What did I learn? Change is afoot in Cuba. While it has never been illegal to claim a religious belief, it has only recently become illegal even for the Communist Party to discriminate against someone on the basis of religion. Three years ago political leadership also held extensive public comment and debate, from the neighborhood level up through the National Assembly, in order to solve their nation’s toughest problems. A number of proposals were presented, passed, and are now in effect.
Admittedly, the attempts at change are creating unanticipated complications, but the attempts remain significant. Now, under some circumstances, Cubans may own a residence, a car, or a small business in one of 200 areas of enterprise. Authorities have lifted the outright ban on private cell phones and computers. Raúl has defined term limits following his departure from politics and has called for true and meaningful debate in the National Assembly. The new ‘alignments’ meant to ‘update’ the revolution could be a bud of new hope for our relations, and more importantly the chance for a full flowering of the Cuban culture and people, a highly educated, strong-willed and resourceful people.
As outsiders, we could not miss the patriotic messages that replace the otherwise commercial spaces for advertisements and billboards. In some of these, it is clear that the Cold War lives on, perpetuated by the prolonged and evolving embargo, where two current themes dominate in popular and political understanding of the U.S.-Cuban standoff.
The most enduring of these is clear: To the Cubans, the U.S. is an imposing, mettlesome neighbor with designs to undermine Cuban sovereignty. But we have also become a force that unites a nation, that gives a young government reason to be paranoid, and, above all, an iron will to survive and thrive in the face of any threats.