We just completed our fifth trip to Havana, Cuba. Each time we go we learn increasingly about this unique culture. The best thing I see in Cuba is the void of race consciousness. We, America, are obsessed with it. Cubans come in all shades – just like the United States but it is clear one’s race means nothing. They value the content of one’s character. Yes, just like Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech.
This time we stayed at the Ambos Mundos Hotel in the Old Havana district. It sits right in the center of the tourism hub. Very clean and good cuisine (free breakfast daily). We just may stay there again. Their employees are always smiling and they respond quickly to requests.
Our part time Tour Guide was “Junior”. He did an excellent job as we rode around in our classic cars. Many of us stayed in the venue of our choosing (some in hotels and others in Airbnb). We would schedule visits and meet up at a cab stand. Junior would assemble 4 or 5 cabs (depending on the number of participants) and on we go. The weather was perfect! The sun was blazing every day and we looked so cool riding in our classic convertibles.
One of our first official visit was with the honorable U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey De Laurentis and his wife who hosted an informational reception for us at his lovely residence (built by Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his tenure). The next day we met with a group of young entrepreneurs. It was refreshing to see that this communist island was beginning to warm to free enterprise. These millennials were excited to meet us. They are all interested in collaborating with American business owners. Cuba is at the point of allowing small business ownership. To grow and quickly become a big corporation is not going to happen now. The group consisted of fashion designers, magazine publishers, musicians (one was scheduled to play with Herbie Hancock during a jazz festival), architects, bakers, and various consultants. The door to capitalism is cracking open. We all exchanged business cards and made new friends. I gave our new fellow entrepreneurs honorary membership to the National Black Chamber of Commerce.
We had a fabulous lunch at the “El Portal de Calzada”. This is a Black owned restaurant. It is a beautiful converted mansion. The Black married couple started the restaurant 22 years ago. They are open between noon – midnight offering entertainment by a live band at night. Their staff was professional, the food was delicious and the price was quite affordable. Again, capitalism is showing its lovely face in Cuba.
During free time on our visit many of us would sit in the lobby of the hotel where there was a great bar (24 hours). While sitting there one morning a Black American approached us and took a seat. He was quite personable and we asked him where he was from. He said Oakland, California. I tested him in asking which high school did he go to. He replied quickly “Castle Mount”. Good I said to myself. Then it occurred to me he was dressed too casually to be a tourist. “Do you live here?” I queried. Then something quickly came to my mind. “Are you on the run?” I asked. He casually replied, “I have lived here for 47 years under official asylum from the Cuban government.” “What put you on the run?” He slowly explained his plight: “They have falsely accused me of killing a policeman and hijacking a commercial plane to this country. The Cuban government has given me asylum.” I then asked, “Where is Joanne Chesimard and the others.” He calmly said, “Most of us stay in touch but it is rare when we see Joanne. You know they (US Government) have a $2 million reward – Dead or Alive – on her.” We were stunned, “Dead or Alive sounds like the wild, wild west. Is that constitutional? I asked. “That is the way it goes” he retorted. Ms. Chesimard is also known as Assata Shakur.
Here we were sitting with a cold-blooded US terrorist. As soon as we got home I looked up Charles Hill on Google. There are plenty of articles about him. This is going to be a very big issue to settle. During the 1970’s Cuba became a “get away” for some of the biggest US terrorists in the United States. Congress is demanding that Cuba return these criminals back to us for prosecution. That will probably happen sooner than later. For more on Charles Hill paste this link in your browser: goo.gl/3x5FO4
Cuba is a piece of work in progress. It is going to be a flourishing nation one day as it corrects a few “kinks” along the way. The potential is promising.
Mr. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce ©
DATED: May 1, 2017