With the recent opening of Cuba to Americans, new relationships are forming between the U.S. and the island nation. This includes the re-opening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana in 2015, and of the Cuban Embassy at 315 Lexington Ave. in New York. Also, just a few days before we left for Havana, as reported in the Havana Times, Pope Francis, Pontiff of the Catholic Church, met there with His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. Fidel Castro noted “To struggle for peace is the most sacred duty of all human beings, whatever their religion, country of origin, skin color, advanced or youthful age may be.” (February 14, 2016)
Cuba has been in the news a lot recently! In Cuba they just announced the plan to drop the 10% fee on changing U.S. dollars. There was an article in the Sunday, March 13 Daily News, and on the professional side, Library Journal reported on the CUNY contingent that was in Cuba in February. And of course, next week on March 21-22, President Obama will meet with leaders on the island. Even the baseball teams are seeing opportunities, as the Tampa Bay Rays are heading over for a game, bringing along Derek Jeter, Joe Torre, and Cuban born Red Sox ace Luis Tiant! (ESPN & ESPN Deportes will have live coverage of the game on the 22nd, starting at 1:30 p.m. ET.) I’m guessing they will do some scouting….just like the U.S. companies who are circling in the warm Caribbean waters.
The American Library Association (ALA) group flew out of Miami with cultural visas in hand, and landed in Havana less than an hour later, feeling worlds apart but with hopes to see and understand Cuba today “before it changes.” We had numerous questions: what is it like to live in a Communist-Socialist state for over fifty years? With the impending U.S. presidential election, will a new president continue to expand relations, or turn back the clock? Fidel is aging, his brother Raul is not young; who will lead Cuba in the future? In fact, their older brother, Ramon Castro, passed away on the day we were leaving Cuba, February 23rd.
And last but certainly not least, what is the situation of libraries in Cuba? Would Cuban librarians welcome us? What could we offer to them and what could we learn from them? While no one can predict the future, after a short week in Cuba, we all left the island with new awareness, hopes and frustrations, more questions…. and a lot of new friends!