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As Obama Prepares For Cuba Trip, A Look Back At The Hopes Of Two Cubans

Andrew Harnik
The Cuban flag is raised over the country's new embassy in the United States. The U.S. would later re-open its own embassy in Havana.

President Barack Obama plans to visit Cuba next month. The trip is expected to be officially announced today – part of multi-nation trip through Latin America. His visit there would be historic. The last time a sitting president went to Cuba was Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

This week on Going Places, we revisit an interview with two Cuban tour guides. They spoke about what they hope a renewed relationship with the United States might mean. I first met Frank Alpizar and Alejandro Infantes during a visit to Havana about a year ago. This interview was recorded in the KPLU studios, as they visited the United States in July 2015:

Interview Highlights

On American investment: "It's not just about money," Alpizar said. "Create an atmosphere of development. Many people say 'We don't want a lot of McDonald's, or a lot of Burger King destroying the image of Cuba. But we want two per town, so people have choice."

On the need to see Cuba before it changes: "Cuba has been changing a lot since the early 1990s," Infantes said. "People think Cuba is still in the 1970s or 1980s. We still need a lot of infrastructure. We need more development. We need access to the banking system."

Credit Ed Ronco / KPLU
Classic cars drive down a road in Havana. Renewed relations with the United States might mean big changes in Cuba -- including, maybe, newer cars more widely available?

On visiting the U.S.: "For the majority of Cubans, being in America is like a dream, at least to visit," Alpizar said. Infantes adds: "I think a lot of people believe it's the Cuban authorities who say, 'No, you can't travel.' It's the other way around. It's the American side, or the European side, or whatever country you apply to."

On entering a Fred Meyer store: "It was amazing to see the amount of food you sell," Alpizar said. "At the same time, I guess some people don't even buy that food? That was a shock, actually. It was shocking. In Cuba, we have a lot of food, but not the quality and the beauty -- and not the amount in the supermarkets."

More Coverage

Frank and Alejandro offer two perspectives in a complicated matter that brings with it a variety of opinions. NPR has been covering the shift in diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, from multiple angles, including on the ground in Cuba. You can see that coverage here.


Going Places is KPLU's weekly exploration of travel topics. Our travel expert, Matthew Brumley, will return next week. He's the co-founder of Earthbound Expeditions on Bainbridge Island, which provides small group travel to clients including KPLU.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.