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Tail Fins and Cuba Libres: As US Airlines Head for Havana, Can Americans Find the Place?

This week, JetBlue became the first airline to reopen commercial service between the U.S. and Cuba.

Other U.S. carriers have already announced details of their plans.

Though flying to Cuba just to enjoy the beach is still not strictly allowed, many U.S. Citizens are already making plans for a combination of business and pleasure.

The rest of the world will continue going to Cuba too, perhaps more so as facilities improve.

What will this all mean for Cuba? The economic benefits are welcome. Romanticism aside, nobody likes to be poor and that’s true in any country.

There’s no need to be overly worried about any “loss of authenticity” as tourists flock to the island. Cuba is far more than its classic cars, cigars, Cuba Libres and quaint buildings.

I always suspect that what people are really saying, when they mourn the entry of tourists and big brands to a place, is that they’ll be afraid of losing out on the travel bargains. Frankly, the well-being of Cuba’s people matters more.

For anyone wanting to follow tourism developments closely, with good view of what it means locally, I recommend the Cuba Journal.

Cuba Is Much More than Tourism

Cuba’s culture has been influenced by long periods of U.S. tourism and U.S. business interests before the blockade. That interaction shaped the country’s history, for better or worse. For better or worse, it will again.

Cuba 2027 will be as authentically Cuban as Cuba was in 1927. It will be different. Different is what Cuba does.

My father was Cuban. He was among the Cubans exiles who mourned the loss of some abstract concept of Cuba which I don’t believe ever really existed—even in his mind.

He hated Batista and supported Castro. Then he hated Castro, fled to Spain and liked Franco. Then he left Spain with my mother, and I was left behind.

Eventually, Franco died. Eventually, my father and I met in the U.S.. Castro’s still hanging in there. My father is not. We never saw eye to eye—except on one thing: we both loved Jose Marti. That’s a big something.

What would Marti make of all of this? Well, he was the one who walked on worn shoes, stuffed with newspapers, through the streets of New York trying to raise funds for a revolution against Spain. At least, that’s how my father told it.

I remember him as the idealistic poet, the son of Spanish immigrants, who thought leading a battle on a white horse—when you’ve never fought a war except with a pen—was a good idea. I love him for that. Just as I love Quixote.

Everyone knows Guantanamera. Those who don’t will likely hear it now that they’re heading over that way.

The title comes from the refrain, which is just Guajira Guantanamera, or country girl from Guantanamo. The lyrics come from Marti’s Versos Sencillos, Simple Verses.

Here’s a little sample (my humble translation):

I come from all parts,
and I go to all parts:
I am art in the arts,
and in the mountains a mountain.

I know the strange names
of herbs and flowers.
I know of mortal schemes,
and of sublime pains.

I’ve seen the dark night
Rain over my head
I’ve seen the rays of pure light
of divine beauty.

I’ve seen wings grow on the shoulders
Of beautiful women
And rising out of debris
I’ve seen butterflies.

I know well that when the world
yields, wan, to rest
Over the profound silence
A serene lullaby murmurs.

I’ve placed a reckless hand,
Stiff with horror and rejoicing,
Over the burnt-out star
Which fell at my door.

I hide in my wild heart
The sorrow which wounds it.
The son of a slave nation
Lives for it, is silent, and dies.

Everything is beautiful and constant,
Everything is music and reason,
And everything, like the diamond,
Before it is light, is coal.

That’s Cuba. It always will be.

No matter what U.S. business does, no matter what U.S. tourism does, if Americans get that, if they can find that place between passion and loss, wisdom and blindness, courage and treason, then they’ll truly love Cuba too.

Otherwise, the food is great.

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