American Morning

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May 5th, 2009
09:30 AM ET

Jim Acosta's Cuba Blog

May 4, 2009
[cnn-photo-caption image= caption= "CNN's Jim Acosta in front of the Cuban Capitol building in Havana, Cuba."]

From CNN Producer Eric Marrapodi

It's easy to see why author Ernest Hemmingway loved Cuba. The sugar sand beaches of Varadero and glass blue sea all around the island are breathtaking. The Spanish colonial architecture in Old Havana is reminiscent of old Europe. Coral block, high arches, and giant 12 ft. wooden doors with open transoms on top are seemingly at every turn. There are plenty of 1950's-era US cars driving down the streets, brightly colored with their trademark tailfins and rounded edges. Classic Pontiacs, ‘57 Chevys, and old Cadillacs, line the streets. Its a bit like stepping back in time and not remembering how to get back.

The decades old U.S. embargo has cost Cuba dearly. After the fall of the Soviet Union, a main supplier of cash and resources to this tiny island nation, Cuba turned to tourism. The flight from Miami to Havana is less than hour but is still a no go for American tourists. A Canadian tourist told our team yesterday she thought the embargo was stupid and "like an old grudge you can't let go between family members."

We've seen a good bit of the island in our time here and you can clearly see the old Soviet influences. Outside of Old Havana there are a lot of concrete block buildings. Straight angle walls devoid of color and full of Soviet styling. Billboards all along the roads show pictures of Che Guevera and Fidel Castro and remind the citizens here to "Defend Socialism" and "Viva la Revolución."

May 3, 2009
[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Classic American cars in Havana, Cuba."]

Sunday morning in Havana started with a short stroll from the Hotel Nacional to a classic car show just down the street.  American car companies may be on life support back in the U.S. but the golden years of the classic Detroit automobile are still alive and well in Havana.  Cubans have kept these beauties purring for decades. Chevys, Chryslers, Buicks... you name it... they're here. 
After that it was off to Old Havana where we found the area around the Capitol Building bustling with tourists from around the world.  (Everywhere except the U.S.)  A retired sailor with the Cuban Navy approached us to find out why we were filming in the area.  When he found out we were from the States, the first thing out of his mouth was "me gusta Obama."  Translation:  I like Obama.
I'm off to write my stories for Monday and Tuesday.  We will first focus on how the U.S. travel ban on Cuba may be working against American interests.  Then, on Tuesday, a personal story on finding my Cuban roots for the first time.

  CNN Producer Eric Marrapodi photographs a stray dog in Havana, Cuba.
CNN Producer Eric Marrapodi photographs a stray dog in Havana, Cuba.

May 2, 2009
[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="CNN's Jim Acosta meets his father's cousin for the first time in Cuba."]

After a great meal in Old Havana last night, I got up at the crack of dawn and ventured out to my father's home town, Santa Maria de Rosario.  It's a small village about half an hour outside of Havana.  There, I was able to see the church where my dad was baptized and even got to meet one of his cousins.  Talk about a family reunion!  We spent an hour chatting about my grandparents.  Apparently my grandfather was kind of a big deal in that town, many years ago.

This afternoon, we move on to Cuba's most famous beach, Varadero where tourism officials are holding a golf tournament.  Do the golfers yell, "four" or is it "cuatro!?!"  We'll get a good look at how the country is marketing itself these days to international travelers.  And we'll see plenty of tourists from Europe who can freely travel to Cuba, unlike most Americans.

Cuba is always anxious to get out that side of the story.

Cheers... Jim

  CNN's Jim Acosta with video camera in Havana, Cuba.
CNN's Jim Acosta with video camera in Havana, Cuba.

May 1st, 2009
[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Crowds celebrate May Day in Havana, Cuba Friday."]

With a Cohiba cigar in my shirt pocket, I watched the sun rise over Havana's Plaza de La Revolucion as hundreds of thousands of Cubans marched in the island's annual May Day parade today. The celebration comes as Cuba marks the 50th anniversary of Fidel Castro's rise to power. In years past, Fidel Castro would lead the parade then speak to the hordes of Cubans on-hand. Castro's younger brother and Cuba's current leader Raul Castro was on-hand but he watched the festivites below the towering statue of Jose Marti, the island's pre-Castro revolutionary icon.

A few Cubans held up pictures of President Obama, with one sign reading "less salt" or as the saying is understood here, "be sweet." Cubans like what they're hearing from the U.S. President, especially Mr. Obama's move to end essentially all travel restrictions on Cuban Americans. Some Cubans are skeptical of big changes. As one Cuban woman wearing an Elian Gonzalez t-shirt told us, "he's only one man."

Now Cubans want the man in the White House to go further and end the U.S. travel ban on Cuba. The island is heavily dependent on foreign travelers. So, the prospect of American tourists flooding into Havana has some Cubans seeing dollar signs.

Cheers... Jim

April 30, 2009
[cnn-photo-caption image= caption= "CNN's Jim Acosta reports from Havana, Cuba for American Morning."]

Even on the charter plane to Cuba, you can't totally escape American pop culture. Coldplay is playing on the jumbo jet's TVs. "Viva la Vida" might be a good theme for this trip.

I'm headed to an island my father left 47 years ago, two weeks before the Cuban Missile Crisis. And guess what? Cuban Americans are going back in droves. The plane is packed. Many are taking advantage of a new Obama administration policy making it easier for Cuban Americans to visit relatives on the island.

We talked to one woman who's headed back to see her brother and sister. She thanked the president for allowing her to go to her homeland more often. She's carrying back food, medicine, and toys for her nieces and nephews.

Why toys? Her nieces and nephews, she explains don't have Christmas. And they don't have Santa Claus. But they will today.

Viva la Vida indeed!

CNN's Eric Marrapodi contributed to this blog

Filed under: Acosta's Cuba Blog • Cuba
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. jose alvarez

    The website below contains information on a research/writing project initiated more than 20 years ago:
    “Rethinking the Cuban rebellion of 1952-1959”
    Three books have already been published. Would you add the website as a link to yours and/or make a special announcement?
    I will appreciate it.

    José (Pepín) Alvarez

    January 4, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  2. cynthia tamargo

    I salute you for searching for your Cuban roots. I am 3rd generation American, my 4 grandparents came here from Spain seeking what all immigrants were doing...a better life.

    PLEASE, take this one step further and pronounce Spanish names correctly and dont americanize them. That would be a real tribute to your roots!

    May 26, 2009 at 9:06 am |
  3. Karl Brewer

    By all accounts the Cuban people are far better under Fidel then Batista. No more is the country the highly segregated and oppressed land where the soldiers marched through the rural areas killing and burning at will. No more is the average citizen underfed and illiterate.

    Fidel introduced free education and free health care to all people, and gave the poor families children an education. For every literate Cuban under Batista there are 3 Cuban DOCTORS under Fidel.

    Cuba sends more doctors overseas to help with disaster relief then any other country, usually ten to twenty times as much as most Europian countries and much more then USA's number of 0. Cuba also builds hospitals and sends medical supplies for them to use. The amount of Cuban doctors in Africa alone is staggering, and is the only reason that real progress is being made in the backward and damaging medical condition of their tribal areas.

    Maybe that is why Fidel is a long- standing member of the UN's Human Rights Commitee. That is something you can't say about an American president. Not bad for an "evil dictator" under a 45 year trade embargo.

    May 26, 2009 at 6:10 am |
  4. Jorge Sandoval

    CUBA under the Dictator Batista:

    – Americans owned 70 % of the arable land

    – 1% of the population controlled 46 % of the wealth

    – Batista's goons and secret police killed 20,000 Cubans (tortured even more)

    – 67 % of the population were illiterate

    – 50 % of the population lived in Bohio shacks

    ... These are the conditions that gave Fidel the environment to rise to power.

    May 25, 2009 at 3:31 am |
  5. John

    Cuba is an amazing place.

    All Americans should be free to travel there who wish to.

    Viva Fidel !

    May 25, 2009 at 3:25 am |
  6. Paula Hefner

    Your dad is so proud of you. He tells me all the time about your latest adventures. Not until this story about his beginnings in Cuba did I actual look up a story. A.J is truly a remarkable guy and we all in Great Falls are very fond of him. Thanks for sharing with us.

    May 19, 2009 at 8:16 am |
  7. Ed Dronenburg..."Arby's Breakfast Club"

    Hi Jim:

    Had the pleasure of meeting you. Your father told me of these videos, but did not get an opportunity to see them until now.

    Absolutely splendid job. We all are pleased to share A.J.'s pride in all your accomplishments. Keep up the good work.


    May 7, 2009 at 11:21 am |
  8. Cubano

    Ever since JFK, US presidents have been promising the Florida voting block of exiles that the Cuban goverrnment will be overturned. And you can give them an E for Effort:. They initiated, promoted or tolerated all of the following: Bay of Pigs invasion, attempts on Castro's life, sabotage, brutal economic blockade, downing of an airliner, innumerable raids by exiles, bombings in Havana, guerrillas in Escambray mountains, misinformation campaigns and much more.

    Then Cuba is accused of being too tough on dissidents, who receive instruction and money from the enemy. What would the US reactrion be if under such threat and siege? The point that cannot be missed is that the Cuban socialist regime is legitimate and has the right to exist. And I propose that it would not exist in its present form had not been because it was isolated and forced to depend on unyielding ideology and war preparadness. And yes, it was pushed into Soviet hands for survival.

    Things are changing. Respect Cuba's sovereignity and you will see the release of prisoners and relaxation of personal freedoms. They understand that and have clearly said they are not afraid to tackle any subject. But Cuban exiles, please realize you will never hold power in Cuba, so stop trying to disrupt the path to peace.

    May 6, 2009 at 8:58 am |
  9. Bill

    Mr. Acosta,
    How wonderful for you to find your relatives in Cuba. What an extraordinary report. This will have an impact the rest of your life. I hope you will be able to go back to Cuba again to see your family. I hope someday I will be able to visit the land of my ancestors. Keep up the good work.

    May 6, 2009 at 7:22 am |
  10. Margarita

    I congratulate Jim Acosta for making the trip. I was filled with emotion when I saw his report, and I came to the blog to read further on his trip. I'm not, I suppose, surprised to read the comments. Yes, it's true that people are forced or bribed to go to these large meetings/demonstrations. Either by offer of food or even a T-shirt, or because they go with their work groups and have to check in. I have seen the misery and lack of freedom up close. But the tone of many of the comments leave me with little hope for a resolution to my birth country's issue. I am a Cuban and left at 11, but have travelled back to see my family–including my brother. There are valid arguments on both side–why does Cuba not allow its citizens to travel more freely? email their family? But why did the US put such difficult restrictions on travel by family–or for that matter–others when we travel to VietNam, China, etc. Obama (who I did not vote for) is trying to address all these problems and I support him wholeheartedly. The current situation is hurting the people more than the government. It has survived for 50 years so it is time to rethink the US policy and not let Castro use the policies against the US.

    May 5, 2009 at 6:10 pm |
  11. Richard A Griola

    Great story....

    In a small town in Sicily, I walked the street where my grandfather was born. It was overwhelming.

    CNN should do more stories of America's search for it's roots.

    May 5, 2009 at 6:02 pm |
  12. Maurice


    Keep us in the US focused on building the future together with forward-looking Cubans. Mistakes of the past have been plentiful on both sides, US and Cuba... but what matters now is moving ahead. Thanks for helping us appreciate strengths, understand more deeply, forgive and collaborate.


    May 5, 2009 at 4:44 pm |
  13. Pototo

    What a selective story. What about the dissidents? Did you visit any? Or who did you see at Varadero? Any locals? Or just Europeans who are here for the child sex tourism? Damage done by the embargo? Would you care to clarify? The US is Cuba;s largest supplier of foof and medicine as well as their 5th largest trading partner under the embargo. But i guess I should not expect to have any of thes equestions answered as CNN would not be allowed in Cuba if they were balanced.

    May 5, 2009 at 3:37 pm |
  14. Carlos

    "A Canadian tourist told our team yesterday she thought the embargo was stupid and “like an old grudge you can’t let go between family members.”"

    Is this regarding the US and Cuba or Quebec province and the rest of Canada??????????

    The Cuban "sailor": “me gusta Obama" utterly surprising!

    You are a "Cuban-American" clown who would make Beria or Goebbles blush.

    Not one word of repression, human rights, political prisoners, free speech, elections etc.

    Fidel= "icon"

    May 5, 2009 at 11:48 am |
  15. Suzanne Trimel

    Since April 14, pro-democracy activist Edgard Lopez Moreno has been on a hunger strike in Cuba to protest the Cuban government's refusal since 2007 to issue an exit visa allowing him to join his wife in the United States. The United States in 2007 accepted Moreno as a refugee but Cuba has repeatedly denied him a visa. Moreno believes he is being punished for his advocacy of democratic rights in Cuba. Although Raul Castro announced in 2008 that his government would ease travel restrictions for its citizens, the situation has not changed. Independent journalists, human rights defenders and political opponents have been denied their right to leave Cuba. Amnesty International today is urging its activists worldwide to demand that Cuba issue the exit visa to Moreno.
    To read more about the case, go to

    May 1, 2009 at 2:40 pm |
  16. Jugulator

    The old pots and pans for feeding the family can be transformed, in the event, into the ballot we can’t leave in the box and into the hand we dare not raise in the assembly. Any object can serve, if given the space required: a piece of fabric hung from the balcony, a newspaper waved in public, a pot banged along with others. The great metallic choir made up of spoons and pans could be—on May first at 8:30—our voice, to say what we have stuck in our throats.

    Restrictions on coming and going from Cuba have lasted too long. So I will ring my pot for my parents, who have never been able to cross the sea that separates us from the world. I will join the symphony of pans also for myself, forced to travel only in the virtual world in the last two years. I will pound out the rhythm of the spoon while thinking of Teo, condemned to permanent exile if he happens to board a plane before the age of eighteen. I will beat the drum for Edgar, who is on a hunger strike after seven denials of his request for permission to leave. At the end of the metallic concert I will dedicate a couple notes to Marta, who didn’t get the white card to meet her granddaughter who was born in Florida.

    After so much beating on the bottom of the pan, it probably won’t serve me for frying even one more egg. For the necessary “food” to travel, move about freely, leave home without permission, it’s well worth it to break all the equipment in my kitchen.

    May 1, 2009 at 1:24 pm |
  17. Bernice

    I am sorry Avilino, but I am afraid I did indeed get that point right from the start! I do stand corrected however, thier counrty is a dictatorship. Thier country is need of a president, just as Mexico has one. The American people voted for Obama to be the American president! I did not cast a vote for our president to also run another countrys affairs! They should hold a poll and vote for thier own! I do understand communism also. BUT is not up to the American people! They need to want change in thier country and fight to achieve it, just as Americans did, and does to this day! I wish only the best for all in Cuba. But, our president should be ours! He should start worrying about the care of our own people! We can't change the world here!! I agree to open talks and try to achieve progress, but not at the cost everytime of the American people and its taxpayers, I do have a problem with that! But, I do not stand alone. I stand with millions of other Americans on this one! He is our American President! They can figure out how to aquire thier own! Our president does have his problems, but as I said ..."ours"...

    May 1, 2009 at 11:16 am |
  18. ETA

    What do you do in Cuba?

    you are of CIA

    May 1, 2009 at 11:11 am |
  19. Andres

    The cuban people don't want more Fidel Castro, please we need help of United State. Obama we are waiting by you.

    May 1, 2009 at 11:07 am |
  20. Gusanita

    Very nice Jim is good for you to see Cuba, but please see the REAL CUBA, the Cuba with Biscet, Las Damas de Blanco, 50 years with the same guy. Please see that Cuba too.......

    May 1, 2009 at 11:04 am |
  21. Avelino Plumon

    Bernice , you did not get my point

    I'm saying Barack Obama is the most popular CUBAN PRESIDENT not US PRESIDENT

    Cuba does not have a President since 1959

    May 1, 2009 at 10:42 am |
  22. Bernice

    Yes he is, Avelino. But still, we voted for and were in need of a US AMERICAN president! Cuba already has thier own! Hopefully, with the ball in Fidel's court, we'll see if his first shot is a score ...or just another FOUL BALL! I am expecting a few foul balls in the game.

    May 1, 2009 at 9:42 am |
  23. Avelino Plumon

    Barack Obama is by far the most popular Cuban President in the last 50 years

    The ball is in Fide'ls Court

    May 1, 2009 at 9:01 am |
  24. Abajofidel Blog

    Cruel Dictatorship nothing more to it

    Talk about the dissidents, Ladies in White, Oscar Elias Biscet,. Most of the people you see marching there are there against their will. It has been that way for 5o years. Talk to the common people about Obama, talk to them about the real embargo, the embargo Fidel castro has imposed on their own people,. He has done this to control the masses .-

    May 1, 2009 at 8:56 am |
  25. Bernice

    I am absolutely thrilled for all of you who lost touch with thier lost loved ones, and now can finally reunite! You are family. That is so very important that families stick together!! Go take good care of your loved ones! I am so happy for you all. God bless ur travels and ur upcoming adventures!

    May 1, 2009 at 8:50 am |
  26. Sisi

    What a day to celebrate!!! My heart is full of joy as I watch Cnn showing the reuion bravo to WH. My parents are exiles of apartheid and I know the pain they lived with for years. Today I have more to be proud about this wonderful U.S.A

    May 1, 2009 at 8:17 am |
  27. Fantomas

    Jim Acosta ...Do it for your father

    Talk about the dissidents, Ladies in white, Oscar Elias Biscet,. Most of the people you see marching there are there againts their will. It has been that way for 5o years. Talk to the common people about Obama, talk to them about the real embargo, the embargo Fidel castro has imposed on their own people,. He has done this to control the masses .-

    May 1, 2009 at 8:17 am |
  28. Pablo Saldana

    I really enjoyed your report from Cuba. Question – can Cuban-Americans who do not have family in Cuba visit there as well?


    May 1, 2009 at 8:07 am |