HARLINGEN, RGV – In Harlingen, the Valley Byliners writers club recently hosted Emilio Cueto, an expert on Cuban culture, history and art, for a seminar entitled, “Cuba In The USA”, based on the title of his most recent book of the same name.
In the Washington Post, David Montgomery, writing about Cuetos’ collection of Cuban memorabilia, refers to him as a “one man bridge to Cuba.” Cueto also serves as an expert guide in Cuba for Smithsonian Tours. Cueto has written several books about Cuba, in both English and Spanish.
Now a retired attorney based in Washington DC, Cueto originally arrived in the United States in 1961, under the auspices of the federally funded Peter Pan Project, just when Fidel Castro came to power. Under the Peter Pan Project administered by the Catholic Church, Cuban youth were allowed to enter the United States with their parents’ permission.
Commenting on the future of United States-Cuban relations, Cueto said: “Neither Cuba nor the USA will go away. There is only one future for Cuba and the United States: a relationship based on friendship, accommodation and mutual respect. I do not see why the United States and Cuba cannot live together, even though they may think differently and have different strategic interests. It’s in the best interests of both countries to work together. There are too many Cuban-Americans here to not have better relations.”
Cueto says that he is encouraged by the example of the relationship between the United States and Vietnam. Even though Americans lost 60,000 lives during the Vietnam War, the United States and Vietnam maintain diplomatic relations.
The Obama Administration recently relaxed some travel restrictions for religious persons, journalists and Cuban Americans. Cueto explained that the actual permit for Americans to travel to Cuba is cleared by the United States Treasury Department because regulations prohibit violating a spending embargo. Art is exempted from the spending embargo.
According to Cueto, any individual American can travel to Cuba, but only within any one of several tour groups that is licensed, such as Friendly Planet and Smithsonian Tours, or other groups, such as Rhode Scholars and The New York Times. As far as Cubans traveling to the United States, the American Embassy has quit granting Visas for Cubans and many Cubans do not have the money to travel to the United States.
Cueto said: “There is still a lot of travel going on. The incorrect impressions that Cubans have about Americans will disappear when they meet real Americans who are very normal and very nice people and doing very normal and very nice things.”
According to Cueto, recently the Cuban Government has begun allowing, after decades of prohibiting any private-sector businesses, small-scale private enterprises with a limited number of employees, such as seamtresses, shoe repair shops, small restaurants and hotel service. According to Cueto, “Private Bed and Breakfast businesses are a growing sector. Air BnB steers American tourists to private Cuban homes, if they do not want to stay in a hotel.”
When Castro took over, in the early 1960’s, the Cuban government nationalized oil, sugar, rum and tobacco production. Thus arises the issue of a ‘Doppleganger’ brand like Havana Club Rum manufactured both in Cuba and Puerto Rico. Cueto says that Havana Club Rum is manufactured in Cuba with Cuban ingredients is not sold in the United States and the Havana Club Rum made in Puerto Rico with Puerto Rican ingredients is available in the United States.
Cueto also said that the United States and Israel are the only two countries that do not allow business investments with Cuba.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows Emilio Cueto riding in a bicitaxi driven by Aldo Varona in Camaguey, Cuba. (Photo: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)