As you may have read on our Facebook page, Anara and I were recently on the island attending the RESPECT conference. RESPECT stands for Responsible, Ethical Cuba Travel. It is a 150-member US professional association of non-profit entities, travel agencies, tour operators and other travel service providers dedicated to practicing and promoting ethical and socially responsible travel to Cuba. The conference we recently attended originally was scheduled to discuss potential changes to US/Cuba travel regulations, but given the recent events to affect the Caribbean, the scope of the meeting changed to update us on how the island was faring after Hurricane Irma.
We were relatively anxious prior to arriving, wondering what we would find when we arrived... To our amazement and relief, we found Havana to be in remarkably good shape! We almost couldn't believe our eyes, as we literally looked around to find examples of widespread damage to the island that would make it difficult or impossible to travel (or have others travel with us). Now, don't get me wrong, the island was certainly affected by the storm (as we were to learn in the days thereafter during the conference). But the speed at which the island put its disaster preparedness brigades into action as well as the measures they took to combat damage sustained to the island was remarkable.
We visited some of our friends in Havana and they made it very clear to us... Havana is not only open and ready for us to visit, it's more important than ever to continue coming and exchanging with them! Our type of exchange is an important driver that will help them not only combat effects of the storm, but sustain the longer-term situations that could arise if visits were to cease.
It was with that in mind that we attended the conference, surrounded by many others just as interested in understanding what had happened on the island due to the storm, what relief was in progress and additional things that could be on the horizon. It is in this environment, where we all received word about the changes in US guidance towards the island as well as plans to issue a travel warning. The disappointment in the room was noticeable, especially when taking into consideration what we were seeing and observing first-hand!
That feeling of disappointment fueled all of the attendees in the room as together, the association published a press release stating its opposition to the newly issued travel warning & supported the Foreign Service Officers Association in their opposition to Embassy staff being removed from the island. I've posted the press release for you all to view. I invite you to read up some more.
In the meantime, I'm back in the US and Anara returns this week. We are all looking forward to continuing to travel to the island and exchange with our friends throughout this season and into 2018. I'll post more photos and updates for you in the coming days.
Thanks again for your continued concern, outreach and support!