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Travelers to Cuba see shift in views

More US visitors say end embargo

HAVANA — When President Obama reinstated ‘‘people-to-people’’ travel to Cuba in 2011, the idea was that visiting Americans would act as cultural ambassadors for a United States constantly demonized in the island’s official media.

Two and a half years later, a survey suggests the trips are not only improving Cubans’ views of Americans. They are also changing US travelers’ opinions of the Caribbean nation for the better, and dimming their view of Washington policies that have long been antagonistic toward Cuba’s Communist leaders.

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‘‘I think US-Cuban relations should be open. People should be talking to each other. People should be sharing,’’ said Ellen Landsberger, a 62-year-old New York obstetrician who recently visited on a people-to-people tour. ‘‘We have this tiny little island that is no threat to the US that we’re isolating from the world,’’ she said. ‘‘It doesn’t make sense.’’

There’s surely significant self-selection among people-to-people travelers; supporters of a hard-line policy against Cuba are unlikely to consider such a tour. And the people who run the trips tend to be more or less sympathetic toward Cuba, or at least to the idea of easing or lifting the 52-year-old US embargo, which could potentially be a boon to their business.

Still, the results of the multiple-choice survey by Friendly Planet Travel, a company based in suburban Philadelphia that promotes legal tours of Cuba, are eye-catching. Three-quarters said they were drawn by curiosity about life in a nation that has been off-limits to most Americans for decades.

Before travel, 48 percent of respondents said they viewed Raul Castro’s government as ‘‘a repressive Communist regime that stifles individuality and creativity.” That fell to 19 percent after their visits, and the new most-popular view, held by 30 percent of respondents, became the slightly more charitable ‘‘a failing government that is destined to fall.’’

Most striking, 88 percent said the experience made them more likely than before to support ending the embargo against Cuba.

Peggy Goldman, president of Friendly Planet Travel, said visitors are surprised at how hard it is to find many goods, even something as basic as an adhesive bandage.

Some leave Cuba blaming US policy for the shortages — as the Cuban government does constantly, although analysts also point to a weak, inefficient, and corruption-ridden economic system as a key cause of scarcity.

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