Cuba is a small island where big things have happened. It’s history isn’t just dotted with moments of greatness and impact on the world stage, it’s practically overflowing with them.
From it’s seizure by Columbus on behalf of Spain, to the revolution against the slave trade fuelled by national hero Josi Marti, through to the Castro revolution, Bay of Pigs invasion and Missile Crisis; this tiny island has played an incredible role in shaping history.
We’ve witnessed first hand over the years we’ve been visiting Cuba a great many changes.
The rise of privately owned businesses and restaurants; an area previously strictly controlled and operated only by the government. A shift in architectural styles; old colonial buildings which have either fallen down or been demolished are being replaced with modern looking hotels and apartments. An influx of slightly more modern cars and other vehicles, especially from China as foreign investment in Cuba has been relaxed by countries opposed to America’s trade embargo.
2016 was a monumental year for Cuba: We were there (read about it in a previous post!) when the ban on Rock’n’Roll was lifted and The Rolling Stones played their iconic free concert to hundreds of thousands of people.
Their visit followed hotly on the heels of President Obama - the first time a sitting US president had visited the country in decades - which in turn led to the easing of a number of sanctions and relaxation of travel restrictions for American citizens; changes which were sadly revoked by one Mr Trump, which we fervently hope will not only be reinstated, but improved upon by the new administration.
Lastly, that year saw the passing of Fidel Castro, a man who had been the figurehead of Cuba’s image worldwide and central to their government and way of life since the 1960s.
We were fortunate to meet and interview one of Fidel’s children for a magazine shortly after this time and later met privately with Fidel’s long term videographer and photographer; both of whom provided fascinating insights into the country.
Now another huge change may be about to envelop the Cubans, as it is announced that Raul Castro, younger brother of Fidel who took over as president and then head of the communist party will now step down. It is uncertain who he will endorse to replace him, although it is seen likely it will be Miguel Diaz-Canel, who replaced him as president of the party in 2018.
Whoever it is the implications are significant. Firstly, this will end the formal leadership of the Castro family, which has run unbroken since 1965 and secondly it could well mark the beginning of a great swathe of socio-political changes across the country.
Diaz-Canal has at the beginning of 2021 formally unified the islands dual currency system, and has also further lifted restrictions on private enterprise; permitting Cuban’s to run different kinds of businesses from their homes. Further reforms to the country’s state run enterprises are expected to follow in the coming months.
As is often the case with Cuba, we are once again entering a period where they are becoming more prominent on the world stage; but what will this mean to ordinary Cubans? Will these changes impact them for better or worse?
In October we are returning to Cuba for the first time since the beginning of the global Coronavirus pandemic, our intention; to document the impact this had on the country and it’s ever resilient people.
Now it seems we will have much more to discover; what will change between now and then, if anything remains to be seen, but one thing is clear, changes are coming...