Sunday, August 24, 2014

Why NPR's David Greene Thinks All Americans Should Visit Cuba Now

Why NPR's David Greene Thinks All Americans Should Visit Cuba Now
Written by: Paul Brady
August 21, 2014

NPR Morning Edition host David Greene spent a week in June reporting
from Cuba, the country that few Americans have had the chance to
visit—even though new "people-to-people" trips make it legal to tour on
certain itineraries. Greene shared his memories of the trip—and his tips
for those visiting for the first time—with Condé Nast Traveler in an
interview shortly after he returned to the U.S.

How did you spend your week in Cuba?

We'd been trying to go for almost a year—the visa process is quite an
adventure—but we finally got to go for a week. We spent the first couple
days in Havana and interviewed a morning radio news host who works on a
kind of government-owned Morning Edition of Havana.

Some stuff was set up by the government, which was a narrative for the
trip, but we also got out on our own and explored on our own. We spent a
day in Mariel, about an hour west of Havana, where the Mariel boatlift
was in 1980. The numbers are stunning: more than 100,000 Cubans leaving
on boats from there. Today, they're expanding a deep-water port that the
government is hoping will be helpful to the economy. There are a lot of
questions about whether they are really committed or not to foreign
investment, how many restrictions there might be.

We took a mini road trip to the island of Varadero, which is one of the
tourist beaches in Cuba that brings in Europeans and visitors from Latin
and South America. We tried to follow how tourism money comes into the
country and what it means to people. From there, we went down to the
town of Cárdenas, which is visually one of the most awesome places I've
been to, with horse carts clomping through these old colonial streets.
We kept driving into sugar country—real, classic, old Cuba—where the
sugar industry thrived until the '90s when a lot of people thought Fidel
Castro made some bad decisions. We spent a very memorable hour with a
family there. The father worked three decades in the sugar industry and
showed us his ration booklet, which is still something that exists in Cuba.

When we got back to Havana, we did a couple interviews with dissidents,
which we purposefully saved for the end of the trip. The last interview
we did was with a journalist who was beaten up on the street about 10
days prior, and he talked about the challenge of trying to test the
limits of free expression in a country that doesn't allow much of it. It
was really interesting when he mentioned that he gets trained at the
U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which is another sign that the U.S.
government is still trying to do the best it can to break through and do
democracy promotion in Cuba, as we saw with the "Cuban Twitter" story
earlier this year.

Were there difficulties in reporting from the country?

I wanted to be really humble and realistic about it and say that none of
us were Cuba experts. We were going to take in a place and bring it home
as best we could. It's an incredibly murky and complicated place—and
we're very new to it, so we had open minds and tried to be listeners.

What surprised you about being a journalist in Cuba?

I thought we'd be followed more and tracked more. Our first stop was the
International Press Center, and I expected a five-hour lecture about how
great Cuba is. It was literally 20 minutes: We filled out a form, they
handed us press credentials, and off we go. We were much more free to
wander than I expected to be. There was a surprising moment in the other
direction, though, in Varadero, when we wanted to talk to people about
their jobs in tourism. We got to the hotel where we arranged interviews
with a band and a server, and all of a sudden it got really tense and
people got nervous and scared when the security people at the hotel
found out. And that was a window into how the fear is still there. There
were these little reminders of, "Okay, we're Cuba."

Why go to Cuba now?

Any time you can go is worthwhile because it's such a difficult place to
get a look at. We have a colleague in journalism, Nick Miroff at the
Washington Post, who did great work telling one story after another
there. But to be able to go for a week and get a deep dive—to get the
government to allow a team as big as ours was to go in!—is pretty rare.
To me, whenever you can get there, you just go.

I do think this is a really interesting time, though. If you look at
public opinion in the Cuban American community in Miami, it is changing.
There are questions about whether the softening of the position of some
younger Cuban Americans means that there will be less pressure over time
on this president and future presidents to keep the embargo in place.
That's a question worth asking. Now, older Cuban Americans vote much
more loyally and much more often and are a very powerful force, so it's
not like we're on the cusp of political change. But we're beginning to
reach a point where there could be a different policy.

There's a poll out that shows that, for the first time, the majority of
Cuban Americans is in favor of ending the embargo. That can be a little
misleading because older Cuban Americans vote in much larger numbers but
that is a huge development. I think the question that you'll see both
parties asking is "Is the old political narrative true?" Do we have to
pay this much attention to the Cuban American vote in Florida and is
Florida that important in a presidential election. Maybe the answer is
yes! But those are the questions sitting there for 2016.

With Mariel Port and Castro pushing tourism development, it really seems
that a lot of what he's doing in terms of the economy is pointing to the
day when the embargo might be gone. For Varadero and the expansion of
that beach resort to succeed, they're going to need a few million
American tourists to come every year and that's not going to happen
until the embargo is gone. And at Mariel too, that port might see some
success in the short term, but it could really be important—especially
with the Panama Canal expansion—if that American market opens up.

What was it like to stay at the Hotel Nacional, one of the city's most
famous hotels?

It was beautiful. Stunning. It's right on the Malecón which is the long
four-mile promenade they call the world's longest bar—especially when
the sun goes down—where you'll see massive crowds of Cubans sitting
along the water, smoking, drinking, kissing, chatting. It's a great
place to meet people!

What should first-time visitors make sure they do while visiting?

It is worth getting out of Havana and Varadero. Being in an old sugar
town called Madruga, I felt like I was seeing a different side of
Cuba—and one that you can't really miss if you want to understand the
place. And I would say don't be nervous and don't be afraid of the
place. Have a cultural awareness about the desperation that's there but
be open to conversation with these wonderful people who have really
interesting stories to tell.

You also got some shots of vintage automobiles—what was that like?

Our photographer and I were told to ignore the 1950s cars because
they're such a cliche in Havana, but neither of us could ignore them.
You just couldn't turn away. He said it was like trying to walk by Jack
Nicholson. You have to point your camera in that direction!

Source: Why NPR's David Greene Thinks All Americans Should Visit Cuba
Now -

No comments:

Post a Comment