SPOKANE, Wash., Dec. 23, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- A group of nine U.S. citizens witnessed history in the making while traveling on an international good will tour to Cuba sponsored by People to People Ambassador Programs this past week. The group, led by University of Minnesota history and American studies professor Elaine Tyler May, returned to the U.S. on Dec. 20, after a remarkable turn of events during their 7-day stay that included tours of the rehabilitation of Old Havana, meetings with Cuban historians and exchanges at local community projects.
"We were amazed to be in Cuba when the news came of the beginning of a new relationship between our two countries," said Professor May. "We were fortunate to be in the beautiful biosphere community of Las Terrazes (located in a mountain area of the Candelaria municipality, about two hours from Havana) when the news arrived, and we watched the speech of President Raul Castro in the company of Cubans, along with wandering peacocks, chickens and cats! From that moment on, all of our meetings and conversations were filled with excitement and questions about what changes were in store."
People to People began offering adult travel programs to Cuba in July 2013, and has since sent 27 groups totaling more than 400 people to the island nation located just over 90 miles south of the U.S. People to People acquired a travel operator "people-to-people" license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which allows U.S. citizens to legally visit Cuba.
Optimism Everywhere; U.S. Investment Dollars to Follow?
Professor May explained that the initial celebration in Cuba last week revolved around the return of three members of the "Cuban 5," prisoners who spent more than 15 years in U.S. jails on spying charges. Two other members of the Cuban 5 were released in 2012.
"In conversations with people we met, there was great optimism about the future, and the possibility of easing or lifting the (U.S. trade) embargo," said May. "At the same time, there is some caution, because Cubans do not want a return of the American takeover of the Cuban economy reminiscent of the pre-1959 era. Nevertheless, there was joyful optimism everywhere we went."
The easing of tensions between the U.S. and Cuba is "extremely important to the Cuban people," noted Jacqueline Castledine, a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, who also travelled with the group. "Something was in the air when we arrived in Cuba," Castledine said. "While many Cubans appeared not to be surprised on the morning of December 17th to hear that within hours Raul Castro would be speaking to the nation, they were unsure of what he might announce. Slowly but surely reform is underway. There are renovations and infrastructure improvements going on everywhere, focused on the historic sites and tourism areas. What they need is investment. They are extremely hopeful U.S. dollars will flow into Cuba. The word 'hopeful' came up in many, many conversations."
People to People's adult travel programs give professionals a hands-on immersion in local culture and direct interaction with people in the same profession. "That peer to peer exchange, accompanied with our best in class guides and local experts, add up to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see countries around the world," notes Marcia Dartley, Program Director for People to People.
For more information about People to People's Citizen Ambassador Programs visit www.peopletopeople.com/cuba or call 877.787.2000.
About People to People Ambassador Programs
People to People Ambassador Programs is the world's most recognized student educational travel provider. Since the 1960s, more than 500,000 people from around the world have traveled with People to People Ambassador Programs to help further global understanding through cross-cultural exchange. Offering unmatched safety measures and unparalleled access to foreign cultures and countries, People to People Ambassador Programs promotes personal success in a globalized world and fosters international friendships for both students and professional adults.
People to People Ambassador Programs is the exclusive educational travel provider of People to People International (PTPI), a nonprofit organization founded in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to promote peace through understanding worldwide. Together, PTPI and People to People Ambassador Programs are united in a mission to bridge cultural and political borders through education and exchange. For more information, please visit www.peopletopeople.com.
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SOURCE People to People Ambassador Programs