Greater Richmond Chamber headed to Cuba
Greater Richmond Chamber headed to Cuba
Aim of the excursion is to learn about the island nation’s culture
Posted: Sunday, July 6, 2014 10:48 pm
BY RANDY HALLMAN Richmond Times-Dispatch
The Greater Richmond Chamber has its eyes on Cuba.
The business organization is planning a trip to the island nation in
early 2015 — a night in Miami and five nights in Havana for $3,599 per
“This isn’t a beach vacation,” said Christy Schneider McCurdy, manager
of investor relations for the chamber. She is coordinating the chamber’s
efforts with the outfit organizing the trip, California-based Chamber
McCurdy explained that the California company is licensed by the federal
government to conduct “people-to-people” excursions to Cuba.
“We’re not going there to spend time on the beach,” McCurdy said, “but
it will be a fantastic trip. It’s an opportunity to understand the art,
culture and music of a country. There are things planned every day from
8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.”
The Greater Richmond Chamber will conduct an information session about
the trip at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, at the chamber’s offices at 600 E. Main
St in downtown Richmond. McCurdy said anyone can attend and asked that
those who plan to come contact the chamber at (804) 783-9379.
McCurdy said the early response to the excursion has been enthusiastic.
She said plans call for 20 spots on the trip, with the potential to add
Travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens has been limited since 1960, after Fidel
Castro came to power. The travel ban began as part of the Cold War
between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, Castro’s chief ally.
Until 2011, the U.S. essentially limited sanctioned travel to
journalists, academics, government officials, those with immediate
family members living on the island and others licensed by the Treasury
Three years ago, the rules were loosened to allow visits by any
Americans taking part in a “people-to-people” tour.
Other area groups have made such trips to Cuba. For example, the
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts organized two art-and-architecture trips of
32 people each early this year and plans two more in 2015 pending a
renewal of its “people-to-people” license.
Independent travel to Cuba by Americans remains prohibited. Some U.S.
citizens — tens of thousands by some estimates — have skirted
restrictions by entering Cuba via Canada, the Bahamas or other nations.
Mark A. Creery Sr., who was born in Cuba in 1956, came to the U.S. with
his Cuban mother and American father in 1958. He is founder, owner and
president of Data Directions Inc., a software development company with
headquarters in Mechanicsville.
For Creery, the Greater Richmond Chamber trip is the answer to a wish he
has had for decades — to visit his native country with his mother.
“Many of my mom’s family came to the U.S. after Castro took over,” he
said. “I still have some distant relatives there — second cousins maybe.
“For years I tried to talk her into a trip, but she refused,” he said.
“We would have had to get creative to get there. … But now we can go,
and my mom has changed her mind.”
Creery said he hopes to see scenes from his own history, “the hospital
where I was born, where I lived, where I was baptized.”
He said that besides the cultural lessons to be learned on the trip,
“there might be a way to develop some commerce with Cuba.”
Business between the two countries is sharply restricted. The U.S.
imposed a trade embargo with Cuba soon after Castro took power. The
embargo has been amended occasionally over the decades and is the
subject of fierce debate, but it is still in force.
There are exceptions — notably food and medicine. The Virginia
Department of Agriculture lists Cuba as the 20th largest customer for
agricultural goods from the state, with apples and soybean products at
the top of the exports list. Virginia shipped $38 million worth of
apples to Cuba in 2013.
Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Elaine Lidholm said Virginia began
exporting to Cuba in 2002. One of the first things shipped to the island
nation was cows — needed to improve the genetic makeup of Cuba’s herds.
Cuba is no place to accumulate souvenirs. Other than informational
materials, U.S. visitors are forbidden to bring anything back to this
country, not even the world-famous Cuban cigars.
Michele Zajur is president and CEO of the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of
Commerce, with offices in Midlothian and Vienna. He said he applauds the
Greater Richmond Chamber for choosing Cuba as a destination.
“Richmond has a considerable Cuban population,” he said. “Lots of people
here go back as far as the early ’60s. A cultural exchange like this is
a very important element in reaching that community.
“It’s a competitive advantage to understand a culture, the values of
that culture, its systems, its mindset,” Zajur said.
He said Latin Americans place high value on savoring the moment, on
relationships and trust. “Those are things that make a difference in the
approach to a community,” he said.
Among the events on the Greater Richmond Chamber’s itinerary are
discussions of Cuban baseball and the decades-old cars (American and
Soviet) that provide much of motor transportation there.
The tour will include visits to the Plaza of the Revolution, the Cuban
Institute of Music, Ernest Hemingway’s farm, a cigar factory, a rum
factory and other places of interest.
McCurdy said she recently visited Cuba as part of the preparation for
the “people-to-people” tour.
“It was incredible,” she said, “not what I expected. The people were
fascinating, so proud of their culture — musicians, artists, everyone.”
Source: Greater Richmond Chamber headed to Cuba – Richmond
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