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U.S.-Cuba Relations: Bridging the Gap

This is the third article in Alice Pettway’s series on contemporary Cuba. Her first story was  “Cuba: A Poet’s Perspective”; her second post took us on “A Photo Journey Through Cuba.”


Bridging the Gap - Photo 1An antique car at dusk on the Malecón in Havana.

The U.S. embargo of Cuba might still seem nebulous to most people from the United States, but the minute you step foot outside of the Havana airport, it’s as concrete as the impeccably maintained antique cars lined up to whisk away incoming tourists.

Ever since President Obama announced on December 17, 2014, that the United States would begin the process of reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, the embargo has been a topic of much conversation in the U.S. media and among U.S. politicians—even earning a mention in Obama’s 2016 State of the Union Address.

And it’s not just talk. From the reestablishment of a U.S. Embassy in Havana to the loosening of Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) rules governing travel to Cuba, Obama has made good on his promise to begin normalizing U.S.-Cuban relations. It was, in fact, those loosened regulations that allowed me to visit Cuba as a freelance journalist in December without going through the lengthy process of applying for a specific OFAC license.

Still, the Cuban immigration officer looked at me askance when I told him I’d like my U.S. passport stamped. My accent stood out in a whirlwind of European and South American voices. As I passed through the security gate, I considered for a moment if I should tell people I was Canadian. My anxiety wasn’t lessened as my taxi from the airport passed billboards referring to El Bloqueo—the blockade—as genocide.

It wasn’t until a few hours later, as I stood at the edge of Havana’s Parque Central watching the sky dim and the lights come up on the Gran Teatro, that a man asked me where I was from. I told him I was from the United States.

Bienvenida a Cuba!” he said. After a short interval of pushing me toward a restaurant that was certainly giving him a cut and then trying to sell me cigars, Angel (I’ve changed the names in this article to protect the privacy of people who spoke to me casually on the street), began to talk about El Cambio—The Change, the end of the embargo.

Angel was all for the lifting of the embargo, eager for an influx of U.S. tourists. When I asked if he thought most Cubans felt as positive as he did about the changes, he first said yes. Then he said that maybe if he lived in a rural area, it wouldn’t matter so much to him. He was careful to express no opinion about the U.S. government. Read More »

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