Saturday, November 17, 2012

Old Havana

I have just completed a week's work at the US Interest Section in Havana and am back home in Salt Lake City for the holidays. Until last week Cuba and St. Kitts were the only two countries in the Western Hemisphere I hadn't visited.  Now there's only St. Kitts.

I have tried for several years to get to Havana as there has been work I needed to do there. But the Cuban government severely limits the number of official US government visitors each year. I first applied for a visa six years ago, but after my passport had been held at the Cuban Mission in Washington for more than 6 months I withdrew it.  This past September I applied again, and with the help of a colleague in Havana, the visa was finally granted.  

Few American realize that we have a diplomatic mission in Havana, probably because it is not called an Embassy.  It is the US Interest Section (USINT) and is in the same building that was our embassy prior to the Cuban Revolution.  USINT is actually a legal entity of the Swiss Embassy. However there is neither a US nor Swiss flag flying over it.  Below is a picture of USINT followed by a wikilink describing it.

US Interest Section

Unfortunately I only had one day to see Havana's sights which I did from a double-decker tour bus.  I also spent one evening having dinner and walking around in Old Havana which was the highlight of my week. Old Havana has deteriorated a lot since the Revolution but it has fabulous old buildings and homes on broad boulevards surrounded by very attractive tropical gardens.  Havana is also known for the large number of vintage American cars that still drives through its streets.   Most are from the 1940s and 50s with some even from the 30's.  I saw Packards, Studebakers and DeSotos to name a few. Below are a few of my photos from Havana:

Image of Che Guevara on government building

Image of Karl Marx

Cuban soldiers jogging past national cemetery

Old American cars in Havana

An old Chevy

The Havana Cathedral
The following google link contains many more pictures of Havana

And here are also a couple of links on Havana's status as a UNESCO World Heritage City and on travel to Havana.

I don't plan to discuss US-Cuban relations in this post because they are well known and well documented on the Internet.  Some readers may be interested in the following links:

According to US law,  Americans can only travel to Cuba on people-to-people programs, typically sponsored by universities, churches and social service organizations. Commercial flights from the US to Cuba are also banned and the only way in is via charter flights, primarily from Miami.  However, things seem to be loosening up from both sides and I expect normal diplomatic relations to be reestablished before President Obama leaves the White House.  Despite the current red tape, a visit to Havana and the rest of Cuba is definitely worthwhile and I hope to return soon with Gertrud on a more extensive trip.