Yesterday, the U.S. Congress voted to ease restrictions on family travel to Cuba, as well as imports of food and medicine.

One of the most rewarding experiences in filming Traces of the Trade was our trip to Cuba in the summer of 2001, where we were able to get a first-hand taste of the legacy of slavery and race in Cuban society.

The documentary shows how we were able to visit historic sites, such as a slave market in Havana and the ruins of one of the slave plantations owned by our D’Wolf ancestors. Viewers are also exposed to the deep disconnect that several family members felt during their time in Cuba, as they tried to think about the history of the transatlantic slave trade while having the fairly rare experience, for U.S. citizens, of visiting and traveling in contemporary Cuban society. There are also hints in the film that racial prejudice and inequality in Cuba are largely hidden beneath the surface, while in public everyone praises the arrival of racial equality under socialism after Castro’s revolution.

The new rules, which technically merely suspend enforcement of Bush-era restrictions, will allow U.S. citizens with family in Cuba to visit their relatives as often as once a year (rather than every three years) and to stay in Cuba as long as they like (rather than for no more than 14 days). Cuba will also be allowed to pay for imports of agricultural and medical goods on arrival, rather than prior to shipment, and there will be a general travel license for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba to arrange such imports.

The U.S. embargo on most exports to Cuba will remain in effect, along with restrictions on travel for those without family in Cuba. According to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the U.S. is “currently reviewing United States policy toward Cuba to determine the best way to foster democratic change in Cuba and improve the lives of the Cuban people.”

The congressional vote occurred as part of the $410 billion omnibus spending bill, heavily criticized for containing earmarks. This morning, President Obama confirmed his intention to sign the bill, to keep the federal government running through the end of the fiscal year, despite the “imperfect” nature of the bill.

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