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The Americans are coming! The Americans are coming!


   It’s a myth, writes Lisa Monforton of the Calgary Herald in this report, that United States citizens are barred from travelling to Cuba. Certain categories of Americans can and do go, including teachers, charity workers, journalists and, on a restricted basis, Cuban Americans.
   And then there are the Americans who slip into Canada to take advantage of cheap package holidays to Varadero or Holguin, secure in that knowledge that Cuba does not stamp tourists’ passports.     You’re not fooling us, by the way – we can pick out your Michigan and Ohio speech patterns at the resort buffets as easily as you recognize a Canadian accent.
   Soon, however, many more Americans could be making the 90-mile hop (or as we would put it, 145 kilometres, eh?) across the Straits of Florida.
   The Freedom to Travel Act now before U.S. legislators would relax restrictions, probably starting with the Cuban Americans who under the terms of a 2004 executive order by George W. Bush are limited to one visit every three years.
We’ve always known that rapprochement must come one day for the U.S. and its Caribbean neighbour. What’s surprising, really, is that a Miami-Havana cold war could persist for five full decades.
   And now, with this new act said to have broad support in a Washington basking in Obama moderation, it’s possible to imagine a full resolution of differences extending from the U.S. occupation of Guantanamo Bay to the Castro government’s seizure of U.S. holdings in Cuba.
   Forgive our narrow view, but as Canadians and car buffs, we must admit to some misgivings about these developments. While we will rejoice in the improvement in living standards that an American influx will mean for our Cuban friends, we wonder how the island’s famous uniqueness – and not just in its mix of vehicles – could survive in the face of the inevitable onslaught by Middle America.
   But while we know that the old cars and the old ways cannot remain forever, we can make a modest proposal. Start, of course, with giving Cuban Americans unfettered access to their homeland.
   After that, permit, for 10 years, just one other group – auto hobbyists – to visit Cuba without restriction. We know the U.S. car buffs would jump at a chance to time-travel to a place where ’49 DeSotos and ’58 Buicks are in daily use. And we know that as solid citizens and, in our experience, just good people, they would respect Cuba’s automotive environment and serve as exemplary ambassadors for their own great country.
   They might even find a way to stabilize the Cuban carscape, so that after a decade, when all Americans are permitted to visit, the island’s singular blend of U.S. classics and Soviet bloc-mobiles, leavened with a scattering of who-knows-what, can roll on forever.
   And when the hordes do descend, they can follow this advice from their car-fan compatriots who paved the way:
   Take nothing but JPEGs; leave nothing but spark plugs.

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