On Our Way to Cuba!

Hollywood On The Potomac

By: Janet Donovan

“The progress that we mark today is yet another demonstration that we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past. When something isn’t working, we can and will change.” — President Obama

“I have to admit, the first time I was skeptical when I first heard it,” former Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutiérrez told Hollywood on the Potomac when asked about his first reaction to the announcement from the White House. “The more I thought about it – and I’ve been thinking about this for a long time – I think it’s the right thing at the right time. I went to Cuba on the 14th of August, first time since 1960, and I find it very difficult for anyone to go down and then come back and think that the embargo was good policy, you know? I’m all in. I think it’s a wonderful time and I think it’s great what’s happening.”  The opportunity for the comment came about at the “Engage Cuba” Holiday Party and One Year Celebration of renewed U.S.- Cuba Ties where Ambassador José Cabañas Rodríguez received enthusiastic guests.  This was a remarkable comment coming from a man who was born in Havana and fled with his family to Miami during the Cuban Revolution when he was six years old.

“I went to Cuba when we opened up the Embassy with Secretary Kerry,” Congressman Steve Cohen told us.  “That was the most recent time; then I went about a year and a half or two years earlier with a group of Congressional people. I have the most unique connection to Cuba of anybody in the United States of America. Do you know who ‘Minnie Miñoso’ was? He was the greatest Cuban baseball player of all time. He was a great Cuban baseball player known as ‘The Cuban Comet’ and he is my nom de plume. He’s been my address in Congress forever. He’s also my address in Memphis for my listed number. I used to get some mail for Minnie…. phone calls for Minnie.  Minnie died last year; he was a great guy and he died in his 80’s. Some solicitor called and they said, ‘We’d like to speak to Minnie’ which I hate because I hate solicitors. I said, ‘Minnie’s dead, don’t call back!’  I loved Minnie. Cubans and baseball, it’s real … Cubans and baseball are like Cubans and Havana cigars. That was my only link for many, many years.”

“It is now 7:48 pm, in a little over 4 hours it’s going to be December 17 and I think what a year it’s been for so many people; for the people working on this issue for decades, for the people who recently discovered it, to the government, to civil society, to business, we’re extremely, extremely excited and grateful for making tonight a success,” said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba. “Tonight is a night to celebrate, so I hope all of you people are drinking your Mojitos and you’re prepared to get your dancing shoes on because we still have a lot of work to do in 2016. I think I see about half of the United States Congress here, bipartisan champions who’ve been working on this issue for a very long time and some who are newer to it, we are very grateful to have you. There’s too many of you to even go one by one but we just want to say humbly thank you, thank you so much, none of this would be possible without your leadership. The next year is going to be the year where we make the real breakthroughs on all the things that we’ve done. When the embargo has been lifted there will be a better future for both of our countries ahead.”

“We have had one year of this new course and as part of that year we have welcomed three members of the Congress to Havana and we have announced two ministerial visits from Cuba to the States,” said Ambassador Cabañas Rodríguez. “Right now we have a liaison in the State Department finalizing an agreement and hopefully this is something that we can [work with]. We thank all of you – members of Engage Cuba, non members of Engage Cuba, the many Cubans who are here from Cuba, the many Cuban Americans and Cubans living in the states – who have [taken on] momentous roles in all that is happening this year. We congratulate everyone and all of you for what is happening in this year. As I said, we have a lot of work to do still, we still have many obstacles in place, we still have many hurdles and hopefully we will remove what you call ’embargo’ and we call ‘blockade.’ But the most momentous thing we have heard about is what has happened already. Thank you, all of you.  Please enjoy – enjoy your Mojitos, your cigars and the Cuban music.”  Guests did.

We only wish that Lucie Arnaz could have been there.  It was her later father, after-all, who introduced Cuba to the US via I Love Lucie. Here she is from a previous post: Call it what you may – karma, serendipity, luck, happenstance, a fluke – it was certainly ironic that Lucie Arnaz, daughter of Cuban born mega entertainer Desi Arnaz, was at the White House when the President announced diplomatic relations with Cuba.

In town for her performance in “Pippin” at the National Theatre, the actress put it this way: “What? Wait. I came here for lunch today,” she said referring to her visit at the White House, “and this is the day that this happened? What are the chances? And then I turned it into a bad “I Love Lucy” show episode where I almost refused to leave the office. I wanted to say thank you. I wanted so bad to just shake his hand and thank him and say ‘this is pretty funny that Desi Arnaz’s daughter is here the day you decide to announce it’ – how weird is that?”