Sunday, September 01, 2002


Wheels to the World
April - 175 wheelchairs in Havana
November - 267 wheelchairs Havana & Ciego de Avila
Yes and yes, are the answers to the first two questions I hear when I tell people I have been to Cuba twice in the past year. Yes, it IS illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba (unless you have a letter of permission from the US Treasury Department for humanitarian relief efforts) and yes, I did carry back the allowed amount (by above) of Cuban cigars.

Five months before my birth the last revolution in Cuba succeeded, and Fidel Castro became the leader of this small island nation. The first Wheels to the World wheelchair distribution in April of 2002 occurred on the anniversary of that victory, the last in November, on the 40th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis. And what are my impressions of a country and political climate 43 years in the making? Aside from the breathtaking tropical scenery, one of the first things noticed (especially if you’re a guy) is the cars. In 1957 more Cadillacs were purchased per capita in Havana than any other city in the world. Even today, probably one out of every ten cars seen in Havana is American made (from the 1940’s and 1950’s). American manufacturing integrity or Cuban ingenuity has kept these gems of a bygone era running for 50 and 60 years, with NO American imports, auto parts, or classic car collector’s expertise and enthusiasm.

Sometimes, tourists forget when they board a plane for foreign destinations, the conveniences and comforts of home don’t pack as easily into their suitcase as the “don’t leave home without it” toilet paper. Phones don’t work, bathrooms leave a lot to be desired, and a bureaucracy that can’t be explained rules each day’s timetable. Bringing wheelchairs into a country under US embargo made us very aware of a lack of control over our schedule, regardless of the Passport we carried, or the conveniences we packed.