Cubans Demand Respect

The process of normalizing Cuba-U.S. relations, which was started last Dec. 17, has unleashed unexpected energy. Cubans have already named this day D17, convinced that it will mark history. American and European politicians are fighting each other to go to Cuba. François Hollande wanted to be the first Western head of state to dive into the opening for change by visiting Raul and Fidel Castro. Instead of ostracizing ourselves, they’re thinking, it’s better to expose Cuba to the rest of the world.

Among Cubans, expectations vary. The more enthusiastic are persuaded that opening up to the United States, Europe and the world will free them from a regime that continues to constrain their freedom. They already see themselves with new careers. The rhetoric of the revolution and the media that perpetuates it no longer has any effect on younger generations. But there are also those who don’t really know what to think. Entrenched in grave economic difficulties, they hope for better days but are not yet ready to confront such unbridled capitalism that could be even more harmful to them.

For now, in Cuba, change is mostly intellectual and diplomatic, even if the tourism sector is already anticipating a major upheaval. Transforming a society of 11 million people will require more than setting up new diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana and lifting — improbable for now, given the negative disposition of Congress — an anachronistic embargo against Cuba. Many questions remain unanswered. Will the Cuban regime maintain a Chinese-style authoritarian power while drastically freeing the economy? Can it still keep thousands of young Cubans from the digital revolution?

In Havana, where Cuban pride mixed with a desire to rebuild is rising, many are those who intend to preserve what they consider the achievements of the revolution: health care and education, even if these two sectors are in bad shape. One word keeps coming back to their lips, respect. This is what they are asking of the U.S. in the event of an opening, a request that recalls that of the East Germans in 1989. For Cuba, imposing these limits on political, and especially American commercial pressure will be a real challenge.

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