In Cuba, Building Bridges With Baseball And The Cubs Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker traveled to Cuba this past week for trade talks. In between meetings, she played tourist in Old Havana.
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In Cuba, Building Bridges With Baseball And The Cubs

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In Cuba, Building Bridges With Baseball And The Cubs

In Cuba, Building Bridges With Baseball And The Cubs

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker practiced a little baseball diplomacy in Cuba this week, part of a two-day trust-building mission that follows more than 50 years of diplomatic isolation. NPR's Scott Horsley tagged along with the secretary in Havana.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Around lunchtime this past Wednesday, Secretary Pritzker took a break from hours of official meetings and did some sightseeing in Old Havana. There's a group of men who gather each day in the Parque Central for their own high-level dialogue, mostly about baseball. Pritzker, along with an interpreter, walked over and said hello.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PENNY PRITZKER: So I come from Chicago, where - the Chicago Cubs.

UNIDENTIFIED MEN: Chicago, Chicago.

(LAUGHTER)

PRITZKER: Soler has had a great year.

HORSLEY: The Cubs' right fielder, Jorge Soler, used to play for the Cuban national team. The Cuban fans were well aware that the Cubs were facing a one-game playoff that night against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRITZKER: So I have a request. I need you to root for the Cubbies today.

(LAUGHTER)

PRITZKER: More baseball in Cuba, more baseball in the United States, right?

HORSLEY: Pritzker said later she likes the idea of a Cubs cheering section in Havana. In a plaza not far away, the secretary stumbled on what looked like a group of young school children. They were wearing red and white uniforms and lined up in formation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Speaking Spanish).

HORSLEY: The kids were actually members of the Pioneros, a kind of socialist scout troop. They were practicing for a ceremony the next day, in which they'd each be awarded a red scarf, pledging their allegiance to Marti and Fidel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Speaking Spanish).

HORSLEY: "For country and socialism," the children say, "we're always ready."

It was a little odd watching the U.S. commerce secretary smiling at these miniature Marxists, but Pritzker gamely urged the kids to pay attention to their instructor and have fun.

PRITZKER: It will make you very happy, and it will make your parents very proud.

HORSLEY: And speaking of proud papas, Pritzker ducked into the lobby of the Ambos Mundos Hotel, which Ernest Hemingway called home back in 1930s.

HORSLEY: Ten months have gone by since President Obama and Raul Castro announced their diplomatic thaw. Since then, the U.S. government's been easing restrictions on travel and trade, but the fundamental embargo still applies. Pritzker says the two countries are in the early stages of rebuilding trust around conference tables, in government ministries or just walking the streets of Old Havana. Flying home to Washington that night, Pritzker passed around glasses of Cuban rum. Halfway through the trip, the pilot came on to announce the Cubs had beaten the Pirates, 4 to 0 - more baseball to cheer for in Chicago and in Havana's Parque Central. Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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