It’s been one year since the United States and Cuba announced they were beginning the process of normalizing relations signaling an end to the decades of political estrangement and isolation. The far reaching effects of that important first step are now being felt in many ways at ground level in Cuba and the very near future only holds yet more waves of change that will remake the island national I’ve come to know and enjoy.
It’s hard to pick up a newspaper, see a newscast or read online news feeds lately without seeing or hearing of another relaxation of trade or travel embargos against Cuba with the latest this week being the agreement to agree to allow up to 110 flights a day between the U.S. & Cuba as noted in this Globe & Mail article. That increased flow of American travellers could top 10 million per year according to this article and will be felt by both European and Canadian vacationers who’ve long made up the majority of tourism arrivals to the island. Spanish hotel & resort chains have long held a have long held an inside track and are expanding their hospitality operations with new resorts and hotels in major tourism centers such as Varadero, Holguin and Cayo Santa Maria off Cuba’s north shore. Despite this gearing up of development to meet the impending flood of travellers and a long-standing relationship between Canada and Cuba Canadian firms are noticeably absent.
All these positive developments however haven’t meant that the warming of relations between Cuba & the U.S. have thawed every thorny political issue as there are a number of outstanding obstacles to overcome. Among them are Cuba’s objection to the continued funding of was the continued broadcasting of Radio Marti and TV Marti by the US. These Miami based stations are funded by the US government and are transmitted to Cuba with programming broadcast in Spanish, which Raul Castro has said in a speech is an attack on the country’s sovereignty. Also unresolved is the matter of the Guantánamo Bay Naval Station, a 45 square mile enclave on the countries south eastern coast the Americans have occupied since the Spanish-American War of 1898 and still affirm a right do so according to a signed 1903 treaty. The base has infamously been the site of post 9/11 terrorism detainees and despite an Obama administration pledge to close it down it remains open much to the consternation of the Castro government. The Unites States also actively encourages Cuban trained doctors to defect, an ongoing irritant to the Cuban government as reported recently in the New York Times article.
These high-level political matters however are unlikely to derail the march toward the development of a closer relationship between Cuba & the U.S. and the Cuba as has existed for the past 50+ years will change as a result. The obsessively maintained 1950’s American cars with undersized Lada engines will become a thing of the past.
Change is inevitable but the challenge for Cuba is to move forward while maintaining its unique attributes such as one of the highest literacy rates in the world at 99.7% along with a social safety net of universal education and medicine. More than once I’ve met an exceptionally educated waiter at a beachfront all-inclusive resort and heard how the tourism industry paid far better than their chosen profession. There is a real genuineness to the Cuban people and it’s this intangible Cuban identity I hope isn’t lost in the race forward as its as warm as the tropical sun.
Ernest Hemingway was another traveller who became very fond of Cuba and in his Pulitzer and Nobel prize winning novel The Old Man and the Sea chronicled the struggle of Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman who after an exhausting three day fight lands a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream but sees the fish devoured on the homeward journey by marauding sharks until all that is left at landfall is a skeletal carcass. In many ways Cuba has chartered a different course but it remains to be seen whether she returns unscathed or loses much of who she navigating the tricky waters of the transition.
If ever there was a time to visit Cuba I would recommend it be sooner rather than later before the effects of all the recent changes now underway alter the unique aspects of the country.
Autentica Cuba by Autentica Cuba is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.