The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 17, 2013

New Year's in Havana?

By Al Kamen
Washington Post

— Getting the shutdown blues? Thinking it's going to be a long, perilous slog with the stock market heading south?

Then you can do the same! Yes, before long it will be time to mambo in the new year in Havana, land of the Buena Vista Social Club, ancient Buicks and aging commies. Travel companies are organizing Cuba tours for the coming holiday season.

Loop fans may recall that the anti-Cuba lobby in Miami had protested that the "people-to-people" cultural exchange trips — which have to be approved by the Treasury Department — were becoming nothing more than thinly disguised tourism. So Treasury clamped down for a while to review matters.

But licenses have been issued "at a pretty steady clip" more recently, according to Insight Cuba's Tom Popper, who noted that the cumbersome process still required a detailed, 632-page submission of itinerary details. The trips are filling up quickly.

There are some longer jaunts around the island from Christmas to New Year's Day and shorter hops mostly around Havana to check out the sights. There's even a four-day New Year's weekend. "Nothing lives up to the feeling of singing 'Auld Lang Syne' with the Cubans in Cuba," the promo says. (Well, we can think of some things, but . . . )

This year, of course, will be especially huge in Old Havana's Cathedral Square: It's the 55th anniversary of Fidel Castro's troops entering the city and dictator Fulgencio Batista's hasty predawn departure. (But don't look for "Godfather II" sites or Al Pacino and Fredo photos. If memory serves, those scenes were filmed in the Dominican Republic.)

And please be careful. We're advised that there's a Cuban tradition of pouring water out the windows to wash away the old year and bring in the new. Best to be a bit toward the center of the square.

There's another good reason to go now: This will be one of the last New Year's holidays celebrated under the Castro regime. The U.S. embargo and TV Marti will surely succeed in driving them out of power within five years, tops.