Cubans take the US announcement with optimism but caution

Many Cubans remember when in the middle of the last decade the streets of the island were full of musicians and street vendors and the lodgings were full of tourists who visited what they thought would be the last bastion of socialism before a thaw with Washington transformed the island.

Seven years later, the tightening of sanctions by the administration of President Donald Trump against the Caribbean nation and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic made the island look different: food and medicine shortages, increased migration and a drop in state resources.

The recent announcement of measures to ease the embargo by the administration of US President Joe Biden was viewed with optimism by some people, but also with caution.

“I am going to continue working and nothing more, I am not going to wait for other people. My thing is to support my family,” Karel Ramos, 43, a food stall vendor, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “We have been waiting for a long time. We have to keep working and fighting in the country”.

The Biden administration announced on Monday the first initiatives since taking office in the direction of a rapprochement with the island that he had promised in his campaign.

The United States will increase the number of flights to Cuba -including places other than Havana-, will relax the restrictions imposed on travelers and will lift the current limit of 1,000 dollars for remittances so that these become a capital for entrepreneurs .

At the same time, the family reunification program will resume, which has at least 20,000 backlogs and an increase in consular activity is expected, which ceased in 2017 and which forces Cubans to travel to Guyana to process their visas.

Tourists take a walk along the Malecón

Tourists take a ride along the Malecón in a vintage American car in Havana, Cuba, Monday, May 16, 2022. The Joe Biden administration announced it will expand flights to Cuba and lift Donald Trump-era restrictions on remittances that immigrants can send to the island.

(Ramon Espinosa/AP)

“We have been waiting for these measures and that help for a long time,” 66-year-old housewife Mercedes Zayas told the AP. “Welcome,” she added in an optimistic tone.

Trump imposed radically harsh sanctions to pressure a change in the political model on the island through economic suffocation, ranging from cutting travel, banning cruise ships, persecuting companies from third countries that operate with Cuba, to canceling permits. for remittances and even the removal of diplomatic personnel from the embassy here.

One of the sectors that the Biden administration hopes to strengthen with this flexibility, according to its officials, is that of the private entrepreneurs that began to emerge as of 2010 in a gradual process that took them from first being independent workers and from new laws approved in 2021 to become small and medium-sized entrepreneurs.

But even the leaders of this sector prefer to wait for the development of events before celebrating.

“It is totally unpredictable. Many promises have already been given before and we continue with the same, we can only wait to see if they favor us”, commented Joel Pulido, 42 years old and owner of a three-bedroom hostel -of which only one is currently occupied- installed in a stately home in the neighborhood of Centro Habana.

Even among those entrepreneurs who stand out for their volume of business or for having been emblematic among American travelers, moderation prevails.

“It has been many years of an uphill climb, very difficult, not only to be able to develop our businesses but also due to the pandemic. This without celebrating too much, is good news after so much bad”, reflected Enrique Núñez, 54, owner of La Guarida restaurant.

La Guarida, with its 50 employees, is one of the first paladares -as they are called here- on the island and has eaten from Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson, to Madonna, among others.

“As a businessman, I understand that without a doubt they will favor our management, the possibility of accessing electronic commerce platforms, of receiving remittances to invest and fix businesses,” said Núñez. “It’s a step, I want to see it like that, the first in many years. We hope that the measures are not limited to this,” added the restaurant owner.

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