It was October 1977, and a Cuban cops policemanpoliceman was poking his handgun into Jerry Rappaports chest, asking him in Spanish, obviously simply what he thought he was doing.
Rappaport then a high-powered Boston developer, now a Sewalls Point benefactor had actually been poking around a construction website on the outskirts of Havana at the invite of none aside from Fidel Castro himself. However he didnt speak Spanish and had a difficulta tough time communicating that to the Cuban police officer.
All we could do was inform him to call Castro, said Rappaport, now 88.
Attempt that next time you get stopped for a traffic infractionChecking out Cuba suggested cutting the cord
Time is now to lift the Cuban embargo
Lastly, after some tense minutes, the Cuban policeman got word that Rappaport and his companions were on the up-and-up. Despite the fact that their journey to Cuba itself was on the QT
On March 20, President Obama became the very first US president to set foot on Cuban soil in 88 years, and a thaw in US-Cuban relations after more than a half-century that consisted of some of the greatest crises of the Cold War is underway.
Yet Obama is not the very first president to connect to Cuba. As chronicled in the 2014 book Back Channel to Cuba, clandestine talks in between Washington and Havana started as early as 1962, often including informal delegations that met in restaurants and hotels, intermediaries looking for typical ground as the basis for additional conversations.
In early 1977, as President Jimmy Carter took workplace, Rappaport was approached by Thomas ONeill then Massachusetts lieutenant guv and the child of US Home Speaker Suggestion ONeill, a friend of Rappaports to be part of a group.
The expectation was we would satisfy with Castro and attemptaim to open a dialogue on trade and ways to assist Cuba become more democratized, stated Rappaport in an interview recently.
Rappaport had met Castro in 1959, when the Cuban leader spoke at the Harvard Law Online forum, which Rappaport had actually established a decade before.
He talked of democracy and of overthrowing dictatorship, Rappaport remembered of Castros advertised see to America. But within a year, Castro took American home and rotated toward the Soviet Union.
The love disappeared, said Rappaport.
Yet in March 1977, simply weeks after taking office, President Carter issued a directive specifying the United States ought to seek to normalize relations with Cuba, and begin direct and personal talks.
So there was a basic atmosphere of hope as Rappaport and the rest of his group stepped off the airplane in Havana on Oct. 24, 1977 and went back in time.
On the streets were old Chevrolets like I drove in college, Rappaport stated. Its difficult to picture how depressed and wornbroken everything was.
Over the next five days there were indoctrinating visits with Cuban functionaries. The group, which included Rappaports other half, Phyllis, visited schools and dined at a dining establishment outside Havana, where they rushed to come up with enough local currency to pay the costs. (There were no charge cards, Rappaport described, and mostthe majority of the group had declined to transform their dollars to Cuban pesos because of the unbelievably low main currency exchange rate.)
Then, one afternoon, they were informed to get dressed. Fidel would see them.
He was an outstanding individual, tall and in completecompletely military uniform, said Rappaport. Rappaport reminded him theyd met at Harvard years in the past. The 2 men promoted 10-12 minutes; Castro discovered Rappaport was a designer and peppered him with technical concerns. Then Castro told Rappaport he should go to Alamar, Cubas biggest housing project, promoted as a design socialist city.
You won a lottery game, which provided you the right to build your very own house, said Rappaport.
The next day, fascinated, Rappaport and architect Lee Cott, likewise part of the delegation, took a taxi to the site and began snapping photos. Soon they heard a siren, and up shrieked the authorities policemanlaw enforcement officer, weapon drawn. It was, Rappaport stated, a frightening moment in an otherwise motivating trip.
Ultimately, though, nothing would come of it. Carter never put Cuban relations on the front burner and Back Channel to Cuba reports that Castros refusal to stop Cubas military involvement in Angola became a significant stumbling block.
About the only benefit to me was that I was able to legitimately restore two boxes of Cuban stogies for my father, said Rappaport.
Almost 40 years later, as he saw Obamas trip, he grew wistful.
There was the possibility of a beginning there for tourism, trade and cultural events, he said. Cuba would be in a far better location.
I cant help but looktake a look at whats taking place now and state: Exactly what if?