What Are Young Cubans Saying about US-Cuba Relations?

Ernesto Carralero Burgos

Barack Obama and Raul Castro making their landmark speeches on December 17th.

HAVANA TIMES —This past December 17th was one of the most important days in Cuban history. During surprising official declarations, the governments of Cuba and the United States announced they were re-establishing diplomatic relations, broken off in 1961.

Though opinions on this differ, the truth is that the vast majority of young people in Cuba are optimistic. The first thing many friends and acquaintances thought was: “the island is going to fill up with gringos!”

Evidently, young people in Cuba do not feel any particular resentment towards the people or culture of the United States.

The relief that this will mean for our depressed economy is, without a doubt, something people anxiously await. The possibility of US investors settling in Cuba and offering a broader scope of jobs and higher wages is something most hope for. Someone said to me:

“It’s crazy, and I don’t know why the government is saying that, for every dollar a foreign company pays, they’re going to give you 2 Cuban pesos. I don’t know what they’re going to come up with, because no one can tell me that, if I earn 500 dollars a month (10,000 Cuban pesos), my salary’s going to 1,000 pesos, not unless prices go down considerably.”

The White House’s announcement that it will help improve Internet access in Cuba has also created expectations. To be able to chat with relatives in other parts of the world, connect to the web and play the occasional Dota 2 game and, who knows, maybe even participate in the competition for the millions in prizes they give out in that tournament, use Facebook and Twitter, and to do it in the comfort of one’s own home, is quite the exciting prospect.

Many, however, remain skeptical. A friend who is planning on leaving the country was saying to me:

“Things may get better here, but you won’t be seeing the difference overnight. If things go well, it’ll be years before everything gets back on its feet, so I’ll be waiting for that somewhere else.”


An acquaintance said to me:


“Who knows! You can never know with Americans. Those folk don’t do anything for free. We’ll have to wait and see what happens now.”

Despite these and other negative comments and reservations, the majority of young people are expressing a kind of hope that seemed to have been lost in Cuba: the hope of a future on the island.

We could say that many in Cuba are beginning to have a “Cuban dream”, beyond politics and ideology. People expect changes. The US government has gained massive popularity with this gesture.

Though I respect that many in other parts of the world or within Cuba there are those who feel betrayed or oppose these developments, the truth is that young people in Cuba do not identify with those who condemned the measures.

Another acquaintance was saying to me:

“Those people (the ones criticizing the agreement) are sons of bitches. Since they’re not the ones who have to live in this mess, they don’t care whether things get better or not. Ultimately, I just want to have a good life, I don’t give a crap about politics.”

We obviously can’t expect people who have lived under such tough conditions for so long to share in the enthusiasm of many Cubans.

Much is also being said about the Cuban Adjustment Act and family reunification:

“They’re sponsoring me and my interview is in a very long time. If they repeal the Adjustment Act, I may be left hanging.”

The issue of the three Cuban agents and the release of Alan Gross has also prompted a number of debates:

“I don’t really care about any of those people, but getting three life-sentences is a bummer.”

“And what about that other guy, why was he in prison again? He got 15 years. At his age, he was going to get out in a pine box.”

Others are glad to see the three Cuban agents return home and have expressed sincere happiness over their release.

In short, Cuba’s youth, and many others in Cuba, feel that something has changed or is about to change. The months to come will tell us whether we are wrong or not.

6 thoughts on “What Are Young Cubans Saying about US-Cuba Relations?

  • Moses, I truly hope the future proves you to be right and me wrong for the sake of the Cuban citizens. But I see the Cuban government unable to resist the 54 year pattern to grabbing whatever financial resources are available from the private sector in order to keep their dream of a government controlled economy alive. It is too hard to change basic thinking of sacrificing long term potential for the sake of short term survival. And we both know how that deeply that survival instinct is inbred into Cuban culture from Raul down to the jinetera in the street.

  • The best scenario would be the resignation of Raul Castro. Many of the expatriates, who overall have made the greatest advances in the US of
    almost any American immigrants, will not do business so long as there’s
    a Castro at the helm. Right or wrong that’s how we do things in the US
    and why they have such power politically in this country. We’ll see what
    transpires but there is more hope today than last month, in my opinion.
    Next step is halting the arrests of those who debate change in Cuba.
    Not at all good PR and causes problems, again, with any US Cuban
    immigrants to even consider trade with Cuba.

  • This time may be different in that Raul understands that without the infusion of hope that this announcement brings, his regime is headed toward certain doom. Even with a US embassy and open talks with the US, the lack of hard currency to buy food and medicine makes life increasingly difficult in the streets. Venezuela is imploding before our eyes and the 100,000 barrels of oil that Cuba receives from Venezuela on a daily basis can not be sustained for much longer. Facing an energy crisis will stifle the limited production and stilted transportation system in Cuba. This time Raul is desperate. The Castro track record of torpedoing efforts to improve relations with the US is not likely to be repeated.

  • Business investment will require more than lifting the embargo. It requires a dramatic shift in the policies of the Cuban government. Most potential investors will hold back in an unfriendly environment where the government has a solid history of limiting returns. In Cuba, you can lose 100% of your investment but can be assured the government will step in to keep your profits only nominal. If an investor is too successful the government will skim off more and more of your return by new taxes or increasing your labor costs. This will always be a major disincentive to investment.

    I worry that not only Cuban youth but the world at large has unrealistic expectations of the impact of Obama’s new statements. While certainly welcome words, we have been there before under the Carter and Clinton administrations.

  • Other than a US ambassador in residence, what changes have or will take place? Business investment still requires lifting the embargo. The easing of restrictions to licensing tourists won’t lead to a “flood” of US tourists. That too will have to wait until the embargo is lifted. I think Cuban youth are headed for yet another disappointment.

  • Even if young Cubans have cheered at seeing the US-Cuba cold war come to an end, some of them doubt that the easing of sanctions will put extra money into their pockets. They believe that the government should raise salaries for their financial livelihoods to truly improve.

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