“Ninety seven miles south” Phil Thompson
In his address to the Cuban People, Barack Obama described the 97 miles between Cuba and Key West as a distance characterized by “barriers of history and ideology; barriers of pain and separation.” Elizabeth Jean departed Marina Hemingway at dawn; the red and green channel markers lit our path to the open ocean and framed the Big Dipper and our path north on the far horizon. By midnight we were docked in down town Key West after a fast an uneventful passage. Roughly coinciding with our transit were two other voyages that will continue to characterize Cuba’s evolving relationship with the United States.
The Adonia which arrived in Havana on May 2, the first U.S. commercial ship in more than 50 years. Carnival selected Arnaldo “Arnie” Perez, a Cuban-American who works as Carnival’s general counsel, to be the first person to step off the ship. Special arrangements were required to set aside Cuban restrictions against Cuban-born citizens arriving by sea. The approximately 700 people on board participated in a variety of pre-approved “people-to-people” cultural engagement excursions, from guided tours to concerts to meetings with local artists and artisans.
On April 29, the day we departed from Cuba, two groups of Cubans, one a group of 12 men on a 15-foot vessel, arrived in the Florida Keys after transiting the 97 miles traveled by Elizabeth Jean and her crew that same day.