Wednesday’s shocking news that President Obama had brokered a secret deal with Cuba to restore full diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba after over fifty years took the world by surprise. Last year while I was in Cuba on a “people to people” cultural tour, one of the only legal ways for Americans to visit Cuba, Obama was secretly meeting with Raúl Castro in Canada and already in the midst of negotiations. The news has angered many who believe it only rewards Castro’s repressive regime yet others believe it is about time we open the doors to Cuba.
Whatever your views are and whatever ends up eventually happening I am glad I was able to go before the floodgate of tourists arrive. Only 90 miles off the shore of the US, Havana is an inviting place. It is the once forbidden fruit that will soon be open for more Americans to see. Will it change for the better? Will it help or hurt the people? These are questions that only time will tell. Like Nick Kristof, a rather liberal New York Times journalist, I believe that allowing the free flow of goods and people into Cuba will help. Will it topple the repressive Castro regime? No. But still, I believe democracy is a good thing and allowing the flow of ideas, people, goods, and cash will eventually help and hopefully lift many Cubans out of poverty. At least the Cuban people will be able to buy desperately needed goods and the shelves on the stores won’t be mostly empty. I remember giving out deodorant, tooth paste and a hairdryer to my Cuban maid before I left Havana and she cried. I thought about the Target store at home where I purchased them in. Aisles and aisles of every brand of deodorant under the sun. Overwhelmingly stocked with everything your heart desires. It made me sad.
I looked through my pictures again from last year and it made me wonder. If Cuba does open up for Americans, what will it look like in ten or twenty years? Will these photos be relics of the past just like the old cars that are so common on the streets of Cuba today? Or will it be a land overwhelmed with McDonalds and Starbucks? And most importantly of all, will life be better for the Cuban people? Only time will tell.