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A year in, détente with United States reshapes Cuba's psychic landscape

Published:Thursday | December 10, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Javier Yanez stands on his balcony decorated with US and Cuban flags in Old Havana, Cuba.
People surf the Internet at a Wi-Fi hotspot in Havana, Cuba. Those who support the warming in relations with the US are hoping that the anniversary of the presidential announcements will add momentum to negotiations to connect the countries with commercial flights and direct mail.
Pope Francis meets Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, September 20, 2015. The Vatican described the 40-minute meeting at Castro’s residence as informal and familial.


An American flag whips in the wind above the reopened US Embassy in Cuba. Many of the thousands of foreign visitors strolling down the cobblestone streets of Old Havana are booking their stays through Airbnb.

At the same time, a surge in Cubans seeking to leave the island before their preferential status for US residency ends has flooded Central America with migrants in what could be the biggest exodus since the 1980 Mariel boatlift.

In the year since Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama announced a rapprochement between bitter the Cold War enemies, Cuba has been transformed. A country that once seemed stuck in time suddenly faces an uncertain future of disruptive change.

Particularly for those with money, property or connections, the frothy optimism is palpable, as are the expectations of greater prosperity and new freedoms. For others, the poor, the old, the vast ranks of bureaucrats who have dedicated their lives to the communist system, the dramatic dual presidential announcements of December 17, 2014 and the steps towards normalisation have led to feelings of fear.

Cubans with businesses have been buoyed since then by the prospect of better relations. Hotels, private bed and breakfasts and elegant restaurants have been packed, with hundreds more expected to open in the coming year.

Pope Francis, who played a critical role in negotiations that led to the dÈtente, made a stop in Cuba on his way to the United States in September after US Secretary of State John Kerry reopened the embassy in person in August.

"It's a breath of fresh air, knowing that they're filing away the rough edges between the two peoples and their governments, and that can open a path to a future of brotherhood and mutual aid," said Fernando Funes, a former government agronomist who runs a 20-acre environmentally friendly farm supplying vegetables such as arugula and chicory to private restaurants in Havana.