Cuba: open borders, open opportunities

Cuba, for many Americans is a mysterious and forbidden place. Few have had the opportunity to travel to this country due to the blockade from the embargo that was put in place by John F. Kennedy in 1962. As a result, our perceptions of this island rely heavily on images from schoolbooks and the media. Thinking about Cuba, for some, conjures up ideas of an isolated island filled with communism, decaying buildings, and a land of revolutionary icons like Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Andrei Cranach, 42, a director of photography working in Cuba on the production of an episode of “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” stated that he “had this old, antiquated, communistic Russia, third-block view of what Cuba might have been like” until he visited in person. This is when he saw the amount of invention and commerce happening as well as how heartwarming and open the Cuban people were.

Today, Cuba is changing. While still very nationalistic and filled with revolutionary spirit, it is opening up to Americans and the misconceptions are being challenged. During a single week in Cuba, many historical firsts occurred that highlight the demise of the old embargo.

The film “Fast and Furious 8” has become the first Hollywood studio film to go into production on the island since the embargo was instituted. In the fashion world, Chanel moved into the popular Cuban boulevard of El Paseo del Prado to produce its first fashion show in Cuba with many celebrities in attendance including Vin Diesel, the star of “Fast and Furious 8.”

The first cruise ship since 1978 docked in Havana, arriving from Miami with 704 passengers aboard. Even the Kardashians have managed to become part of history by filming one of their episodes in Havana. All of this has followed the historical visit in March by President Barrack Obama, who has taken a lead in normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba.

I encountered many Cubans who said they want changes to come to Cuba in the form of economic opportunities. The embargo has taken its economic toll and limited the prospects for Cuban people on the island. Some Cubans mention that the main reason people try to leave the island is for economic opportunities, but they still look forward to returning to the island. Cuban President Raul Castro has helped to slowly open up economic opportunities for the Cuban people starting with giving people the ability to engage in self-employment in 2011 as opposed to state run economics.

In addition, Castro announced last Tuesday that Cuba will legalize small and medium-sized private businesses. Opportunities within Cuba from the improved relations between them and the US are sure to bring many more changes down the road for the Cuban people.

In the end, with all the difficulties that they endure, it is the words of Cuban Poet José Martí that sum up their patriotic spirit: "Our Wine is Bitter, But it's our Wine".

The Corsair on Cuba: a Photo Slideshow