Bryan Bender (The Boston Globe) comments on the gradually improving relations between the United States and Cuba. Although the article implies that much of the positive transformation the island is undergoing is due to positive action by the U.S., especially the “quiet work” done by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (rather than systemic changes that Raúl Castro and the Cuban government have spearheaded in the last two decades) it does a good job of highlighting the conflicts, changes, and desires on both sides. See excerpts here with a link to the full article below:
The imposing, seven-story structure with darkened windows sits just across from the Malecon, or sea wall, central Havana’s communal hangout. It is unadorned, flying no flags, offering few signs that germinating inside are seeds of a better relationship between official enemies. The United States cut off relations and imposed a trade embargo with communist Cuba more than half a century ago. But at the so-called US Interests Section in Havana, 50 US diplomats and 300 locally hired Cubans are quietly working on a range of common challenges.
The two governments are cooperating to combat human trafficking, improve airline security, and conduct search and rescue operations. They are working on joint efforts to improve public health and guard against environmental degradation. And “working-level” discussions are under way to do more, officials say. The Drug Enforcement Agency could soon be sending agents to work with Cuban counterparts to track South American cartels, and the United States has proposed reestablishing direct mail delivery between the countries.
The behind-the-scenes work continues despite the recent controversy over a covert US effort to provide Cubans access to a Twitter-like social network. Another thorny disagreement is over the fate of Alan Gross, a US State Department contractor who has been jailed in Cuba for four years, accused of being a spy. Cuban officials insist they want something in return; namely, three Cubans convicted in the United States on charges that they were intelligence agents.
[. . .] But a recent visit to this island just 90 miles from Florida, and interviews with Cuban and American officials, revealed a slow but unmistakable thaw on both sides of the Florida Straits. They are realistic about the snail’s pace of change, while describing pent-up demand for better economic opportunities. Nowhere is that more evident than at the US Interests Section, housed in the former US Embassy that was completed just before the Cuban Revolution in 1959, when Fidel Castro, along with his brother Raul, took power. Each day, up to 800 Cubans line up seeking various services such as licenses for cultural exchanges, passport services, and other travel documents. That compares with about 100 per day last year, according to US diplomats.
US residents are now the second largest group of foreign travelers to Cuba each year, behind Canada, including at least half a million Cuban-Americans last year, who are now allowed to freely travel here under relaxed rules instituted in 2009. Another 100,000 Americans visited as part of educational and cultural exchanges approved by the US State Department.
[. . .] Meanwhile, studies find that money and goods pumped directly into the Cuban economy by Cuban-Americans — as much as $5 billion in 2012 — now outstrip the country’s four major sectors, including tourism as well as nickel, pharmaceutical, and sugar exports. That is having a major impact on a population of just 11 million people, most of whom barely eke out an existence in the island’s centrally controlled economy.
[. . .] The older generation, which appears most committed to the socialist model spearheaded by the Castro brothers, also openly expresses a desire for greater opportunity. Maria Cirules, who fought with some of the leading Marxists who took power in 1959 and is now in her 70s, recounted some of the hard-won achievements of Cuba’s socialist political system: Health care for all. Near-total literacy. No starvation. “That is a conquest for us,” she proudly declared. [. . .]
[Photo above by Hannah Berkeley Cohen for The Boston Globe.]