Thursday, January 15, 2009

Friendship Flotilla

The Obama Transition Team shows its skill at using the internet to engage citizens in ways that spring forth from the effective ways that the Obama Campaign Team did the same thing. The OTT created a web site at and then invited citizens at large to see what the team is doing, and to offer ideas and feedback to those who are setting out to implement the policies of the new president once he is sworn in.

One element of the effort is called the Citizens Briefing Book. Its purpose is to gather ideas from a wide spectrum of average citizens on a broad range of topics, to offer others the opportunity to "vote" on which ideas they are most in support of, and to present those ideas in summary form to the President on the day he assumes office, similar to the President's Daily Brief on matters of state and security.

I took advantage of the opportunity to submit comments on a topic of interest to me, the restoration of normal relations between the United States and Cuba. This is what I wrote:

As Cuba's closest United States neighbor, the City of Key West and its citizens have an old and continuing relationship with the Cuban people. In the days before the embargo, ferries for both people and automobiles made regular trips back and forth between Key West and Havana. Pan American Airways began with flights between the two cities. And regular citizens traveled back and forth between the two islands aboard pleasure and fishing boats.

Now a movement is underway, led by the Mayor of Key West and supported by a growing number of everyday citizens, to undertake a dramatic people-to-people voyage in a flotilla of of private boats to welcome the restoration of rights once held by Americans, and still enjoyed by other North Americans, Europeans and Asians, to travel freely to other countries subject only to the normal protocols of passports and visas.

I hope that President Obama's administration will do the right thing and authorize this initial approach to normalization of relations as a demonstration of the friendship between the people of these two historic cities. It would create an enormous reservoir of good will upon which a restoration of diplomatic relations could be built.

The President himself could come to Key West and stay at the
newly-restored Truman Little White House that was visited so often by President Truman, and later by other Presidents, the last being President Clinton in the late 1990's. He could launch the flotilla himself, sending his good wishes to the Cuban people, and then welcome it home a couple of days later.

There could be no better way to begin the process of healing this fifty-year old division that no longer serves any useful purpose.

It was 50 years ago this year that I first set foot on the island of Cuba. I was on board a U.S. Navy ship making its shakedown cruise after an overhaul at the Boston Naval Shipyard. (It was at the same time that I first set foot in Key West, albeit only for four hours to refuel and take on provisions for what would be three weeks at Guantanamo Bay.) During the time that I was at Guantanamo, Fidel Castro was still in the jungles and advancing on Havana with his rebel forces. Consequently, we were restricted to the base, so I never got to see the real Cuba. I'm hoping that I can return there this year, the fiftieth anniversary of that first visit.

Viva Cuba Libre!


John McAuliff said...

An excellent and creative idea, as long as the flotilla is arranged beforehand with Havana as well as Washington.

President-elect Obama is committed to unlimited travel and remittances for Cuban Americans, but has so far remained silent about the eleven other categories of non-tourist travel which operated in the Clinton Administration (generating a peak of 83,500 serious visitors in 2003).

Obama could immediately and just as easily also provide general licenses for educational, humanitarian, religious, cultural, sports and "support for the Cuban people" purposes which certainly covers the proposed flotilla.

We have an on-line letter to the President-elect which has attracted over 1000 diverse signers, and some moving personal comments:

Singing to Jeffrey's Tune said...

The blockade does serve no useful purpose at this point. However, as a person born after the blockade was enacted and not knowing anything else, what purposed would opening up travel to Cuba provide that is beneficiary (just to play Devils advocate)?

Please define the Educational benefits to the American people? The Humanitarian? The Religious? The cultural? The Sports? The "support of the Cuban people"? Are there not many Cuban Americans in the USA that can provide these things to the American people?

Sure on the side of the coin to the Cuban people I see the benefits (and the detriments) of our culture infiltrating their island.

How would it work the other way? With the influx in Miami and Key West of the current exiles, isn't there a cultural influx?

Question is, has the culture of Cuban people changed along with the people's mindset since the revolution? Are the Cubans that came here in the 1950's very different than the ones from the 1970's and 1990s? I think they are. I think the government there has changed that island to something very different than what had relations with old Key West (as Key West has changed).

Maybe this is the benefit then. The exchange of a living, changing cultural phenomenon in less than a century. Without exploring the option, we will not know how much of a benefit is entails.

Use OpenDNS