Group Of Colorado Travelers Find Optimism In Cuba

BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) – A group of travelers from the Boulder area have returned from Cuba with vivid impressions and guarded optimism.

“Even in the poorest neighborhoods the people bear their situation with great dignity,” said Francis Valette, describing the hardships many Cubans have faced in the 52 years since the United States announced a trade embargo between the two countries.

President Obama announced a restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba last month. Reaction to the move — which also resulted in some loosening of the embargo — has been mixed, but in Cuba the Boulder group found a lot of residents who were very happy about the news.

“It was ‘Obama!’ and then the whole crowd would cheer because we’re Americans,” said Jenny Desmond.

Desmond and Valette and their traveling partners were among the first Coloradans who have traveled to the isolated Caribbean country since Obama’s announcement. They made the trip as part of the Boulder-Cuba Sister City Organization.

Members of their group required a special travel visa, and they visited four different cities in Guantánamo Province, including Yateras, one of Boulder’s sister cities.

The group said they found Cubans were very educated, but guarded about discussing their own government.

“I think they want to keep their socialist ideals, and at the same time improve their economic life,” Valette said.

One of the group bought a painting that now hangs on a wall in their Boulder home.

Another found, to his surprise, that their safety wasn’t ever a concern.

“We would have in our pockets three times their monthly salary and we had nothing to worry about,” said Dr. Tom Kunstman. “We didn’t see hardly any crime.”

So far it’s not clear when relations might fully normalize between Cuba and the U.S., but right now only certain Americans can make the trip to Cuba. That includes professionals, like journalists, a traveler who is staying with someone who lives in Cuba, or someone who is traveling in an organized travel group.

“I hope the Cubans are ready for all the good things that American tourism dollars are going to bring, but also for all the problems that inevitably happen when people come to the island,” said Nick Avila, who also made the trip.

One recommendation from the group was that if you go to Cuba, bring water or buy bottled water, as water that comes out of the tap might make you sick.

CBSDenver, February 1, 2015

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