Beaming a little sunshine on Cuba

If you could travel anywhere in the world next month, where would you go? If money was no object, if the season and weather were right, if you could take the time from your commitments and responsibilities, where would your dream destination be?

I have the money. I can take time off from my work. I have a passport, and I am free to leave the United States any time.

But my government says I am not free to go to my dream destination: Cuba.

I have wanted to travel to Cuba since I was a little girl. When my parents met, in Florida, the Cuban influence was strong. My mother had had a Cuban boyfriend in Miami, and she told me she had flown to Cuba to visit his family in the 1940’s. My father had a Cuban stepfather back then, too. It influenced my mother’s cooking; throughout my childhood, we ate arroz con pollo and picadillo regularly for dinner (check out the Cuban recipes section of

Shirley Schulte Branson in Cuba
Shirley, my father’s sister, in Cuba in 1956

On February 8, 1963, the Kennedy administration prohibited Americans from traveling to Cuba. In December of that year, Attorney General Robert Kennedy sought to end the travel ban, saying it was “inconsistent with traditional American liberties.” The ban was not lifted until 14 years later, by the Carter administration in 1977.

I vividly remember my first trip to Key West in 1977. Over Christmas break, Mom and Dad and I drove over a thousand miles from our home in West Virginia. We sat in the Fourth of July café, and my mother drank Cuban coffee and reminisced. From the Fourth of July café to Havana was only 100 miles.

But we didn’t go. I don’t think we even discussed it. And Reagan imposed the ban again in 1981.

Last week, for the 15th time, the U.N. general assembly passed a resolution saying that the U.S. should end the embargo against Cuba. Three tiny countries voted with us — Israel, Palau, and the Marshall Islands — and 183 voted against us.

What a dope-slap. With the whole world against us, how can the U.S. continue to be so stupid?

If human rights are so important to us, why do we not have a travel ban on Burma? If communism is bad, why am I allowed to go to Laos or Vietnam? It’s just not logical.

It’s like those times when you get mad at someone, and you know you should get over it. But you are stubborn, so you stay mad. The U.S. should stop being stubborn. We should back down gracefully and eliminate the travel ban and the embargo.

Aesop wrote a fable that explains it. The wind and the sun were arguing about who could get a man to take off his coat quicker. The wind blew and blew and blew, and the man just pulled his coat tighter. Then the sun beamed gently down, and the man quickly removed his coat.

We should stop blowing on Cuba, and gently beam some sunshine on them. Who knows what positive change that might bring?

Over Christmas this year, Barry and I plan to travel someplace exotic. We’ve considered Belize, Hawaii, Spain, and India. The current contenders right now are Mexico and Portugal. But I’ll admit, deep in my heart, they’re second choices.

For a history of the economic embargo of Cuba, see the page on