By GAIL SCHONTZLER Bozeman Chronicle Staff Writer
Bozeman teacher Tom Waldorf could fly from Miami to Cuba for a two-week visit because of a loophole in the 43-year-old U.S. embargo on trade and travel with the communist nation.
It’s time to end the embargo, Waldorf said in an interview.
“It’s a relic of the Cold War,” said Waldorf, 55, on leave this year from his job teaching Spanish at Bozeman High School.
Cuba no longer poses a military threat to the United States, he said. “The only people suffering are the masses of Cuban folks,” who cannot import medicines or necessities that would benefit ordinary people.
The U.S. House and Senate voted this fall to lift the embargo, but backed down in the face of a White House veto threat.
Embargo backers argue that allowing American tourists freedom to visit Cuba would only give an economic boost to the Castro regime, which last spring sent 75 Cuban journalists and dissidents to prison in its most severe crackdown in years.
The travel ban has several loopholes, for visiting relatives, humanitarian and educational groups, journalists and diplomats.
Montana’s Sen. Max Baucus and Rep. Denny Rehberg visited Cuba in September to sign a deal selling up to $10 million in raw Montana agricultural products to Cuba, through another embargo loophole.
Waldorf, who first visited Cuba in 1995, noticed a few small reforms during his October visit. Families now can open small private restaurants in their homes and rent out up to two bedrooms as bed-and-breakfasts.
But Cuba remains a one-party state. Cuba’s only newspaper, Gramma, is full of revolutionary rhetoric, including a recent article denouncing the “ideological contraband” of “Pato Donald”—Donald Duck.
Waldorf said he has visited many Latin countries, including Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile, as a way to “get students impassioned” about languages and travel.
Invited to an education conference in Cuba, Waldorf gave a talk on his teaching strategy of totally immersing students in Spanish, using as little English as possible in class.
Compared to other Third World countries, Cuba’s Stalinist state is a “total failure” in material terms, Waldorf said.
“It looks like no one has painted the buildings in 50 years,” he said. Food is rationed. Wages are a few dollars a month.
Despite that failure, Castro’s socialism survives. Waldorf suggests the reason is Cuba’s remarkable success in wiping out illiteracy and providing universal health care. Cubans constantly reminded Waldorf and his wife, a registered nurse, that 43 million Americans have no health insurance.
“The gains in education and health are outstanding, incomparable in the Third World,” he said. “The limits on political freedom and expression are part of the price they’ve paid.”
Waldorf said ending the embargo would benefit both Americans and Cubans. “Cubans have a lot to learn from our ideals,” he said. “And we’ve a lot to learn” from Cuba’s educational and health care systems and its non-materialist culture.