Havana Calling

I’ve been visiting the Caribbean for vacation on a near-annual basis for close to a decade now.  From various cities in the Dominican Republic to several stops on a cruise along Mexico’s east coast and even to Florida’s Key West.  Its proximity and comforting familiarity have, at times, dissuaded me from venturing to less convenient travel destinations.  But thankfully, the gentle Caribbean breezes and soothing ocean sounds have not completely eliminated my desire to travel elsewhere; I’ve still managed to see much of Europe and the Middle East, as well as Australia, since I first ventured south to the Caribbean’s relaxing environs.

But there is one destination I have yet to see:  Cuba.  This is, of course, because most Americans cannot legally travel to Cuba.  The short history: following the 1959 Cuban revolution, the new government – led by Fidel Castro – began nationalizing American assets and property in the early 1960s.  The Kennedy Administration responded by imposing a severely restrictive trade embargo on the communist outpost less than 100 miles from Florida’s coast.  Of those sanctions, most relevant to our discussion is the U.S. Treasury Department’s Cuban Assets Control Regulations, which still remains in force and prohibits conducting any commercial activities with Cuba.  This “commercial activities” prohibition amounts to a de facto travel ban because it’s impossible to travel, eat, or sleep without spending some amount of money.

The embargo, however, is not absolute and several exceptions have been carved out over the years.  One of the lesser-known exceptions permits limited and sanctioned educational exchanges; it was through one such exchange trip that my wife was able to visit the tiny communist nation several years ago.  Yet I only have second-hand experience.  I have only seen pictures of the ancient 1950s automobiles, of the bat sitting atop the original Bacardi factory, of the billboard espousing diesel gasoline as “The Fuel of the Future.”  I have only heard of Varadaro’s pristine white sand, of Havana Club’s delicious, smooth, and sweet taste.

While I can’t yet legally see these sights with my own eyes, a quick duck into the Duty Free Shop on the way home from a recent trip to the Dominican Republic put a bottle of Havana Club, the rare Cuban rum, in my hands.  Havana Club is rare because the Cuban rum – produced in Havana – is banned from being imported into the states under the trade embargo.  Thankfully U.S. Customs and Immigrations officials weren’t too concerned when I declared my bottle after landing from the return flight; apparently a bottle or two doesn’t raise any red flags.

The embargo can’t end too soon, in my opinion.  Want to speed up Cuba’s transition to democracy?  Give the Cubans a taste of freedom via McDonald’s, Cap’n Crunch, and Coca Cola;  it worked with the Russians.  But until our policy on Cuba changes, I’ll have to enjoy my single bottle slowly, sipping it only on warm days, when the breeze blows slowly and coolly, just like it does over the Caribbean’s crystal clear waters.

Published in: on April 27, 2011 at 11:32 pm  Comments (2)  
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  1. I should taste it first to make aure it is authentic.

  2. You’re always welcome to visit Canada – we might not have the warm tropical breezes (not often, anyways), but we do have the Havana Club rum, and it isn’t rare around here.

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