friends y amigos,
and now…a word from our good friend Don Chiofaro, the developer of boston’s famed International Place, who was in our traveling party recently to Habana. this is his take, a requested Op-Ed by the Boston Herald newspaper, commenting on the current cuban situation, from Don’s personal and businessman’s point of view. He also quite liked the local salsa bands and was appreciated by swift-footed, hip-swaying cuban hombres y mujeres when he “did his thing” on the dance floor! a multi-talented fellow, that Donaldo.
THE U.S. AND CUBA: TIME FOR A CHANGE
by Don Chiofaro
as appeared in the Boston Herald Jan. 31, ’09
I recently had the grand opportunity to visit Cuba legally, thanks to some old college friends involved in important humanitarian projects there. Unless you are informed by personal experience, forget everything you think you know about Cuba.
Cubans are not our enemies. Most of them are extremely friendly to Americans, despite our official policy intended to punish and degrade the Castro regime. Nor is Cuba unsafe. Nor are visitors restricted as to where they can go or do or see. In long walks through tough Havana neighborhoods off the tourist path, I never encountered the smallest hostility. The people are handsome, warm, and agile. There is no question that many are poor. The economy provides little opportunity to produce wealth or gain property; however, there are good schools and universal (though under funded) Health Care. I see more sad down-and-outers in a 15 minute walk from the Financial District to Downtown Crossing than I saw in a week’s worth of travel through Havana. The crime rate is low, and police are rarely in evidence.
Havana can look run-down, even shabby, but it certainly has good bones. It is easy to see the magnificence that was once there and to imagine its renaissance. Havana, still the jewel of the Caribbean, features countless numbers of beautiful buildings, ranging in style from Colonial to art nouveau to Art Deco to mid-century Modernism. The wonderful plazas have kept their charm. On many streets you could be in Florence or Palermo or Barcelona. And who can resist the 1950’s American cars still dominating the streetscape? Any population with the resourcefulness and ingenuity needed to drive a 1957 Plymouth fury deserves our respect.
Whatever motivated the original break in the U.S.-Cuban relations, it is incomprehensible to me why it continues. After fifty years it has not accomplished any sensible or reasonable objective. It’s time to change that failed policy, not just because the time has come for Cuba, but also because the time has come for the United States. We need to pursue our National interests with a view to the long run, open to reconciliations with former enemies (see Vietnam; see China) as well as the rekindling of old friendships. Cuba is a great place to start. Soon Fidel Castro will be gone. The country is preparing for transition. Let’s communicate a willingness to talk. Cuba should not be the last priority of our new Administration. It should be among the first.
Fortunately, a new generation of Cuban Americans seems to agree. They know that many grievances remain, and that those grievances need to be addressed fairly. But they are also saying that a better life for over eleven million Cuban friends and relatives is best gained through engagement and exchange. Let’s extend the outstretched hand that President Obama talked about. My bet is that it will meet with an unclenched fist.
to see a model of the Greeway Towers, Don’s latest project for the Boston skyline, please visit http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2009/02/03/deconstructing_bostons_skyline/
thanks don, i agree with everything you say, and appreciate your sending your view out to the world in this great piece of writing! next time we see each other hope you’ll teach me some salsa moves.
in the Light, lordflea