When we visited Havana, I was so shocked at how quickly the Cubans we chatted with—in cafes, in bars, on the street, and in classrooms—opened up on their opinions of U.S./Cuban relations. One after one, they assured us that they really liked Americans—particularly their feisty, can-do spirit—and just wished our governments could get it together and put to rest the grudge match that had long since run its course. Maybe, just maybe, such a move would ease their economic and political woes, they said. The sentiment was so consistent that it felt like a new party line, swapped in for some 1960s style rhetoric about the U.S. being the Great Satan. And the thing of it was, the Cubans we met really seemed to believe it.
So that’s what I’ve been focused on over the last few days—thinking about what all this change might possibly mean for real Cubans, the people we’re all supposedly rooting for. (And not to dive too much into politics, but let’s dismiss the argument that normalizing relations means we’re caving to an anti-democratic regime. If human rights were truly at the core of our diplomatic maneuvers—and not, say money, oil, or that ol’ classic called scoring political points, among other things—we wouldn’t have ties with China, Saudia Arabia, and a handful of other nations with equally dismal records on that count. So that’s a bit of a non-starter for me personally.)
In particular, I’m excited for the piece of the agreement that states that Cuba intends to open up Internet access and make communications hardware and software more widely available. The Cuban government is notorious for clamping down on free information flow between Cubans—and the world around them—unless it’s been sanctioned by the Communist Party. A breakthrough in access to information would be a huge step forward. (A very worthwhile read on this subject is famed Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez’s book Havana Real, which catalogues the horrific hurdles she faces in trying to write the truth about life in Cuba. For her take on the political thaw, check out her op-ed "Goliath Opens His Wallet" from The New York Times.)
And while I’m at it I’m also delighted that, with news of the normalization, the regime can no longer hold up the United States as the big, bad boogeyman to the north. Pick up an issue of the official government rag Granma--or check it out online—and you’ll see how powerfully the Cuban government has wielded the age-old diplomatic standoff to their advantage. Taking that away (at least partially--the economic embargo is still officially in place and can only be removed by Congress) means they’ll have to answer for their actions directly, with no one left to blame for missteps but themselves.
Additional components of the new policy include relaxing some restrictions on import and exports, travel, and banking regulations—all designed to, one hopes, make life easier for the average Cuban citizen.
Whether all of this will really materialize or create a more open society for Cuba in the future is a question only time can answer, but for the sake of the Cuban people, I think we owe it a shot.