Cigar Aficionado


I was not surprised to see a change in Raúl Castro’s government yesterday. I think that Castro wants to have people he feels that can really trust as he creates a new future for his country 50 years after the Revolution. Some of the people moved from key positions were closer to his brother than him.

Just what that future is for Cuba, nobody really knows at this time. It will certainly be different than before.

I still have good feelings about what’s ahead between the United States and Cuba. I invited statesman Ricardo Alarcón to dinner last Saturday with author Miguel Barnet and some other friends. And I was happy both men were so upbeat about the situation with America and our new government.

Alarcón is the president of Cuba’s National Assembly of the People’s Power. The 70-year-old is one of the most public and outspoken individuals in the Cuban government and a close confident of the Castro brothers. He also served as Cuba’s ambassador to the United Nations for 12 years, and he was Minster of Foreign Affairs. He is also a keen cigar smoker. I seldom see him without a Cohiba Lancero in his hand.

In any case, Alarcón was sure that President Obama would reinstate more relaxed travel restrictions for Cuban Americans and other licensed travelers as well as unrestricted remittances to the island and credit terms for sales of American agricultural products. It was simply putting policies back in place that the Clinton administration had rightfully established before the first term of George W. Bush, Alarcón argued.

The big question was what Obama will do about travel for other Americans. How can Cuban Americans be allowed to go without any problems while others can’t? That’s unfair—especially in America. So it’s going to have to change.

This, I told him, will be the impetus to allow all Americans to go to the island when and how we choose. Obviously, the Cubans will regulate our travel to their country with visas, airline regulations and other methods. But the U.S. government will not wrongfully restrict our travel.

Ojalá. Let’s hope so!

The United States and Cuba have many other issues to deal with such as the jailed Cuban Five in the states to the welfare of political dissidents on the island, not to mention all sorts of long standing arguments. But I think it all can be worked out. As someone said to me recently, Cuba and America are so close to one another physically that we have to have a relationship. At least the two are finally talking.

It’s a lot easier than both sides have been making it out to be. May be I am naïve, but I thought about it as I was smoking a cigar with Alarcón after dinner and conversing at the table.