Day 3 in Cuba

The Park View Hotel provided an extensive breakfast buffet daily on the top (7th) floor in a room 2 sides of which were windows opening to a panoramic view of the city roofs and streets. We all enjoyed this meal before our 8:30 or 9am departures for the day.

This day we met again with lawyers from the Cuban Society of International Law. We noticed a theme from the previous days, emphasizing Cuban history and Cuba’s desire for sovereignty and respect. This talk focused on Cuba’s standing in the world in regard to providing humanitarian aid after natural disasters and in regard to trade and business interests with Canada, Holland, Germany, China, South American countries and more.

We had lunch in a covered outdoor dining area at the 5 star Hotel Nacional. It should be mentioned that lunches and dinners in Cuba tend to be pleasant 1 1/2 hour events.

In the afternoon we visited the US Interests Section. This is the closest to an “embassy” the US has in Cuba. We thought it wise to check in and let them know our group was in Habana for a stay. This stop was not printed in our tour schedule and our tour bus was not allowed to drive us there, so the lunch meeting had been moved from a more distant location to the Hotel Nacional so that we could walk to the US Interests Section.

Guards furiously blew their whistles at me as I tried to cross the street mid-block. We are not sure if this was because I jay walked or because I was not approaching the building via one of their check-points. I back tracked, and we moved as a group through the check-point guards. We were made to stand at a specific place and approach the guard booth one at a time as our passports and visas were carefully scrutinized.

Inside the building, we had to hand over our passports, cameras and bags before entering a small auditorium where Deputy Public Affairs Officer spoke with us and answered questions. She felt that until Alan Gross, who was sentenced to 15 years for illegally bringing electronic equipment for accessing the Internet into Cuba, was released that negotiations on other issues could not even begin. Given that Cuba takes a similar position on releasing the Cuban Five, who received long prison sentences for espionage, you can see that normalization of relations is not going to happen anytime soon. She did feel that the embargo had been a failure and should be lifted. It was giving Castro a convenient excuse for Cuba’s repeated economic failures.

From the Cuban perspective, there are also many other issues to be resolved between the two countries: Guantanamo Bay, immigration, trade, lifting of the embargo, which they refer to as “El Bloqueo”–blockade and respect for Cuba’s sovereignty. We, of course, have our own set of issues, which include human rights and a transition to democracy. Most of us felt that the public affairs officer was not at all sympathetic to the Cuban perspective on many issues.

Typical street scene in Old Habana

Typical street scene in Old Habana

Along the Malecon (seawall) across from US Interests Section

Along the Malecon (seawall) across from US Interests Section

US Interests Section building

US Interests Section building

At the Union of Cuban Jurists- just before our morning session.

At the Union of Cuban Jurists- just before our morning session.