Cuba and the United States are entering an uncharted new phase in foreign-relations.
What happens next will be historic for both countries.
Cuba’s long-term leader, Fidel Castro did not live to see 2017. His death in December kicked off a transition in Havana that many political experts believe will shift the country away from communism. However, it’s unclear which political path the country will follow once Raul Castro steps down from power in 2018.
Meanwhile, the United States is also undergoing its own transition under a new commander-in-chief. The future ties between Havana and Washington are uncertain under Donald Trump’s presidency. Despite President Obama’s efforts to thaw relations between the two former rivals, progress may stall.
In one of his final acts as president, Mr. Obama ordered a major change toward Cuban immigrants. He removed the “Wet foot, dry foot policy” that granted a pathway to permanent residence to any Cuban who managed to reach American soil without a Visa. The Castros had long argued that the policy encouraged Cubans to make the dangerous trip to Florida. Now many Cubans in limbo are hoping Trump may overturn the decision.
Mr. Trump has said he doesn’t agree with the United States softening its stance on Cuba. While President Obama adopted policies to normalize relations and facilitate business dealings between the two countries, Trump seems to shy away from developing that newfound relationship.
In fact, President Trump criticized Obama when he made history by becoming the first sitting U.S. President to visit Cuba in nearly 50 years. Before leaving office, President Obama relaxed travel restrictions and outlawed buying and transporting Cuban goods into the United States.
In Cuba, residents are aware of the developments, but most of them are skeptical that there will be any significant change after nearly 60 years of communist rule. They acknowledge that any change in the island will come incredibly slow. It’s the lifestyle Cubans have grown accustomed to, like waiting in line for an internet card, for the supermarket to open, or for the wired money from their Florida relatives to arrive.
Fast or slow, some Cubans say any change will be good. Poverty is still widespread, and many are just hopeful to make more money than what they currently make. In 2015, the official average monthly salary was 687 Cuban pesos, or $25 a month, according to the Cuban government.
American companies are moving fast to invest in the island. Airbnb, for example, has allowed Cubans to make additional income by renting out their spare rooms. U.S. airlines are also jumping in with cheap flights to the island.
Economically, it seems like Cuba is opening up. What remains to be seen is how it will change politically in the next few years. And whether President Trump will be instrumental in facilitating that political transition, or take a hands-off approach. Either way, Cubans are charting their own future, and it’s full of changes, challenges and choices.