By Karen Blatter | Pantagraph staff
BLOOMINGTON Illinois—Hola, Cuba
Though the United States has enforced trade and travel embargoes with the island nation since 1960, the Twin Cities have started a sister-cities relationship with two of its towns.
Caibarien and Remedios are in the province of Villa Clara, about 200 miles east of Havana.
“When you go over there, and you come back, you really have a feeling that things could be better for the Cuban people,” said Gary Hoover, president of Cubamigos Sister City Association of Bloomington-Normal. “Our governments just don’t get along. It’s people-to-people diplomacy.”
Judie Bey of the Twin Cities looks at pictures of the Cuban revolution displayed at the Hotel National in Havana. Delegates from Cuba and from Bloomington-Normal signed papers establishing a relationship between the Twin Cities and two Cuban cities in early April.
Hoover is working to start some cultural exchange programs, but the embargoes will present a challenge.
“Right now, we are working to establish a relationship with them,” he said. “Hopefully things will start to melt in the future and we will be able to go back and forth freely.”
Twin Cities not alone
Eighteen other cities have partnerships with towns in the Communist country. Bloomington approved its relationship in February with Caibarien; Normal approved its relationship with Remedios in March.
Neither city contributes financially to the partnership.
Cubamigos members traveled to Cuba in early April to sign the relationship agreement. Bloomington and Normal already have sister-city partnerships in England, Russia and Japan.
Hoover wanted to start a relationship with Cuba after reading a book about the country. That was two years ago, about the same time former Gov. George Ryan visited Cuba for a trade mission.
The United States established a trade and travel embargo with Cuba in October 1960 and broke diplomatic relations. Tensions peaked during the April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and the October 1962 missile crisis.
The United States wants to promote a peaceful transition to a stable, democratic form of government in Cuba and respect for human rights.
“We had licenses to go over there,” Hoover said. “But the present administration is putting the clamps down, making it harder to go over there. It’ll be difficult for them to get visas to come over here.”
Hoover said the relationship is important.
“There needs to be people-to-people contact. ... They just love Americans, but they are having trouble with our government,” he said.
Communication with the Cubans will be primarily through e-mail.
The group likely will travel to Cuba once a year.