Progress has been attained here because we've somehow stayed out of the geopolitical situation that has made relationships between these countries so difficult," said Bob Bendick, director of the Florida chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
But the group of Americans found themselves not entirely immune from the difficulties of those political relations when they sat down around a table to write what was essentially a thank-you note to their Cuban hosts.
Wright devised the idea of a "Turquino Declaration," named for nearby Pico Turquino, which at 6,400 feet is the tallest mountain in Cuba. He presented a draft written with official-sounding "Whereas's" and "Therefore's," and faces around the table paled at wording that included such language as "pledge" and "continued support." Here, after all, were representatives of American nonprofit organizations whose boards governed their policies and whose government prohibited all but the most specific travel to and trade with Cuba.
A debate followed. What might their boards say? What's the U.S. government going to say when it finds out these groups have pledged to support Cuba? How might the Cuban government use, or even misuse, such a document? "Signing this declaration is less of a declaration than coming to this conference," Audubon's Grajal said.
By conference's end, a new Turquino Declaration had been wrought: "We express our sincere appreciation ... We applaud the work of ... We look forward to successive conferences ... " It was a document welcomed by the Cubans and comfortable for the Americans, and despite its warm reception, Grajal maintained that it was not the declaration that would make a difference.
"The fact that we are here is a lot more than this piece of paper," he said.
Grajal believes the meeting of minds at such conferences can lead to a thawing in United States-Cuba relations.