Source: The Nation
They’re divided, by generation and class, over whether it will be a good thing.
In late January, the Obama administration announced that it would remove a number of impediments to trade with Cuba by lifting restrictions on the American financing of exports, relaxing limits on shipping goods, and further loosening the constraints on travel. These and other measures have come in the wake of a major policy change announced by President Obama in late 2014. Normalization—the decision to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba—was welcomed enthusiastically by policy-makers on both sides of the Florida Straits as the beginning of the end of an archaic isolation strategy with roots in a now-defunct Cold War. Although the US economic blockade of Cuba remains in place, these increased ties could provide the impetus for winning congressional support to end it.
When I spoke with ordinary Cubans at the time of Obama’s initial announcement, they were much more ambivalent about the proposed changes. “We have to make sure that this is not another Pact of Zanjón,” said an older Afro-Cuban woman, referring to the capitulation of the Cuban Liberation Army to the Spanish colonizers after the Ten Years’ War for independence ended in 1878. Many Cubans were concerned to see how the changes would affect their everyday lives, and surmised that there would be drawbacks as well as benefits.
One year on, several changes have followed the restoration of diplomatic relations. During 2015, the number of American tourists visiting the island (excluding Cuban-Americans) rose by 77 percent. To accommodate this surge, the Cuban Tourism Ministry is giving contracts to luxury developers and investors to build five-star hotels, resorts, and golf courses. Over the past year, the Cuban government has received senior US officials, heads of industry, and executives from corporations like Google to discuss possible trade deals and investment opportunities. These initiatives build on the reforms that have already been under way in Cuba for the past several years, including the legalization of small private enterprises, a new law allowing direct investment by foreigners, and a series of export-oriented projects.