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Cubans await reality of country's change

POSTED: March 9, 2011 9:19 a.m.
Photo by Judith Roales/

Commercial advertising is virtually unknown in Cuba. However, there are plenty of outdoor billboards. But the roadside signs are selling the party line, not the favorite Cuban brew or famous cigars. The message on this one is pretty clear – Cuba doesn’t like the U.S. government’s economic blockade.

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Been to Cuba lately?
It’s not likely that you have. And even given the changes President Barack Obama recently made in the U.S. government’s prohibition on travel to Cuba, Americans aren’t likely to be vacationing on the balmy Caribbean island anytime soon. It’s still illegal for ordinary American tourists to make the trip.
Journalists, however, can get a special “license” to go, and 12 members of the Inland Press Association recently spent a week in the country meeting with Cuban government officials, Cuban newspaper colleagues, and U.S. officials in Havana. Richmond Hill’s Miriam Potter, editorial director of the Bryan County News, was among the American newspaper executives making the trip.
These photos and the information come from that visit.
Some of what you see here may surprise you. While the U.S. government’s embargo on trade with Cuba continues, that hasn’t kept the rest of the world from buying, selling, building, investing and playing in Cuba. Tourism is booming. It’s now the Cuba’s largest industry. But the rest of the tiny country struggles.
Change is coming. Everyone knows it will be painful, as the Cuban government seeks to salvage the tattered economy with a daring tightrope act of limited capitalism while keeping Communism in control. No longer will almost everyone work for a business that’s owned by the government. The layoffs have already begun. Thousands of licenses for more than 170 different kinds of businesses have been issued to people who are reinventing themselves as entrepreneurs.
Food subsidies will go down; prices will go up; people will have to pay taxes; but free universal health care and free education will be protected, a Cuban spokesperson said.
Yet, Cuban and U.S. officials in Havana agree the flood of Cubans fleeing the island in small boats bound for the U.S. has dropped to a trickle. It’s partly because the U.S. is granting more visitors’ visas and more immigration permits, they say, but also because the Cuban people are taking a “wait and see” attitude to new government programs.

Roales is a retired publisher of the St. Petersburg Times.

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