The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce recently traveled to Cuba on a humanitarian mission, and I was able to connect with them in Havana. Like my trip, their visit was eye-opening and educational too.

In addition to interviews in KING 5’s on-air coverage, we've included quotes from the delegates on their first reaction to Cuba:

Chris Mefford, Community Attributes
“The visit viscerally demonstrated what happens to a country that does not engage significantly in trade for a long period. The impacts of a closed economy were evident throughout most aspects of life in Havana.”

Darlene Corkrum, Virginia Mason Health System
“Our organization was honored to be invited by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce to participate in this historic trip to Cuba with several other business representatives from the Puget Sound region. I had the privilege of delivering medical supplies donated by Virginia Mason to a pre-school in Havana. I also spoke with representatives of the Cuban International Chamber of Commerce about our work to transform health care and how the Virginia Mason Institute helps organizations around the world make improvements in their care delivery systems. Having the opportunity to visit Cuba at this stage in its history was truly remarkable. It was an unforgettable experience for me, personally and professionally.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine
“It was an honor to represent the people of King County at this pivotal moment in the history of U.S. - Cuba relations. The Cuban people are remarkably resilient. Most of those I met have little materially, but they are fiercely proud of their island’s unique heritage. I appreciated the opportunity to lead the delegation in our meeting with Cuba’s official national Chamber of Commerce. We also saw many private entrepreneurs - restaurateurs, taxi drivers (and repairers), even real estate agents - who are running successful, licensed businesses. It is my hope that Cuba will be able to use the inevitable growth of U.S. tourism and trade to raise the quality of life for all the Cuban people while preserving the culture they cherish.”

John Kirby, Alaska Airlines
“It felt like the fabric of Cuba was changing before our eyes.”

John Schoettler, Amazon
“Our hearts were opened by the warmth of the Cuban people and the promise of the future. Cuba’s rich culture, music, architecture and vintage cars, were both impressive and inspirational.”

Lori Mason Curran, Vulcan
“I was struck by the growing signs of entrepreneurship as evidenced by increasing numbers of non-government run businesses ranging from privately run restaurants to street artists. I especially like this image because it conveys both the pride of the Cuban people, with the image of the Cuban flag prominently displayed in the painting on the right, while at the same time celebrating the classic U.S. made Chevrolet in the paintings on the left, imported in great quantities during a past era, and still arguably one of the most iconic symbols of Havana today.”

Maud Daudon, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce
“Seeing Cuba in person now, before it is widely touristed and traveled, was a special opportunity. President Obama’s recent visit, still celebrated in this poster which we saw on this Havana street, has dramatically accelerated the interest in Cuban travel by US visitors. Let’s hope that the opening of Cuba to outside visitors creates new opportunities for the Cuban people as well as for some in our delegation, such as Alaska Airlines, which has filed for nonstop service to Cuba beginning this fall!”

Randy Hodgins, University of Washington
“Here is my favorite Cuba photo. The only evidence I saw of the US on the entire trip, but one that I believe speaks to the hopes of both Cuban and American people about a better future together.
I was also personally struck by the value they place on education and their pride that it is provided at no cost to their citizens.”

Steve Crown, Microsoft
“While our direct interactions were limited by time and itinerary, the overwhelming impression I took away from Havana was optimism, anticipation of a future that will be based on engagement with the broader world.”
“In looking for a picture that captured this opportunity to build new relationships I kept coming back to this photograph and the face of the little boy sitting in the front. Plus I love the sense of energy communicated by the blur of these kids just being kids!”

Howard Wright, Seattle Hospitality Group
“57 years of missed opportunity; it’s time to partner respectfully!”

Roger Nyhus, Nyhus Communications
“Cuba is unlike any place I’ve ever visited. Havana feels like it is trapped in time, but with so much potential as Cuba opens to more U.S. visitors.”

Stewart Landefeld, Perkins Coie
“This is a highly controlled state, with an economy akin to an East European country in the 60’s, but with a welcoming people, who will soon receive a flood of their American neighbors for which the country seems not to be prepared. Neither country will quite the same again.”

Brian DeFoe, Lane Powell PC
“Without question, my takeaway was that Cuba is a land of tremendous contradictions. The people are warm and friendly but at the same time wary of talking with Americans for fear that their comments might be characterized as critical of their government. The architecture is simultaneously beautiful in design and heartbreaking in its condition. Overall, the country seems to be caught between the political ideals of its revolution and the practical realities of trying to govern.”