Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Miami-Cuba ferry service sounds dreamy, but at what moral price?

Possible host ports for ferry service between Florida and Cuba
Possible host ports for ferry service between Florida and Cuba

Isn’t the idea lovely — a dream come true?

Pack a weekend bag, head to PortMiami, hop on a ferry and sail across the Florida Straits to, say, the Hemingway Marina in Havana. Spend the weekend strolling the colonial streets, the quaint ones with homes restored in pastels and out of sight from the decay in which the most humble of habaneros live crammed into precarious tenements. Dine not on ration-card fare, but on the nouvelle cuisine prepared in paladares that aim for the chic look of New York. Sleep in the Hotel Ambos Mundos like Papa, a little frumpy but historic, the perfect abode to avoid reality.

Pause now for the sound effect of fingernails on a blackboard — and wake up.

The hat you’re wearing on the Fantasy Ferry may have a vintage flair, but it’s not the 1950s, dear ones.

The news flash that Mayor Carlos Gimenez wants to turn a coveted plot of land at PortMiami into a bustling terminal for ferries — and that some of the carriers may offer affordable travel and shipping between Miami and Cuba — is a good-news/bad-news idea.

On the positive side, this means that Gimenez’s administration is dropping a controversial plan to develop more hotels and office space on this site, which was also the first choice for David Beckham’s soccer stadium. Dodging those two traffic-producers in a clogged-up area and parting with the 2011 master plan that called for more overdevelopment in this plot of land is enough reason to celebrate.

Easier and more affordable access to Cuba, on its face, is also progress in the pursuit of ever-elusive change by way of engagement. So it’s not surprising that a Republican mayor in a non-partisan post facing re-election might have a more relaxed attitude toward Cuba travel. Plenty of high-profile Miami Republicans support President Barack Obama’s rapprochement policy.

One wealthy and well-connected Miami businessman tells me of sailing to Cuba on his yacht to help a friend fulfill his late father’s wishes and take his ashes back to Havana. They took a chance — and just showed up at the Hemingway Marina with their American passports.

“We were welcomed and offered services,” he said. “We were surprised that it wasn’t a big deal.”

Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Key West are already poised to provide ferry service.

So why shouldn’t the Miami masses have access to Cuba via the services of well-priced ferries when there are commercial flights, too?

I can only think of one good reason: More patronage of a still repressive and totalitarian regime that shows no signs of slowing beatings, arrests, and imprisonment of dissenters. Or of changing antiquated control measures like the detested ration cards — just reissued — for food purchases.

If we’re at the stage of frivolously sailing across waters where others lose their lives fleeing, shouldn’t our desires, our damned nostalgia at least properly feed ordinary Cubans?

Forging ahead — no matter what — is starting to look more and more like the 1950s, when Cuba’s dictator was America’s dictator — our man in Havana, a political love affair.

In that light, the vintage hat for the Fantasy Ferry fits perfectly.