fidel Castro was even smitten with our new president, calling him nuestro amigo Obama in one of his recent blogs. Of course, most of his blog was spent aggressively asking what our new president planned to do about the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay and the conflict in the Gaza Strip. That wasn’t very original, but the fact that Castro used a term of endearment for Obama is notable.

“We really wish that Obama can do something to better relations with Cuba,” said a woman I met at the National Ballet a few nights ago. She had a huge smile on her face. Every Cuban I speak to about Obama has a great smile and energy during the conversation. “We have so much hope for your new president. It’s all so positive and exciting.”

Photo by James Suckling

Fidel Castro during his interview with Marvin R. Shanken in 1994.

I wonder if the two men could ever sit down and smoke a cigar together in peace? When I was there for Marvin R. Shanken’s interview with Fidel Castro in 1994, Castro told us that he would consider smoking again once he retired. So maybe Castro already enjoys an occasional cigar now and then? I know Obama smokes once in awhile, but I am not sure if he ever smokes a cigar.
Steve Cohen Canada February 7, 2009 3:16pm ET
One of your best blogs yet James. Extremely informative. Obama has this effect of hope, which God knows we all need these days.
Nick Lisewych Lynnwood, WA February 8, 2009 2:36pm ET
Sad irony: If Cuban cigars become legal in the U.S., that lousy SCHIP tax will be applied to them. Thanks for nothing, Obama.

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