Nearly 90 years have passed since the last American president set foot in Cuba, therefore, Obama’s visit has the whole country buzzing about it. After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the 10 subsequent U.S. administrations either tried to topple or isolate Cuba’s Communist-run government.
Cubans who were not born during the revolution are still processing President Barack Obama’s decision to restore relations with the island.
Samir, a Cuban who works as a “mule,” traveling abroad to bring back items that can’t be found on the bare shelves of Cuba’s state-run stores said that many good things may come out of this thrilling event and that maybe they will now have the opportunity to go to the United States and trade ideas, more opportunities to find a job, and so on.
During his three-day visit, Obama will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro, speak to anti-government activists and attend a baseball game between Cuba’s national team and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Across the street from the ornate theater where Obama will deliver a speech that U.S. officials say they expect to be broadcasted live across Cuba, driver Alejandro Martín takes tourists for rides in his pink 1950 Chevrolet. He charges $30 an hour for the tours, more than he would have made in a month if he had continued his career as an engineer.
Cubans’ high expectations
Martín, a 21-year-old Cuban said that he never thought Obama would ever come to Cuba and that he hopes the relations between the countries improve, and that the economic situation gets better.
Obama will bring with him the promise of a more prosperous future for Cuba, where the economy has struggled to recover from the collapse of the Soviet Union, its ally and benefactor.
On Havana’s long Malecón seawall that serves as a meeting point for much of the city, musician Eliezer said he worried about how an island that doesn’t have a single Nike billboard or Starbucks would deal with the increased interaction with the U.S.
“We would love to have a lot of things,” he said. “But we won’t gain as much as we think. We will lose some of what is ours, our culture.”
Havana crafts-maker Buby Cañosa is one of the few artisans making knick-knacks to celebrate Obama’s Cuba trip. For $1.50 each, Cañosa sells Obama magnets that show him dancing salsa and appreciating a Cuban cigar.
People are constantly gathering around public WiFi spots in Havana with their smartphones, tablets and laptops just to keep themselves updated with the news.
In 2015, the Cuban government, which tightly controls Internet access on the island, opened dozens of public Wi-Fi areas following a decision by the Obama administration to allow U.S. telecom companies to do business in Cuba.
Over a video chat service, Cici sang happy birthday to her 83-year-old grandfather, Israel, who lives in Florida and whom she said she hasn’t seen in 16 years. There was little privacy for the online conversation, as other Cubans crowded the park bench where Cici sat with her daughters.
The Obama visit gave her hope for a family reunion.
“I am hoping for a little more flexibility, now maybe be able to visit our family,” Cici said. “Now, at least, thanks to this, we can see them on the tablet or on our cell phones. The separation has been too long,” Cici commented.