When President Barack Obama reinstated “people-to-people” travel to Cuba in 2011, the idea was that visiting Americans would act as cultural ambassadors for a U.S. constantly demonized in the island’s official media.
Two and a half years later, a survey shared exclusively with The Associated Press suggests the trips are not only improving Cubans’ views of Americans. They are also changing U.S. travelers’ opinions of the Caribbean nation for the better, and dimming their view of Washington policies that have long sought to pressure Cuba’s Communist leaders.
“I think U.S.-Cuban relations should be open. People should be talking to each other. People should be sharing,” said Ellen Landsberger, a 62-year-old New York obstetrician who recently visited on a people-to-people tour.
“We have this tiny little island that is no threat to the U.S. that we’re isolating from the world,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
There’s surely significant self-selection among people-to-people travelers; supporters of a hard-line policy against Cuba are unlikely to consider such a tour. And the people who run the trips tend to be more or less sympathetic toward Cuba, or at least to the idea of easing or lifting the 52-year-old U.S. embargo, which could potentially be a boon to their business.
Still, the results of the multiple-choice survey by Friendly Planet Travel, a company based in suburban Philadelphia that promotes legal tours of Cuba, are eye-catching. Three-quarters said they were drawn by curiosity about life in a nation that has been off limits to most Americans for decades.
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