Obama Eases Cuba Travel Restrictions, a World of History Opens Up (Part 2)

More on the adopted island of my grandfather.

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By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog.

Rico was born in Cuba, as was his wife. They were married in August of 1960 on the same day that Castro ordered all professionals who wanted to emigrate to America to leave the island within two days, or remain forever a Castro captive. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, and many people of means comprised a steady river of émigrés after Castro took over. Cousin Rico's firm was seized and taken from him during Castro's communist takeover, and Rico served time in jail for protesting what he saw as the theft of his business. So he and his bride packed everything they could fit into a trunk, and left the day after their wedding for Florida.

My grandfather did not fare as well. Having had all his worldly goods confiscated at the age of 55, he could not face the prospect of being penniless and old. By then he'd long since obtained his U.S. visa and U.S. citizenship. He traveled back and forth between Havana and Cuba, running his businesses in Cuba and raising a family in New York. He fled to Key West after the takeover of his holdings and took an overdose of prescription drugs.

As the U.S. looks to normalize relations with Cuba, I hope President Obama keeps several things in mind. First, there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of Americans who are owed property taken from them or their ancestors by Castro's government. Second, by accident or by design (no one is sure which), lack of investment and the consequent lack of overdevelopment has left Cuba as perhaps the last pristine, ecologically healthy island in the Caribbean. In that respect, five decades of U.S. non-involvement has been great for Cuba. Obviously many of its citizens would have preferred development and the economic activity it produces.

But since the U.S. has already been unable to ruin Cuba's ecology due to the embargo, when and if the embargo is lifted let's try to keep it that way. After all, we've already ruined our own country and so many others in the Caribbean. Let Cuba stand as an example of green investment with a true commitment to preserve what we have not yet destroyed there.

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