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Friday, February 13, 2015

Key West - Cuba, The Potential part 1

Key West - Cuba - The Potential part 1

(listen to the Afro Cuban All Stars while you read the blog!)

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On December 17th, 2014, President Obama announced that the United States and Cuba would be restoring diplomatic relations. On January 19th 2015, the U.S. announced that they will be holding talks with Cuba ending travel curbs for U.S. diplomats. As it stands at the moment, both Cuban diplomats in the U.S. and American diplomats in Cuba are restricted in where they can travel. What this is however is a first step in the right direction.

The interesting thing here is, as far as U.S. politicians go, it’s a non-party issue. Some Republicans are for normalization of relations, while some are not. Likewise with the Democrats.

As far as citizens go, Gallup polls in December showed American citizens favored restoring diplomatic relations by 60%. Other polls went as high as 63%.

Just going by what I’ve seen on Facebook was remarkable. Bear in mind that I don’t take political sides on issues in public forums, such as Facebook, for the most part. In addition, I side with both parties on different issues. Because of this, my friends on Facebook are pretty evenly divided 50/50 as far as being Republicans and Democrats.

While the Gallup polls showed 60%, what I found from my Facebook friends posts, as well as reaction to my post on the announcement, was well over 90% in favor. It was to the point that one had to actually search out those against it. Those in favor came from both political parties.

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As I said earlier, the meeting in January was to improve diplomatic travel. They will also be establishing American credit card use in Cuba, which currently is not allowed and consequently, not in place. In addition, the talks in January were including agricultural subjects. In addition, the U.S. Embassy in Havana will re-open.

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On February 9th, 2015, the American company Netflix announced that they will be servicing Cuba. Expect to see more and more companies starting to do likewise as time goes on.

What will come of all of this should be normalization for travel for everyone. I say should, because Congress will have to approve ending the fifty something year old embargo first. Politicians often put their personal agenda ahead of that of their voters, so there’s the possibility it could be rejected.

It’s clear what the people of the United States want however. Hello, Washington D.C.! Please be sure you are listening! Right now, I can fly to Beijing, Communist China, invest millions of dollars in investments, even live there, if I choose. However, at this moment I can't go to Cuba and spend a dime. Congress, please take note. The majority of your constituents are NOT in favor of this. Make your decisions accordingly. 

While there are many hoops of fire to clear, the end result should be for Americans being able to travel freely to Cuba.

Assuming Congress does what the American people are in favor of, lets jump ahead a bit to the point that, say I, a U.S. citizen, can get on a plane and fly to Cuba on a whim.

That’s how it used to be! I recall when I first moved to Miami well over thirty years ago (I’ve been in Key West for almost seven), I recall hearing stories from all sorts of people. They would tell me how they would head to Havana for a weekend, prior to the restrictions being put into place. It seemed that clubs and bars were the normal attractions at the time. Of course they were talking about the 1950’s, and of course, things have changed there since then. However, albeit a bit behind the other communist countries in Europe, Cubans are discovering that making money isn’t such an evil thing after all.

The bottom line here is: How will opening up Cuba effect Key West?

It takes some thought and for myself, it’s such a stimulating thought that when I think about it, ideas flow like cocktails out of a shaker. More often than not, as one idea springs up, three more replace it, in the refining process. So where do we start? The question can be overwhelming. There is so much to talk about and options are literally endless. Additionally, the thought of all of the legal snaggles, obstacles, and headaches that have been created in the political porcupine over the last fifty four years, is mind boggling. For what I’m doing here, that would only be a quagmire for creativity, so I’m going to omit those thoughts for the time being. Repeating the aforementioned question, where do we begin?

There’s only one place to begin logically and that’s at the beginning.

The start of this is imperative to begin now, not run around like headless chickens once the embargo and travel restrictions are lifted. This way, when they are lifted, Key West is hopping into the drivers seat in the fast lane, while everywhere else is scrambling.

 Lets face it, Key West is the closest point in the U.S. to Cuba. From the Southernmost Point at the end of Whitehead Street states that it is 90 miles to Cuba. Key West is closer to Cuba than the closest Walmart. It’s also closer to Cuba than it is to Miami, both by a good deal at that. Both anchor points of local tour guides, here in Key West. So, from a geographical point, Key West is an ideal location for a Cuban connection of any sort. Additionally, the Cuban population here is not the radical Cuban population that one finds in Miami. Key West has always been more open to friendly relations with Cuba.

The Key West International Airport currently isn’t hosting any regular international flights. However, it is a registered international airport. Additionally, in 2011 Key West was authorized by the U.S. government to send and receive flights from Cuba. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Cuba also has to authorize the flights and if I’m not mistaken, this has been in progress for several years. Hopefully, now with the resumption of diplomatic ties, this will be expedited.

The Key West airport director, Peter Horton, the mayor, Craig Cates, and the city commissioners must all be commended on getting Key West International Airport authorized as an airport for service to Cuba. The foresight they had by getting it completed as far back as 2011, gives a lot of confidence in the overall Key West’s overall outlook for Cuba. Lets call ace’s, aces. They had the foresight in getting it done well before any of the current developments announced in December 2014. That’s beyond a good move in anybody’s book.

Strictly thinking on my own behalf, the next move would be giving an attachment between Key West and Cuba. My preference would be:

“Key West - The Gateway To Cuba”

To begin with, this is an accurate statement once flights can be re-established. Key West’s first name was Cayo Hueso. The nickname for Key West in Cuba was “Habana Norte” (Havana north). Cultural ties with Cuba run deep and well established. The cigar industry was huge here in the 1800’s. All of the tobacco came from Cuba and was rolled here.

On the 600 block of Duval sits the San Carlos Institute. The San Carlos was originally a school for Cuban children whose parents came to Key West. It’s a beautiful facility, the current structure having been built in the 1870’s. It was owned by the Cuban government up until the Cuban revolution.

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The classrooms have ceilings that are 20ft high! It’s the type of structure you would find in Old Havana.

The underlying point here, of course is that Key West and Cuba are very closely connected.

Years ago, I had heard that Key West and Havana were “Sister Cities”. In doing this piece I researched that and found nothing unfortunately. Perhaps I was mis-informed? I’m not certain. However, as at one point the citizens of Cuba referred to Key West as “Habana Norte”, what could they be other than sister cities? Perhaps this can be a quest to be achieved?

Most of my professional life was in sales. In my time in Miami, I worked for a man named “Joe D”, or “Mr. D.” who owned a large firm and not only owned it, but was also the general manager and took a very active role in the sales department.

Mr. D. would hold weekly sales meetings and one of the things he instilled on the sales staff was “selling the sizzle” that our product offered. Sure, someone may come in and say they were looking at a Corvette, but wanted to look at a Porsche as well. Of course the Porsche was a better car, but we had to show the potential customer why it was better. Such as Porsche won thirteen victories at Le Mans, plus two victories in cars that used their engines. Things like that. Nothing B/S, just highlights that make a Porsche a thoroughbred and not a run of the mill car. The Porsche costs significantly more than the Corvette, a cost that must be justified.

The exact same thing is true with Key West being the ideal point of disembarkation to Cuba, in the very near future. Sure, anyone can take a flight out of Miami to Havana, or Tampa, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, San Juan, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Atlanta, New York and Los Angeles, for that matter. All are already authorized to fly to Cuba. Plus, lets face facts. When the time comes and Cuba frees up for the average person to fly to Cuba, on a whim, at that, the vast majority will fly out of those aforementioned cities.

Key West is a small, quaint little town that is an island less than two miles wide and four miles long sitting on the very outer fringes of the United States, only ninety miles from Cuba. It’s “Habana Norte”, perhaps by then, a sister city. Perhaps one can fly to Key West for a week and take a day or two excursion to Havana? The Hemingway connection alone, between Key West and Havana, is unparalleled.

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 There are all kinds of ideas people can have use Key West as the Gateway to Cuba. Like the aforementioned Porsche, one sometimes needs to show the attributes, the panache, and the romance as the reason to go to Cuba from the Key West. Another very wise sales manager and friend I worked with, Rick Asci, often said “Often the best deal is not always the best price”. If that’s not the truth, I don’t know what is!

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As Time goes on, I’ll visit the subject of Key West and Cuba as things develop. We’re only at the embryonic stage at this point.

However, there’s no reason at all that Key West can’t be considered “The Gateway To Cuba”.

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