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History is being made in Cuba, as President Barack Obama arrives Sunday in Havana, making him the first United States president since Calvin Coolidge to visit the island nation.
As recently as October 2015, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter joined eight other governors in calling for the suspension of travel and trade embargoes.
Otter last led an Idaho delegation to Cuba in 2007, including dozens of business leaders and government officials. An official release from the governor's office touted deals to sell biotechnology, seed potatoes and plenty of meat. Twin Falls-based Falls Brand Independent Meats announced a plan to ship more than 50 tons of boneless pork, valued at more than $100,000, in a matter of months. Idaho officials later conceded none of that ever happened, citing mounds of red tape.
Otter has been to Cuba no less than four times—three times as a congressman and a fourth time, as governor, in 2007.
"They desperately need food," said former Boise Weekly News Editor Nathaniel Hoffman, who has visited Cuba twice, the last time trailing Otter's delegation. "A lot of restaurants just aren't any good. In fact, if you're looking for anything decent to eat, you're told to look for a line coming out of an alley. If you follow the line, it usually leads to someone's house, where they're selling their personal food. There's a huge underground economy."
It was just over a year ago when Obama announced the effort to normalize relations with Cuba and that he wanted to visit Havana while he was still president.
As a half-century freeze on U.S.-Cuban relations began to thaw, the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights in Boise began hosting "Visit Cuba" trips this year as Idahoans experienced "day-to-day interactions" with the Cuban population. Trips were quickly filled up in January, February and March, at a price tag of more than $5,000.
"It's so helpful when you're actually meeting the people," said Dan Prinzing, executive director of the Wassmuth Center. "When we talk about universal human rights, it's important to remember that they're just that: universal."
Meanwhile, thousands of Cubans are expected to line the motorcade route as Obama makes his way from the Havana Airport to the U.S. ambassador's residence on Sunday. Later in the week, Obama is scheduled to deliver a nationally televised address in Cuba and, perhaps most interesting, Obama will attend a baseball game on Tuesday, March 22, when the Tampa Bay Rays will play a Cuban national baseball squad. The Rays players say they're bringing along plenty of new baseball equipment and gift bags filled with much-needed toiletries for kids and families in Havana.
Hundreds of Cuban-born baseball players have played in the U.S. big leagues, including Jose Canseco,Tony Perez, Luis Tiant and Yasiel Puig. Still more have played in minor league baseball, including the Boise Hawks. In 2010, Hawks pitcher Juan Serrano told BW about his journey from Cuba and dream of bringing his family to America.
"Algun dia pronto," he said.
Translation: "Someday soon"