The once formidable economic embargo that the United States instituted against Cuba after the missile crisis more than half century ago is finally beginning to collapse - much to the chagrin of certain American politicians who have built their careers on vilifying the socialist mainstay of the Caribbean.
Many Americans have openly flaunted travel restrictions to Cuba by flying in via Canada or Mexico - or through other countries - for years, and this past March the visitor's door to Cuba was kicked wide open when the Obama family landed on the island for the first visit by a sitting U.S. President in decades. Within a month of the President's visit, American cruise ships began stopping in Cuba, and next month, on November 13th, Southwest Airlines will begin regularly scheduled flights to the island nation.
With just three months left in office, President Obama has chosen to twist the tails of Cuban hardliners like Little Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz one more time by lifting the decades-old embargo on Cuban cigars and rum. Effective next Monday American citizens who travel to Cuba will be able to bring home the famous cigars and rum in unlimited quantities - for personal use only. The catch is that those wanting the smokes and booze must go to Cuba in person to make the purchases. Internet sales are not permitted.
All of which sounds likes a good reason to visit Cuba. Twist, twist, twist!
Journalist Peter Kornbluh tells an interesting tale of Cuban cigars and the U.S. Presidency in his book, Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana. It seems that President John F. Kennedy was a big fan of Cuban cigars. The night before Kennedy signed the comprehensive economic embargo of Cuba in 1962 he summoned his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, and instructed him to get out into the community and buy up all of the Cuban cigars he could find. The next morning Salinger reported back to the President with 1,200 of Cuba's finest. The satisfied Kennedy then signed the embargo making it illegal for other Americans to enjoy the world's best cigars - like the ones he was hoarding.
Peter Kornbluh was one of the guides on the trip that I took to Cuba with The Nation magazine last April. I enjoyed hearing him repeat the Kennedy cigar story over a late lunch one afternoon in Havana.
And, at the risk of repeating sentiments from earlier blog posts regarding my visit to Cuba, I found the Cuban people to be friendly, courteous, hospitable, and as curious about their neighbors in the United States as we were about them. They were warm and welcoming human beings - and it is high time for the embargo to be gone.