The American Ballet Theater has just performed here for the first time in 50 years. It was a wildly popular performance, featuring two Cuban-American dancers—Jose Manuel Carreno and Xiomara Reyes, who was in
“The willingness to share something makes a difference. Why wouldn’t it make a difference?” Reyes told me. “How big that difference will be I don’t know but I can say the willingness to share an experience is pretty important.”
The New York Philharmonic, too, just announced plans to travel to
The American performers in
From Cubans and Americans here, each sale, each performance, and each flight draws smiles and warm wishes for a broader opening. But for now, those will remain hopes. Republican control of Congress—in particular, the ascension of pro-embargo, Cuban-American Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee—will effectively kill any Congressional effort to ease trade or travel restrictions. The president could ease them himself by executive order; for instance, he could instruct the Treasury Department not to punish Americans who come here without official permission. But a modest proposal to ease the travel ban further, allowing Americans to make trips to the island for athletic, academic and religious events, has been sitting on his desk for months. Many
This is not the opening
"We'll do just fine without you," one official told me.
New reforms seem to underline that assessment. Over the next several years, the government will fire one million state workers, reducing the portion of Cubans employed by the state from a bewildering 90 percent to a still bloated 75 percent. To ease the transition, the government is allowing more private enterprise, delineating 178 officially sanctioned businesses from barbers to button-makers.
We visited one of the early, modest experiments in private enterprise, an antique book market in Old Havana. Stalls sell old editions of Life Magazine, vintage books, and Che Guevera memorabilia, while paying a monthly tax of about $5. However meager, the profits earned by these new island entrepreneurs are their own. Nearby, a private pizza parlor sells to tourists and students. Private taxis now outnumber state taxis and private parking attendants will park and wash your car.
Perhaps more strikingly, the government has gradually been releasing political prisoners. A longtime Cuba-based analyst told me one reason is that it's just too expensive to keep them all behind bars.
Ninety miles north, the changes have won tepid reviews from
Predicting an imminent flood of American businesses and tourists, visitors to
Jim Sciutto is a senior foreign correspondent for ABC News.