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As a Cuban American, I hope that someday soon the Cuban exiles will accept what happened and heal. That Castro will take some responsibility for his part in the decay of the Cuba that was. His ways haven't really been the solutions he promised at all--merely another set of problems. I hope he truly finds a way to help the people enjoy the privileges we Americans take for granted sometimes.

Most importantly, I hope with the help of people like yourself, that we--Americans, Cuban Americans, Cuban exiles and native Cubans--all see a clear picture of what Cuba should and could be.

Thank you for having such affection for a place and its people. From your conviction it does seem true that seeing something for yourself once is better than being told about it a 1,000 times. Here's hoping!

My siblings and I affectionately refer to someone who is very Cuban in their ways as being Cubaniche ("Cuba-neech"). You are officially knighted!

Maria Menendez Marchassalla
Douglaston, New York

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Dear Mr. Shanken:

Congratulations on your June 1999 issue, "Cuba: Is it time to end the embargo?" It was a balanced presentation of the sharply divergent views that have shaped our policy toward Cuba over the years.

In April, I spent five days in Cuba where I spoke with a wide range of people, from Fidel Castro to taxi drivers. I came away convinced that our policy is outdated and self-defeating, and that Senator Chris Dodd's reasons for ending the embargo make sense. That is not to say that we should stop pressing Cuba on human rights, or that Cuba would quickly become a free market democracy. Castro seemed to be in fine health, and his repressive policies are not going to change regardless of what we do. But neither should our own government dictate where Americans can travel (there are no restrictions on our citizens' travel to North Korea), nor limit American companies from selling food and medicines--especially after allowing such sales to Sudan, Libya and Iran. (The White House spokesman rightly said that "food should not be used as a tool of foreign policy.")

Cuban officials shamelessly blame the United States for everything wrong in Cuba, including hardships caused by their own policies. The average Cuban, cut off from most independent sources of information, has little reason to think otherwise, and there is no doubt that the embargo makes their lives worse. Cuba is changing slowly--too slowly to satisfy most Cubans--but it is time to devise a post-Cold War policy that puts our national interests first.

A good place to start would be to end the restrictions on the right of Americans to travel there. The restrictions are beneath the dignity of a free and powerful nation. Let the doors open.

Patrick Leahy
United States Senator Washington, D.C.

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Dear Marvin,

This is in response to the letter by Larry Deyab (February 1999). Mr. Deyab begins by informing us about the degradation in quality premium (i.e., Cuban) smokes, and also, the upward spiral of prices for said cigars. I will defer to Mr. Deyab's expertise. However, Mr. Deyab, you lost all credibility when you resorted to name calling, referring to people in cigar bars as "young idiots...who barely even know which end to light." I assure you, sir, that I am no idiot. I like the atmosphere of a cigar bar; the company and aromas are very relaxing.

I like to consider myself a "serious" cigar smoker. Not because I have been smoking a long time, about five years, nor because I smoke a lot, about once a week. I am serious about cigars because, when I light up--and I do know which end to light--I am lighting a quality cigar, even though it's not a Cuban.

How do I know this? Simple research. Be it word of mouth from a friend, or better yet, the Tasting section in Cigar Aficionado. This allows me to decide what to try. If I like it, I'll keep buying it. If it doesn't work for me, then I discard it and move on. Without this section, I would be out there wasting good money on bad smokes until I found the better ones.

J. Kurt Klug
Beaumont, Texas

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