Beaches and embargoes fight for perspective on our first days in Cuba

On Sunday afternoon, I looked up to the sky as I stepped onto the fine, pillow-soft sand at the beach in the Varedero region of Cuba. Not a cloud to be found in any direction above the shimmering sun-drenched waters on this pristine spring day. I walk to the edge of the sand where, nestled in the sawgrass, is a bar. As I wade out mojito in hand to meet friends in the water, I know authoritatively that this is the single greatest day of class in my academic career.

Of course, the week has largely not been spent relaxing with a beverage in hand. Our first few days on the island have included a variety of views on the unique political and economic situations in which Cuba finds itself. We’ve heard from a range of speakers including a historian, a hotel manager, a former diplomat, and the former Finance Minister. The viewpoints have quite honestly been more candid than many of us expected. There is no blind eye turned to the troubling trade deficit, nor do they shy away from the looming demographic crisis of Cuba’s ageing population that, while educated, may not have the most marketable skill sets for the modern global economy. Each speaker is cognizant of and acknowledges many of the challenges Cuba faces in its economic transformation.

However, the role of the American economic embargo sews a common thread through most opinions. Many objective observers would agree that the embargo policy ultimately was unsuccessful and has greatly hindered the Cuba’s economic development, but there is sentiment among our speakers that once the embargo is lifted Cuba will blast off into economic revival. While this is a certain possibility, the other issues facing this nation are powerful, and must be confronted with new solutions and a continued liberalization of economic policies. As the trip moves forward, opinions on the embargo as it affects each industry will no doubt be top of mind among our class as it is top of mind for this nation.

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