I've been a reporter for USA Today for nine years. I've reported from all over the world - Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Mexico, Brazil, Guantanamo Bay - and have covered immigration for many years. Now I'm focused on Cuba, travel there a bunch and we just published a 360-degree video from Havana.


Comments: 100 • Responses: 22  • Date: 

cheezeburgericanhaz17 karma

How do the Cuban people generally feel about Americans?

alan_gomez21 karma

The Cuban people loooooooove the American people. The disagreements lie strictly between our governments.

gnujack10 karma

Is there any sign of political repression among the people? Do they feel free to express negative opinions about the government?

alan_gomez23 karma

To be absolutely clear, political repression still exists to a large degree. In fact, the number of people arrested or detained as political prisoners has increased in recent months. So that's still happening. But on the street, it's amazing how much people are expressing themselves now. Before, people who held the most highly-desired jobs (basically, anything where you have access to tips from foreigners, like bartenders, hotel workers, taxi drivers) would always tell you how great things are. Nowawadays? They'll tell you eeeeeeeeeeeverything that's wrong. It's really stunning.

cheezeburgericanhaz8 karma

What changes do you foresee happening in the near and far future when it comes to US/Cuba relations?

alan_gomez22 karma

The most immediate change you might see is in the Cuban Adjustment Act, a U.S. law that allows any Cuban who simply touches U.S. soil to stay. It's more commonly known as the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy. Cubans are the only immigrants who get that kind of treatment, so now that President Obama is normalizing relations with Cuba, many people want to change that policy.

Changing the U.S. embargo on Cuba will probably take longer.

SageBow8 karma

Many people are excited about the prospect of being able to legally obtain Cuban Cigars here in the states now.Are there any other major exports that you forsee coming out of Cuba?

alan_gomez17 karma

For now, the only change that Obama implemented is that Americans can bring back up to $100 worth of rum and cigars when they travel to Cuba. And trust me, I've been taking full advantage of that!

But it's going to be a while before you can buy any of those in a U.S. store. Cuba's private entrepreneurs are now allowed to export their products to the U.S., but the rum and cigars are produced by companies run by Cuba's state government. So as long as the embargo is in place, the only way you're getting your hands on those is by going to the island.


Hello. How is the classic car market? Any potential to export to the US in the foreseeable future? Aside from that what human rights issues did you witness if any?

alan_gomez8 karma

No chance of getting those cars up here until the U.S. embargo on the island is seriously changed or eliminated. I didn't witness any human rights issues, but human rights groups on the island who closely track it say political arrests and detentions have increased in recent months. At the same time, people are generally more free to say negative things about the system.

Terry_Carlton675 karma

What's your favorite Cuban food/meal?

alan_gomez10 karma

The absolute basic is my absolute favorite: roasted pig, rice and black beans and fried plantains.

cheezeburgericanhaz5 karma

How many places in Cuba were you able to visit? Do you have any favourites?

alan_gomez6 karma

On this trip, I only went to Havana. But I've been around the island quite a bit on previous trips. Santiago and Trinidad are amazing because of the colonial architecture that has been maintained there. Pinar del Rio in the west has some of the most amazing natural landscapes you'll ever see. My personal favorite? Cienfuegos, a city on the south side of the island. But I have to say that because it's where my mother is from.

cheezeburgericanhaz3 karma

Did you stay at resorts or at casa particulars? Any favourites you can recommend to travellers who are able to visit?

alan_gomez6 karma

I usually stay at the larger hotels only because they are the only places that have regular internet access (something a reporter desperately needs there). You can't beat the view at the Hotel Nacional. But I would strongly encourage staying at casa particulares, where I've started staying now. You get to know the Cuban people more that way. You start to understand what their lives are like. And it's easy to find them now because you can find them on Airbnb.

myblueship3 karma

  1. What is your opinion on how legal / illegal immigration is portrayed by our media and politicians?
  2. Any insights into US immigration that isn't widely known?
  3. Favorite place you worked out of?
  4. Places with the best food?

alan_gomez13 karma

I could spend a few hours answering these questions, so I'll zero in on a couple of things. Combining your first and second question, I think our country has lost the ability to differentiate between an undocumented immigrant coming here looking for work, and a refugee truly fleeing violence at home. We are seeing waves of people coming to the U.S. fleeing gang violence in Central America right now, yet many are talking about them in the same way they talk about illegal immigration. Seeking asylum is not the same thing as seeking a better-paying job, so I wish that was something we could improve upon. Favorite place I've worked out of? Probably Brazil. Nothing like covering a protest march one night and then taking a dip in Copacabana beach the next. And best food? My parents are Cuban, so I'm partial to Cuban food. But believe it or not, I fell in love with Afghan food.

Terry_Carlton673 karma

Not sure if you've covered this in your career but in years past it seems like the Cuban government did everything in its path to stop Cuban baseball players from going to America. Do you see this loosening up at all?

alan_gomez1 karma

Sorry, posted this under another thread: I haven't been covering that aspect too closely, but I know that Cuban officials have been meeting with MLB execs to try and find a solution. I still find it hard to believe that the Cubans would allow a completely open system, where their players come here, make million-dollar contracts and can go back home in the offseason. That's such a jarring change to their socialist system that I can't imagine how that would work. But when you hear the horror stories of how players like Jose Fernandez of the Marlins or Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers escape the island, you hope something can be done.

Atleastotried2 karma

What is the most surprising / shocking thing about Cuba to you?

alan_gomez1 karma

I wouldn't say it's one thing - it's that every single trip I go on, I discover some new thing we all take for granted that is impossible to find down there. For example, I was down there covering an international trade fair. Picture an exposition hall with companies setting up booths to promote their stuff. You know all those company-branded pens and keychains and USB sticks they put in their booths? Gone within seconds. Even the Cuban security folks would walk around asking if they could grab stuff.

coursedoc2 karma

I couldn't find what your job consist of. Would you mind giving a short description of what an immigration reporter does? Sorry for my ignorance.

alan_gomez3 karma

No apologies needed. I cover migration to the United States, both legal and illegal. I cover congressional efforts to reform our nation's immigration laws, and the president's attempts to protect undocumented immigrants living in the country.

ludicologist2 karma

What are Cubans on the island telling you about the changes that are actually happening on the island and what further changes they would like to see implemented?

alan_gomez4 karma

I hear the same thing over and over from the Cubans these days - they don't care about the politics between the U.S. and Cuban governments, they care about what can improve their daily lives. They got excited in December when this new relationship was announced, but they've grown impatient in the last few months because nothing has changed as a result. They've heard about all these new possibilities - American tractors on Cuban farms, American stores selling construction materials in the cities - but they haven't seen any of that yet because the governments are still negotiating all those details. So they're just waiting.

alan_gomez2 karma

Thanks for all the questions everyone. Anyone I missed, feel free to send me a note @alangomez.

thesissylard2 karma

During this time of development, what is the most important fact you feel Americans need to know about Cuba?

alan_gomez3 karma

I haven't been covering that aspect too closely, but I know that Cuban officials have been meeting with MLB execs to try and find a solution. I still find it hard to believe that the Cubans would allow a completely open system, where their players come here, make million-dollar contracts and can go back home in the offseason. That's such a jarring change to their socialist system that I can't imagine how that would work. But when you hear the horror stories of how players like Jose Fernandez of the Marlins or Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers escape the island, you hope something can be done.

Terry_Carlton672 karma

What was the policy for US reporters going to Cuba before Obama opened relations? We're there certain rules?

alan_gomez2 karma

Even though most Americans are barred from traveling to Cuba, reporters have long been an exception. The trouble has always been getting a journalistic visa from the Cubans. Before, they were very hesitant to let you onto the island. They'd ignore your requests if they didn't like what you wrote. But lately they've been a lot more lenient. I've been approved for all my trips recently and haven't been harassed or arrested once!

ludicologist2 karma

Had you applied for a visa before the recent changes and were denied? Did you ever visit Cuba as a journalist before the recent changes?

alan_gomez2 karma

I've been going there for over a decade. The interesting thing is they wouldn't deny your visa per se - they just wouldn't take your call when you were trying to apply. So reporters would go down there, write their stories, come back home and find that the Cubans wouldn't take their calls anymore. Six months would pass, maybe a year, then all of a sudden, when they'd decided you were off their naughty list, they'd call you and say "Hello my friend, where have you been?" That has changed completely in recent years. Since becoming president, Raul Castro has been more open to criticism and allowed Cubans (and apparently foreign reporters) to be more openly critical about the system. Now, I (and other reporters I know) have a fantastic working relationship with them.

TheA411 karma

Where do you hope to visit next?

alan_gomez2 karma

I'm going to continue visiting Cuba to keep track of all these changes and I'm headed to Central America soon to understand how violence has gotten so bad there. But hopefully I'll get a break and be able to take a couple weeks to drive through Europe next year!

Stripes0131 karma

What is the best experience you have had as a reporter and what has been your worst?

alan_gomez2 karma

Wow. Tough one. My best experience was probably writing a story in West Palm Beach, Fla., that got a woman out of prison - she was being charged with a crime and we were able to prove that she was innocent. The worst experience? Hmmm. Probably in Pensacola, Fla., where two women were taking an afternoon walk on the beach with their husbands and the women were struck dead by lightning. I had to ask one of the husbands about it and it was the worst I've ever felt in my life.

sashay331 karma

I live in gulf breeze and knew the four involved. He belongs to our Mardi Gras crew and has found another partner. Small world.

alan_gomez3 karma

Are you serious? I'll never forget when our editor told myself and another reporter to go out and find the husbands. I never felt so ashamed in all my life. Great to hear he's found another partner.

sashay332 karma

I'm serious. I'll let him know you think of him.

alan_gomez5 karma

Thank you so much. When you're a young reporter (or young and new in any kind of job) you don't know what you're doing and just want to do right by your bosses. I did in this case but have never forgiven myself for it.

ludicologist0 karma

Old-Timey - Great phrase? Or the greatest phrase?

alan_gomez2 karma

Greatest, but only if used correctly, such as describing a penny-farthing.