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Crossing to Cuba

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Bardstown couple passengers aboard first cruise from U.S. to Cuba since 1970s

By Randy Patrick

One could imagine that after 50 years of Communist rule and hostile relations with its neighbor, Cuba would not welcome Americans with open arms. But when Fred and Lyda Moore, among 700 passengers of the Adonia, arrived in Havana’s harbor, people were there to greet them like old friends.

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“People were crying, taking our pictures, holding up their children, trying to touch us, just saying, ‘Thank you, Americans! Thank you for coming,’ ” Lyda said.

The Bardstown couple and their Alabama friends Margaret Segrest and Frank Argabright were on the first cruise to Cuba in almost 40 years. The last time an American ship had been allowed to enter the harbor was during a brief thaw during the presidency of Jimmy Carter.

Americans had visited Cuba — as members of cultural exchanges who had flown from Canada — but a cruise ship, that was something else.

Lyda knew she had to be on that ship as soon as she saw the ad for it, after President Barack Obama restored diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba in 2015, and told Fred.

“We took out the credit card and bought (the tickets) that afternoon,” she said.

The cruise was May 1-8.

Lyda had been intrigued by Cuba since childhood. Her Methodist church took in a family of Cuban refugees after the 1959 revolution that removed the U.S. government and American crime bosses who ran the country. It would be 57 years, though, before she could go there.

The only place the tourists encountered any hostility from Cubans was in Miami, where a boat called the Democracia harassed their cruise ship. The Coast Guard had to run interference.

Seeing Cuba was an eye-opening experience for the Moores.

“Many of the homes had bars across the doors and windows, but unlike other West Indies islands, it seemed to me like everyone was equally poor,” Fred said.

He noticed there weren’t many people working. Citizens were given a meager stipend of a few pesos a month, but a gas cooking stove might cost 1,100 pesos. Stores were often run by the government.

Fred and Lyda saw the vestiges of American influence. Baseball is a popular pastime, the writer Ernest Hemingway is still loved, and the streets are still filled with classic U.S. cars. But a 1949 Ford might have a new Mercedes engine, independent suspension and disk brakes.

“I’d go down to the corner and just look at the cars … and there were so many convertibles. It’s amazing,” Fred said.

Public transportation was typically a 1953 Chevrolet 2 ¼-ton rack truck that people would jump on and off of while it was moving, he said.

The people seemed anxious, said Lyda, because they have to be careful about what they say and do, but some are doing things that eight months ago would have landed them in jail. One man they met was selling Barack Obama T-shirts and other souvenirs outside a fort built in 1637.

“There’s two different Cubas; there’s the Cuba that’s controlled by the government, and then there’s the Cuban people,” Lyda said. “The people are warm, loving, caring, funny. This is one of the most literate populations in the world.”

Lyda believes Cuba’s future is brighter because the U.S. rapprochement will result in growth and greater freedom.

“These people don’t have anything, but they have such hope that our being there will break open those barriers,” she said.