For over 50 years I waited for my country to give me permission make a 45-minute flight to neighboring Cuba so I could visit the Cuban people, see their 500-year-old cities, hike in their mountain villages, experience their incredible artistic talents and sway to their music, music and music.

Finally, thanks to President Obama’s peace initiatives during his last two years in office, my friends and I finally got to visit Cuba a few months ago.

Our trip was arranged under relaxed rules and regulations that only required us to get visas then simply declare that we were on a “people to people” mission.

I had no trouble making that pledge, given the fact that I am a former Peace Corps volunteer who speaks fluent Spanish, has a moderate appreciation of green hills, loves old cities with narrow cobblestone streets and really likes good rum drinks.

The Colorado-based tour company we used made travel arrangements with an associated Cuban tour group, which allowed us to create our own travel agenda inside Cuba.

La Habana, Cuba. President Obama opened the country to U.S. travel and business, but President Trump has taken a step backwards, the author argues.

Flickr: Pedro Szekely

The ladies in our six-person group wanted to go up into the hills and look for rare birds. Us guys stood around pretending that we liked “birding,” because the ladies then accompanied us into the cities to search out Cuban art and music while sipping a few Rum and Cokes. And everybody in our group wanted to experience Cuban cooking.

During our 18-day Cuban excursion we were pampered by a highly educated tour guide (Carlos) and an experienced van driver (David) who took great care to get us anywhere we wanted to go throughout Cuba. Most importantly, they seemed to know all of the best private restaurants along our 900-kilometer journey.

Carlos and David soon became like members of our family, sharing evening meals with us while swapping stories of families and life experiences. It should be no surprise to learn that by the end of our tour we thanked our guides with warm embraces and generous tips.

Food, Family, Fun

Each night in Cuba we safely reclined in bed-and-breakfast residences all privately owned by multi-generational families who spared no amount of energy to provide us with clean, modern rooms complete with hot showers and air conditioning.

And each morning these same families woke up at sunrise to present us with marvelous breakfasts of fresh fruit, hand-squeezed juices, eggs, fresh baked bread and gallons of eye-opening Cuban coffee.

And best of all our hosts — grandpas and grandmas holding the toddlers, young mothers with beauty and grace in abundance and husbands doing their part before going off to their government jobs — would offer to cook a complete dinner for our group in the evening if we desired.  It did not take us long to find out that our hosts were universally great cooks who filled dinner tables with chicken, fish and lobsters for about $10 a plate per night (including  — yes — the tropical drink of our choice).

These morning and evening meals were separated by a multitude of guided trips to art centers, music presentations, old colonial homes from the early 1500s, numerous Catholic churches that are open for worship, and cobblestone plazas teeming with school children exercising in the open air while old timers drank Cuban coffee in the private restaurants that surround the plazas.

Trinidad, Cuba. The people and music are just two draws to the country. And did we mention the rum drinks?

Flickr: Matteo Artizzu

Every few days we would leave our hosts to journey to another city or mountain village, but we always left small gifts from Hawaii and generous tips for our host families who had bent over backwards to make our visits memorable.

And before each departure our hosts thanked us for coming to visit the country that they loved, for getting to know the families that they cherished and for supporting their new family-run, privately run businesses that offered them real hope for a better life.

So, having made my long-awaited trip to Cuba I returned to Hawaii in hopes of telling all my friends and their families to get to Cuba as soon as possible. But last month my plans to promote Cuba with all my heart were dashed by our incredibly short-sighted and clueless president.

Instead of heralding the wonderful achievements of President Obama’s peaceful initiatives that brought an extra 600,000 American “ambassadors of democracy” to Cuba this past year, President Trump declared his desire to make it more difficult for any of us to meet Cuban farmers, cooks, jazz musicians and hiking and birding guides face to face in the future.

My plans to promote Cuba with all my heart were dashed by our incredibly short-sighted and clueless president.

And the worst part of President Trump’s step backwards in time is the true damage that he will do to  the those families that we met during our recent visit. Although Trump based his backward actions on a desire to stifle the Cuban military, his actions will only hurt the thousands of Cuban families who recently initiated private tourist businesses in Cuba.

The president may say he is applying pressure to the Cuban military, but I know better. The pressure that he will apply will cause daily harm to young families by dashing their bed-and-breakfast home-expansion plans, their restaurant expansion plans and their laundry visitor service plans, their egg-delivery service plans, and their bread-baking plans.

The president may think he is a tough guy standing up to Cuba’s one-party system, but actually he is hurting thousands of average Cubans who were planting the seeds of free enterprise from the top of mountains to the center of  old city plazas. That is how you really undercut the Cuban military and promote more political participation in the future: one small bed-and-breakfast at a time.  

In closing, I do have a confession to make as a Cuban tourist — “Señor Trump” does not have a clue about Cuba.

Get in touch with a tour group company today and go. Don’t turn back the clock. You and your family will not be sorry that you went.

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