Students spilled into the streets of Havana and cheered on Dec. 17 after President Raúl Castro announced plans for renewed U.S.-Cuba diplomatic ties. President Obama said American travel to the island “will ultimately do more to empower the Cuban people” than 50 years of economic sanctions.
In this project, journalist Tracey Eaton explores Cuba’s new relationship with the United States as seen through the eyes of the island’s 20-somethings. Since Castro’s announcement, there have been unmistakable signs of revival in Havana. Travel from the U.S. to Cuba has surged. Restaurants are bustling. Hotels are packed.
Many young people have a new sense of hope. At the same time, they face daunting challenges: Low wages, food shortages, income inequality, declining quality of health care and education, and a crumbling infrastructure. Given the problems, many footloose Cubans have abandoned the island in recent years. Others have postponed childbirth.
The population of Havana dropped to 2,121,900 in 2014, down 75,000 over 2004. Unless more Cubans stay on the island, continuing declines are expected.
Another challenge, U.S. officials say, is empowering Cubans so they will turn their nation into a democracy, a place where dissent and freedom of expression are tolerated. Toward that end, the State Department next year plans to spend $20 million. Cuban officials object to U.S. democracy programs targeting the island.
Will America’s good cop-bad cop approach help bring about change? And will Cuba’s 20-somethings stay around for the results?