Take me to Havana

Back in the 1960s, the first airplane hijackings started. Havana was a popular hijacking destination because there were no regular flights from the U.S. and because some people sought asylum in Cuba.

As a result, the phrase “Take me to Havana” entered popular language.

The irony is there were other hijackers in Cuba trying to go the other way, especially in later years. There was even an unsuccessful attempt to hijack a Havana harbour ferry to Miami. It never made it out of Cuban waters.

The U.S. embargo of Cuba has made travel between the two countries inconvenient at best, and at times almost impossible. Fortunately, for Canadians wanting to travel to Cuba, there have always existed other safter options.

Cuba is a popular vacation destination for Canadians (and Europeans), many of whom travel to Varadero or Cayo Coco for all-expenses included resort vacations on the beach and in the sun. Even many Americans vacation in Cuba illegally by going through Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean.

At times the U.S. hatred of Cuba has been visceral — especially among Miami’s Cuban expatriate community for whom Castro is worse than the devil. I’ve never quite understood why the U.S. was so rabidly anti-Cuba when it has been willing since the 1970s to make peace with the repressive regime in Communist China. I understand that many American properties — many controlled by the mafia — were confiscated by the Cubans after the revolution, but that was more than 50 years ago! Probably it has more to do with Cuba’s proximity to the U.S., and remnants of the Monroe Doctrine than with the nature of the Cuban regime itself.

While the embargo has hurt Cuba, and has only succeeded (ironically) in keeping the Castro brothers in power longer than ever, it has also kept Cuba from being globally homogenized like so many other parts of the world. The only McDonald’s in Cuba is at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay.

I have long wanted to see Cuba for myself, though I find the idea of a resort vacation incredibly boring. The 1990s film Buena Vista Social Club, and other glimpses of Cuba have made me want to visit Havana — to see all the old 1950s classic cars, the Afro-Latin culture and music, and the relatively unspoiled colonial architecture.

And so, tomorrow I set out from Montreal on a chartered flight to Havana. I will be very careful though not to make any hijacking jokes.

Take me to Havana.

About Richard McGuire

Richard McGuire is a part-time photographer and photography enthusiast based on Ottawa, Canada.

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