Historian returns from Cuban research trip

Dennis Noble is a man of many facets.

He's a husband, father, grandfather, Ph.D., author, historian, retired Coast Guardsman and admirer of Ernest Hemingway's work. And now, as of Jan. 21, he is one of the few Americans to have traveled to Cuba and returned since the U.S. government imposed an embargo against the country in 1962.

Getting permission from the U.S. government to visit Cuba is not easy, Noble admits. "You have to be very specific about who you are and what you plan to do. It took me two times to get in (because) there are a lot of hoops to jump through."

Noble was granted permission to visit Cuba on the basis of research. He showed proof of a Ph.D. in U.S. history and master's degree in library science and shared with the government his intention of writing two nonfiction books: one about the U.S. Coast Guard's involvement in stopping Cuban, Asian and Chinese human trafficking and the other about Ernest Hemingway as seen through an American writer's eyes.

With a Cuban native named Victor serving as his guide and interpreter during the two-week trip, Noble snapped photographs from the car, wandered through the streets and museums and even walked through Hemingway's house.

The book about smuggling is expected to be published in 2009. An estimated publishing date for the book about Hemingway has not been set.

Noble has 12 published history books.

"Since I was a kid I've always been interested in history and literature. They were the only things I ever got good grades in," he said. "How can you go forward if you don't know the mistakes that were made in the past? Personally, I think history is the best story."

Noble started researching human _trafficking about one year ago.

"If you look at the statistics of how many people are intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard, you would be amazed," he said. "I want to see how the Coast Guard feels about how they do their job, the policies they enforce and the people they are stopping, and I want to share how the people feel crossing the sea."

The U.S. government estimates that about 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders annually and millions more are trafficked within their own countries. Some are coerced into indentured servitude or bonded labor or bought and sold into prostitution. Others are refugees fleeing persecution and seeking better lives.

"It's a human story," Noble continued. "I personally would never take a homemade raft or crawl inside a converted fishing boat to travel 90 miles across the Florida Straits but I want to know what drives these people to do so."

Writing about Hemingway seemed a natural fit, as Noble has always been fascinated by the American novelist, short-story writer and journalist who spent more than one-third of his life in Cuba. Plus, he is constantly told he looks like the famous writer, Noble said.

"When people think of Hemingway, they think of him as a drunk, a womanizer and a man who hurt animals. But I think there is more to him than those things," Noble said. "The Cuban people love him and I want to know why."

Hemingway, who received the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for "The Old Man and the Sea" and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954, suffered from physical and mental problems. In 1961, after being released from a mental health hospital where he was treated for severe depression, he committed suicide. He was 61 years old.

Putting research aside, what surprised Noble the most about his trip was the friendliness of the Cuban people toward him despite a strained relationship between the two countries.

"I found the Cuban people to be very friendly and helpful, especially if you try to speak their language," he said. "The first reaction I got from people was a big smile, the second was a 'How did you get here?' and the third was 'I know so and so who lives in the states.' They are able to separate the government from the people and that's something I don't think most people can do in this country."

If he had the chance to return to Cuba, Noble said he would without a second thought.

"I would still be there if I hadn't run out of money," he said. "I would love to buy a place and live there six months out of the year if I could. I will be glad when someday Cuba is opened up again (because) it is a great place."

"When I say there are a lot of things I like about Cuba, I am talking about the people not the government," Noble clarified. "I don't like or dislike the government. I am neutral."

Noble lives in Sequim with his wife whom he met while stationed in Port Angeles with the U.S. Coast Guard. The couple has lived on the peninsula since 1985 and has no intention of moving elsewhere.

Facts about Cuba


• The name "Cuba" comes from the Taino language and is said to mean either "where fertile land is abundant" or "great place."

• Cuba's main island, at 766 miles long, is the world's 17th largest.

• The official language of Cuba is Spanish.

• The capital of Cuba is Havana.

• Fidel Castro became prime minister of _Cuba in 1959.

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