By Santos Garcia
Today I fulfilled a lifelong dream. I have always wanted to travel from Madera to Cuba. As part of a 34-member Labor delegation from California, union members from the San Joaquin Valley have been invited by the Cuban Labor Federation to visit and establish ties to the island. Letter Carriers, Teamsters, laborers, teachers, and SEIU workers of all crafts get on a plane to Havana.
May 1st is International Workers Day and we are invited to attend the May Day Parade. To our surprise, we are seated in front of the main podium along with European and South American delegates. Presidente Raul Castro and invited guests from all over the world are right above us. As I made preparations to visit Cuba, I asked myself what would be the best gift to bring along. The answer was Baseball. Cubans love baseball. Fidel Castro was a pitcher in his youth. Dodger right fielder Yasiel Puig hits home runs off of Giant pitchers all of the time. So I went to the sports store on Shaw Avenue and bought 24 brand new Little League baseballs to give to the first Cuban kids that I saw.
I spot a group of boys and girls in the “Cuban Young Pioneers” Youth group and hand them the baseballs. LOL, they begin to take selfies of the baseballs on their cell phones! Ah youth, they are the same everywhere. As a former little leaguer myself, there is nothing like the feel of a new baseball in your hand. The U.S. established a trade embargo on Cuba during the Cold War in 1960. Subsequently, my 2016 Visa card is worthless here and Cubans can’t buy products made in the USA… What are the conditions in Cuba? Is it true that we must bring our own towels and toilet paper to the hotel? No! Can we spend dollars there? Yes. You must convert them to Cuban currency at the airport, hotel, or exchange houses.
Just ahead of our visit, the Rolling Stones had performed “Satisfaction” in the Plaza De La Revolution. President Obama’s official visit was the first since Calvin Coolidge. The drive from Jose Marti Airport was educational. Homes shaded by palm trees, 1950’s era cars mixed in with cars built in 2015 were everywhere. Cell phones are being used, but my ATT phone has no service here. CNN and ESPN (Cubs/Pirates) in Espanol are being viewed on large screens. The Hotel Velado was simple but clean. Towels, soap, toilet paper, conditioner, and shampoo were in our room. We are clearly not on the Vegas Strip, but then again, who wants to be?
Restaurants range from luxurious, (The National) where a piano player plays Mozart, to homes opening up their living rooms for simple Cuban fare (La Familia). Like the strip, barkers invite you into their restaurants for the best Lobster, Mojitos or Cuban Cigars. The first cruise ship from Florida in 50 years has just landed in Havana. The people cheer from the famous Malecon seawall. Dionys, our taxi driver, hands me his e-mail address and cell number. “Call me when you want to go back to your hotel but if the makers of “Fast and Furious 8, call me, you will have to find someone else. They are paying $200 per day for 1956 Ford Fairlanes”. This is how I find out that the new movie is being filmed here. How is it that a Hollywood movie can evade the trade embargo, but a farmer from Madera or Visalia can’t sell raisins to the Cuban market?
The San Joaquin Valley has plenty of goods that can be sold here. Cubans want to buy our beef, wine, cotton, and orange juice. If we can sell our goods to Vietnam, Russia, and China, why do we continue to follow a failed 50-year-old Cold War policy? It makes no moral or business sense. Only Congress can lift the embargo. I would like to see our Valley representatives, Costa, Denham, Valadeo, McCarthy, and Nunes, lead a delegation to Cuba on behalf of the San Joaquin Valley. Talk to Cubans and you might find out that you have more in common than you realize.
Santos Garcia is a retired letter carrier, union member National Association of Letter Carriers AFL-CIO, and staff member of the Central Labor Council Fresno. You may contact him at 413 South A Street, Madera, CA 93638. Tel: 559-708-8484 Email: santosian@ mailcity.com