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Remembering Papa on Father’s Day; knowing how mad he would be about Trump’s reversal on Cuba

By Maria Saporta

As I write this, Father’s Day is coming to a close.

The day has been filled with memories of Papa – interrupted by the news of the day.

One memory of Papa keeps colliding with today’s news of President Donald Trump refreezing the thawing restrictions of U.S. trade and travel with Cuba.

Papa Saporta

Papa – I.E. Saporta – as he looked before he had a stroke in September 1997

I traveled back to mid-1998 when Papa (Ike Saporta) had been in intensive care and intubated for nearly a week. Finally, as he stabilized, the tube was removed, and he kept trying to talk – but his voice was rough and hard to understand.

Slowly I pieced together what he was trying to say. Instead of talking about his near-death experience, Papa was agitated about our nation’s restrictive  policy towards Cuba.

Dr. Jonathan Langberg came to check on him and asked  how he was doing. Papa started croaking in his hard-to-understand voice. Dr. Langberg looked to me for help.

“My father is really upset about the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.”

Without missing a beat, Dr. Langberg said: “As well he should be.”

Papa, who died a few months later in November 1998, would have applauded President Barack Obama’s efforts to open up ties with Cuba. Both he and Mama were citizens of the world who believed in the freedom of travel and trade among nations.

Papa also knew the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba hurt the United States almost as much as it did the struggling island nation 90 miles south of Miami.

It goes without saying that if he were alive today, Papa would be furious with Trump’s backward-thinking moves to return to a failed policy more than 50 years in the making.

Obama Cuba

President Barack Obama – thawing relations in Cuba (Photos by Chief White House Photographer Pete Souza)

Many Republicans (and Democrats) also are uncomfortable with Trump’s isolationist tendencies towards Cuba (and the rest of the world) – including some in Georgia, who have expressed their displeasure in private settings.

After all, Georgia is one of the major beneficiaries in the opening up of economic and social relations to Cuba.

Tommy Irvin, Georgia’s agricultural commissioner from 1969 to 2010, led the state’s first trade mission to Cuba in October, 2000 and another one two years later. Irvin saw the opportunities for Georgia companies to sell poultry, soybeans and other agricultural products to Cuba. He also saw the opportunity for some of Georgia’s largest companies – such as the Coca-Cola Co. – to forge stronger business ties with Cuba.

The current agricultural commissioner, Gary Black, followed in Irvin’s footsteps in seeking closer trade relations. He was one of the top Georgia officials who signed on with “Engage Cuba” – a group that has advocated for the lifting of travel restrictions and greater access to the Cuban market for U.S. farmers and companies.

Even closer to Trump’s inner circle is former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who is now the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

During his confirmation hearing, Perdue repeatedly supported measures to expand trade with Cuba.

obama cuba

Obama’s Cuba trip (Photo by Chief White House Photographer Pete Souza)

“That’s a country that’s hungry,” Perdue testified just this March. “I led a delegation there in 2010 from Georgia, and they wanted our product. They could just not afford it and pay for it there based on the financial crisis that they were in. So, hopefully we can mitigate that.”

According to the Fence Post, a nationwide agricultural newspaper, Perdue was asked by Sen. John Boozman (R-Arkansas) about his views towards Cuba.

Perdue noted that Cuban officials had told him they could not afford to buy U.S. food products because current U.S. law requires them to go through Europe for financing and they have to take “a financial haircut.”

The Fence Post went on to say that Perdue demonstrated his knowledge of agriculture outside the South, saying that Cuban exports are important not only to Southeastern states but to Midwestern states that produce edible beans and that “private financing” needs to be improved.

The reversal in policy impacts not just agriculture.

Georgia’s second largest industry is travel and tourism. Our own Delta Air Lines began flying non-stop to Havana from Atlanta last Dec. 1, and it is a destination that was beginning to grow for U.S. travelers and vice-versa.

Papa sketching

Papa, an architect, was always sketching the world around him (Photo by Claude Wegscheider)

Given the anti-Cuba sentiment in Miami, Atlanta and the state of Georgia stand well-positioned to become a major U.S. gateway to Cuba and a top destination for Cuban visitors.

But Trump, in a speech he made in Miami on Friday, said: “”I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.”

Where are the voices of business leaders who are pro-trade and pro-business? Where are the people who believe travel and tourism actually bring people closer together and help make the world a safer place for us all?

So for much of Father’s Day, I thought of when I was sitting  next to Papa while he was lying on his hospital bed – listening to him complain about our misguided trade embargo with Cuba.

I can only imagine what he would say today.

By the way, that same day, I did ask Papa what he remembered about being intubated while in the ICU.

“I almost checked out,” he said.

“I know. So what was it like?

A glow came over Papa.

“It was beautiful,” he said. “There were waves of colors crashing against each other. Bright colors of red, orange, yellow, all kinds of colors, crashing and flowing into each other.”

Papa, hoping colors are crashing and flowing all around you.


I.E.(Isaac Elias) Saporta as a young man seeking the horizon – year unknown (Family photo)

Mama and Papa at Morningside

Papa and Mama at Morningside Elementary School in spring 1998 to talk to my daughter’s class about their experiences during World War II

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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  1. Bob McEver June 20, 2017 10:23 am

    I certainly don’t know all the behind the scenes details of the give and take of the Obama administration’s negotiations as they worked to unthaw relations with Cuba but if I had to guess, based on every other “deal” that was constructed by our former President, we ( the US ) got nothing and conversely gave up everything. That’s just my educated guess.
    My other educated guess is that President Trump will “renegotiate’ this deal and maybe get some relief for the political prisoners, concessions on Human Rights, etc, some further movement towards allowing ownership of property, etc that may actually help citizens of Cuba enjoy a modicum of freedom and prosperity—a real benefit (versus greasing the palms and coffers of the political and well lobbied friends of the former administration.Report

    1. Ben sol June 20, 2017 10:43 am

      Yeah Bob, like the the head in the sand policy of the previous 40 years had done wonders for the Cuban people!Report

  2. Ben Dooley June 20, 2017 10:37 am

    Thanks for the memories and comments Maria. I fondly remember your father, who we all called “Jock” (I guess it is obvious why) while an architecture student at Ga Tech in the 60’s. He told wonderful stories and was always willing to share his (I believe I remember correctly) sunflowerseeds. I remember seeing him around town for years at various concerts and events with his sketch pad. One of my most vivid memories was of leaving the “Temple” of architecture very late one night to see “Jock’s” car still sitting in the parking lot. As I got closer I realized he was sitting in the drivers seat and when I got even closer I realized he was not alone…your mother was there with her head resting on his shoulder as they sat and talked like young lovers.Report

    1. Maria Saporta June 20, 2017 5:45 pm

      Ben, thank you so much for sharing that memory. He really was a special, charismatic person. And I’m glad you’re reading SaportaReport. Side note, he actually had an older brother named “Jacques.” But in Greece, no one really appreciated the play on words…Report

  3. Noel M. June 20, 2017 11:25 am

    Another in a long line of great pieces by you, Ms. Saporta, deftly blending several threads to make a strong point. I’ll bet your father would be proud to see you carrying this torch forward.

    To your points about pro-business Republican leaders commenting on this change in U.S. policy – I agree with you, where are their voices in this important matter?Report

  4. Susan Varlamoff June 20, 2017 11:34 am

    Delegates from the University of Georgia College of Agriculture where I formerly worked, traveled to Cuba with Ag Commissioner Gary Black and saw tremendous possibilities for trade between Cuba and Georgia farmers. That may all be lost now. What a shame! Thanks for this piece.Report

  5. Burroughston Broch June 20, 2017 3:45 pm

    Academics view communism through rose-colored glasses since the 1920s. They only remove the glasses if they experience communism on a daily basis.Report

  6. Prisca June 20, 2017 3:56 pm

    I went to Cuba in 2000 to attend an interpreter conference and felt the guarded enthusiasm of Cubans for more trade and dialog with the U.S.. Soon after, Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irwin held a meeting promoting trade with Cuba. I remember vividly his comment: “We’ve got chickens; they need chickens.” He was wise and prescient. What a setback Trump has created.Report

  7. KerriSue June 20, 2017 5:57 pm

    Maria, per usual I enjoyed your reporting and reminiscences as I was reminded of meeting your father at the Affordable Housing Forum that Bill Bolling convened at the Atlanta Community Food Bank ages ago. Your father brought so much wisdom and quiet humor to that gathering. He made a memorable impression.Report

  8. metitometin June 23, 2017 10:06 am

    Trump continuing his pledge to Make America Hate Again and Make America Racist Again and Make America White Again and Make America an Oligarchy of the 1% Again. We are so screwed. Thank God I don’t have kids.Report

  9. Burroughston Broch June 23, 2017 11:11 am

    @ metitometin
    You forgot again to take your medications.
    I and many others also thank God you have no kids.Report

  10. Maria Saporta June 25, 2017 2:16 pm

    We appreciate when there’s a lively discussion on SaportaReport, but let’s try to make sure we don’t make it personal. Also, let’s try to keep our comments constructive so that the tone of the conversation is respectful. Thank y’all for reading.Report


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