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Cuba

Cuba Tomorrow

Ten years from now, in a world of dreams, Cuba is a free and modern country, teeming with visitors and a hub for businesses
| By Gordon Mott | From Cuba After The Embargo, July/August 2022
Cuba Tomorrow
Illustration/Tom Peake

The year is 2032. On a Friday evening, all 50 gates at Havana’s newly inaugurated Aeropuerto Teófilo Stevenson, named for Cuba’s greatest Olympic boxer, are occupied by jets with the logos of every major American airline. They have arrived from New York, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles, virtually every prominent American city. Lines at immigration snake back into the arrival terminal, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, but the passport checks are quick. By the time most people have cleared the perfunctory look at their IDs, their luggage is waiting on the carousels. Unlike the Fidel Castro years, there are no huge stacks of TVs and electronics or other household items like soap, paper towels or clothes; Cubans can now buy them at local Wal-Marts and Costcos that dot the island.

The queue for taxis is chaotic but moves quickly as the long line of imported cars—mostly brand new electric models made by Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, Chevrolet, Kia, Hyundai and Toyota—pick up the arriving tourists and returning citizens. The latter are just in town for a long weekend before heading back to America to full-time, well-paying jobs. The steady stream of cars races into Havana on a perfectly paved six-lane freeway that ends at the Monumento de Restoración de la Libertad. The massive statue is topped by a huge, redesigned Cuban flag, a nod to the Betsy Ross flag of the United States with a circle of stars, one for each of Cuba’s 15 provinces.

As the sun sets over the crashing waves on the Malecón, bright LED streetlights illuminate the smooth avenues and side streets and the brilliant rainbow-colored facades of block after block of renovated buildings throughout Havana. Among them is a famed sight, the Partagás cigar factory, restored to a fully operational fabrica. Inside, a new blend is being made alongside the traditional Cuban puros—cigars rolled with a mix of tobaccos imported from around the world.

The wave of renovations took place during the past 10 years, as the flood of money from Cuban-American families poured into the country. Real estate investors from around the world also arrived to build modern apartment and office buildings, the towering cranes of even more buildings still under construction casting sunset shadows across the skyline.

The narrow streets of the now pristine Centro Historico, one of the colonial gems of Latin America, house boutiques, hotels, restaurants and art galleries. There are also hundreds of small apartments occupied by both locals and visitors, the latter tapping into Airbnb’s network of rental properties.

Billboards line some of the bigger boulevards and avenues in the other parts of the city, touting candidates running for upcoming national elections. The gleaming faces of presidential aspirants from a dozen different political parties stare out at the vibrant city, ranging from the old Revolutionary party of the Castro regime, to a whole raft of liberal to moderate to conservative parties pushing for even more economic and political liberties.

At the U.S. Embassy on the Malecón, the last visa seekers have been processed, a mere formality since there is now an open border between the two countries. Many Cuban-Americans who lived in exile for 60 years now have weekend homes in Havana, or the provincial capitals, and travel regularly back and forth. The free flow of people and ideas is one of the biggest changes in the bilateral U.S.-Cuban relationship, with Cuba now a staunch ally of the United States at both the Organization of American States and at the United Nations.

How did Cuba become the dream that generations had been waiting for? How could 60 years of acrimony and outright hate between the two countries be vanquished in less than a decade?

The first step came in January 2023, when President Joe Biden, recognizing he was never going to win the state of Florida against Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, issued a controversial and possibly illegal executive order effectively circumventing the Cuban trade embargo imposed in 1962. After more than 60 years of a policy that never achieved its desired target of deposing the government of Cuba and the Castros, the United States unilaterally lifted all restrictions on trade and travel to the island nation just 90 miles from Key West, Florida. Shortly after, with legal challenges mounting against the executive action, Congress joined in, with an unanimity of House Democrats and more than 60 Republican congressmen from grain belt states in the Midwest, passing a bipartisan bill legislatively ending the embargo.

Within weeks, Cuba’s doors fully opened to Americans; a flood of tourists returned and businessmen soon followed. The influx of American visitors hadn’t been seen since the years from 2014 to 2019, when policies put in place during the Obama administration created a myriad of opportunities for U.S. citizens. Restaurants that had been mothballed in 2019 when the Obama policies were rolled back and then forced to close down permanently during the Covid pandemic were back in business within a month or two. New restaurants opened as quickly as they could get the permits. The cruise ship industry, one of the principal ways tourists could travel to the country, scheduled new cruises immediately, hoping to build back to the 800,000 passengers who had been expected in 2019 before they were abruptly shut down.

The completely renovated port building was bustling again within months.

By mid-2023, it was virtually impossible to get a luxury hotel room on short notice. The newer hotels such as the Prado and Kempinski, with room rates topping $600 a night, were full almost immediately. All the old standards run by the Melía and Barcelo groups from Spain were also full, each rushing to renovate rooms and public spaces that had grown a little tired over the years. Both Marriott and Hilton hotels reopened properties that they had been forced to leave in 2019. Every major hotel company in the world was looking to build new properties, or buy and renovate older ones. The beach resorts in Varadero and Cayo Largo were fully booked for the 2023-24 winter season, not only from their traditional Canadian and European guests but also a big influx of American beach goers wanting to luxuriate on some of the finest sands of the Caribbean. By 2032, Cuba’s Varadero airport rivaled Cancún in Mexico for arriving passengers during the winter months.

But the most significant changes had occurred in the economic, social and political arenas inside Cuba. Cubans, long accustomed to low monthly salaries, suddenly had the prospect of earning real money. Their demands for consumer goods, better housing and simple freedoms (such as the broader Internet access they had grown accustomed to in the previous 10 years) were not only expected but demanded as fundamental rights without government interference. The government could no longer keep a lid on the people’s expectations. It was like déjà vu, the changes that were first glimpsed during the 2014 to 2019 period when tourism revenues fueled a higher standard of living.

At first, after the embargo ended, the Cuban government tried to maintain its tight grip on the citizenry. But stripped of its old bogeyman, the embargo—long called el bloqueo in Cuba—it could no longer blame all the country’s shortcomings on the United States, and the government’s inability to meet the most simple needs of the people was exposed. Forced to open up the economy, they began to institute reforms to expand personal freedoms. In the first years after the embargo’s end, the government, flush with foreign cash from taxes and tourist revenues, invested in the crumbling, but extensive infrastructure of schools and hospitals, improving the country’s well-known standards of education and healthcare.

As the economic boom spread in 2023 and 2024, the government was finally faced with a dilemma: let the new economy continue to grow, or crack down. But the government realized if it tightened its grip one more time, the country could be cut off again from the international community and progress could be halted. The clock could be turned back one more time. This time, the only option was to change and move forward.

In a surprise move, the Cuban government announced an electoral reform law in early 2024, which allowed the formation of opposition parties; there were rules to be followed, such as petitions signed by 200,000 people to form a party, but within a month, four parties had been constituted. One year after the reform law was enacted, the government held a general congressional election, with the opposition winning more than half of the seats in the country’s congress. In the presidential election in 2026, history was made as the first person with no connection to the Castro regime, the Cuban military or the revolution was elected to the highest office in the land.

One of the first actions of the new Congress had been to pass a privatization law, which effectively put all the previously government-run businesses—hotels, restaurants, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, mining, hydrocarbon exploration, airlines and telecommunications—up for auction, modeled after the German privatization following the reunification of that country in 1990. Strict rules were put in place for fair and secret bids, with the result being that many Cuban-American businessmen won the auctions. New investments began to modernize industries that had stagnated during the long reign of the Castro regime. By 2030, Cuba had become an exporter of food to Latin America and the United States, and through special economic incentive zones the country was beginning to attract business and manufacturing that much of the 20th and 21st century had either gone to Mexico or to the Far East.

Just as many pundits and academics had predicted, the end of the embargo unleashed powerful capitalistic forces that overwhelmed the old centralized economy of revolutionary Cuba, and in real terms, turned the country into an economic powerhouse just off the southern shores of the United States. The end of the embargo had done exactly what the proponents of the embargo had demanded should happen in Cuba before any easing of the restrictions. Cuba was finally free, business was booming and the country’s future shined bright.

But none of this is true. All of this is merely a work of fiction, a story of what could be. For the Cuba of today is not a story of tomorrow. Sadly, the Cuba of today remains, in so many ways, a story of yesterday.

Sixty years after the embargo was imposed, and after decades of the same old cries that more and harsher crackdowns were the only pathway to create a free and democratic Cuba, nothing has changed. Every new sanction has only led to more intransigence of the Cuban government and more suffering for the Cuban people. For 60 years, all the world has heard from U.S. political leaders is that the next restriction, the next move to isolate Cuba will be the one that break’s the revolution’s resolve.  It never has. It never will.

It’s the same old story, the same narrative of the last six decades. Isn’t it time to try something different, so that this 2032 vision of a modern, democratic Cuba might actually become reality? 

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