Out of the Humidor
From the Print Edition:
Kelsey Grammer, January/February 2013
In the December issue of Cigar Aficionado, your editorial argues the virtues of the people-to-people licenses awarded to various U.S. companies traveling to Cuba by our government. The editorial also points out that these licenses are no longer available to these companies due to our government’s assertion that they are really just tourist trips in disguise.
As a recent participant on one of these trips, I can attest that our daily itenerary was strictly adhered to by Chamber Explorations (the licensed company), and it included personal interaction with the Cuban people almost hourly. Our daily contact with the Cuban people changed our lives, and it also caused us to reconsider our view of our government’s policy regarding the Cuban embargo. We changed to a great extent.
As a conservative Republican, I viewed the embargo as a necessary evil to effect change within the Cuban government. But my view of that policy has evolved as a result of the trip and the human interaction we all had with those wonderful people. Based on my personal interactions with our group (which included a healthy mix of conservatives and liberals), the vast majority felt strongly that our policy toward the “Cuba problem” should be changed. In reflecting on that after reading your editorial, I have come to the conclusion that, perhaps, that is the reason the licenses were stopped. That’s the only logic I can apply to our government’s discontinuation of these licenses. But, then again, very few things the people in Washington do ever make logical sense.
My wife and I treated this trip as a “vacation” of sorts, but our primary purpose in going was to experience that mythical land and to see firsthand the daily lives of the Cuban people. Did we consider ourselves “tourists”? Most definitely, yes. But however you label us on the island, we were there to witness the plight of the Cuban people under a tyrannical regime and to see a place stuck in the ’50s. And we did. It changed us, and to some extent I think it might have changed some of the Cuban people with whom we interacted. Our goal in those interactions was to be as absolutely loving and friendly as we could possibly be.
If the purpose of the relaxed restrictions and loosening of the license requirements was to promote interactions with the Cuban people and thereby act as an agent for positive change, it is working, in my view. I know that all of our group of Americans from all parts of the U.S. were moved by this experience.
So, I have to ask this question of those in the U.S. government who are making the decision to stop these trips: just what is the purpose of the people-to-people license?
I hope the U.S. government takes another look at this policy and decides to continue the program. In my opinion, based on the reaction of the 20 plus people in our group, the vast majority of participants in this program come away from these trips with sympathy for the Cuban people and most leave Havana with the hope that positive change will come soon. We don’t know how that change will come about; but we all, almost to a person, felt that positive change would indeed come, and sooner rather than later—especially if we are able to continue our interaction with those wonderfully positive and friendly people.
Editor’s Note: Our sources report that OFAC began re-issuing licenses late this fall and many trips have now been rescheduled for 2012. Let’s hope it comes true.
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