A Senseless Sail for Amistad?

Look beyond the symbolism of the historic freedom ship's return to Cuba


More than 150 years after it became the cause celèbre of American abolitionists, the freedom ship Amistad will sail back to Cuba, where its legendary story began. This exercise will commemorate the famous schooner's voyage, during which African slaves rebelled. The reproduction vessel is being marketed as a piece of shared cultural heritage between the United States and Cuba that could serve as a counterpoint to decades-old beef. Why not try lifting the embargo on Cuba instead?

Days from now, a stately black schooner will sail through a narrow channel into Havana's protected harbor, its two masts bearing the rarest of sights — the U.S. Stars and Stripes, with the Cuban flag fluttering nearby.

The ship is the Amistad, a U.S.-flagged vessel headed for largely forbidden Cuban waters as a symbol of both a dark 19th century past and modern public diplomacy.

The Amistad is the 10-year-old official tall ship of the state of Connecticut and a replica of the Cuban coastal trader that sailed from Havana in 1839 with a cargo of African captives, only to become an emblem of the abolitionist movement.

Its 10-day, two-city tour of Cuba provides a counterpoint to new and lingering tensions between Washington and Havana and stands out as a high-profile exception to the 47-year-old U.S. embargo of the Caribbean island.