Grounded by Air Force One

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Cuba – March 2016

My wife has a British passport, so she’s been to Cuba before as there are no restrictions on her travels there. I have a U.S. passport, which is a bit more complicated. So, when travel for Americans became available through cultural people-to-people tours, I jumped at the opportunity. We’d be meeting our group in Miami before taking a chartered flight to Havana and, at the end of the tour, another chartered flight from Havana back to Miami. What I didn’t realize when I booked the tour was that our return flight was scheduled two hours before President Obama was to touch down in Havana.

I figured with a two-hour departure time before the president’s arrival, there shouldn’t be any issues. Then our flight is delayed. About an hour later, we are called to board and ushered onto a bus that takes us across the tarmac to our plane. Then we sit there, well actually stand there, for twenty minutes. We’re then driven back to the terminal. All entries and exits to the airport are then closed and locked as Air Force One is soon to land.

I shouldn’t have wanted to depart as being in the airport and witnessing the locals’ reactions was incomparable. Terminal screens are tuned to news coverage and we are soon watching Air Force One land on the same tarmac we had just been on. Everyone is watching attentively, some taking photos and videos with their phones. I do the same with my aging iPhone. After the plane comes to a halt and President Obama makes his first appearance from the main hatch, cheers ring out in the terminal. The atmosphere is hopeful and a little festive—this is a Latin American country, after all.

All during our stay, the changing political climate had been the talk. Even during our guided tour of Old Havana with a local architect, he had mentioned that should a company such as Starbucks wish to purchase a prime location, his hope was that a deal could be reached so that they could revitalize more than just the property they were interested in. While the Cubans wanted American business, they also knew that American business wanted Cuba and were willing to exploit that. It might not be capitalism, but it’s a close cousin.

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