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Change Is Coming But What Does That Mean For Communist Cuba?


Let's go now to David Greene who's in Miami, just back from a week reporting in Cuba. It's a hard place to get in, and he's been looking into the changes and reforms that are being put into play in what has been a largely closed Communist state for decades now. David, welcome back, and tell us what we'll be learning from your reporting in the coming days.

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: Well, Renee, we'll be learning about some of these changes that seem to be taking place on the island. And I'll just go through a few of them. I mean, the U.S. embargo that we've heard so much about is still in place, but there are actually more and more American goods that are making it to this island. I mean, sometimes it's legal, sometimes it's not.

And as you said, it's been a closed place for so long. But it's getting easier now for Cubans and also Cuban-Americans to go back and forth between the island and the United States. And there are also some changes in Cuba's economy. We're seeing a lot of privately owned businesses popping up in hundreds of different fields, but still this is a very poor country. The government cracks down on dissent, and so we're really going to be trying to figure out what these changes really mean. And I want to start by playing you some of the sounds that we recorded as our trip got started.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: From Miami to Havana, plans there will be a quick 44 minutes, and we'll be cruising at an altitude of 30,000 feet...

GREENE: It's such a quick flight, up and down. It makes it really easy to forget the years of isolation between these two countries.

And when you get to Havana, you notice a few things. I mean, in the older part of the city, the buildings - old colonial buildings with balconies, with iron railings. I mean, they're really fading though. I mean the paint is just peeling off, and then you look at the cars of the roads. There's not a lot of traffic, an interesting thing in Havana. I mean, Cubans for so long weren't allowed to get cars without the permission of the government.

You just walk down some of the sidewalks, I mean, you see photos of Fidel Castro in storefront windows - not a lot of ads, not a lot of commercialization, but the propaganda photos - and then more mundane stuff. Like, one storefront says, don't bother us, we don't have toilets. Now, when the sun starts to go down in Havana, like right about now, a lot of people gather on the Malecon. It's this long promenade. It's four miles long right along the water, and some people joke that it's the world's longest bar. People are drinking, smoking, a lot of couples sitting in conversation. You can see a few kisses happening. We came out here on the first night in Havana, and we found a fisherman who was sitting by himself.

So can you explain to us what you're doing here? This is an amazing kind of fishing I've never seen before.


MONTAGNE: So now, David, I'm going to let you translate that Spanish and tell us what he said to you about what he was doing in his life.

GREENE: Yeah, his name, Renee, is Andres Hernandez Moreno, and he was doing something that actually a lot of Cubans do every day. He was making the best out of very little. He had no fishing rod. He just had this spool of line, and he was holding in his hand - and dangling the bait into the water. And, you know, it turns out he is one of nearly a half million Cubans who are trying to run their own business under really strict rules set by the government. He does real estate. He rents apartments to tourists in Havana. He told me it's been going OK, but he said in Spanish, through our interpreter, that he just doesn't feel like the government has broken from the past fast enough to really let him succeed.

MORENO: (Through translator) I'm 59 years old. By the time this change happens, I'm not going to be able to enjoy it, or I'm going to be dead.

MONTAGNE: Well, not a terribly optimistic view of what lies ahead in the coming few years.

GREENE: Not optimistic, I think, because so many Cubans have been waiting for so long. I mean, the Castros have been giving hints of change for so many years. They claim that they can create something of a socialist society that still lets people have opportunities to be entrepreneurial, to make money. But as you said, I mean, there's - you know, you're not hearing optimism in a lot of places. I think people like Andres are figuring out some way to survive in what's really a murky society that the Castros have created.

MONTAGNE: So that was one of the voices we'll hear and some of the thoughts you've had since you've been there. We'll hear more later in your other stories.

GREENE: We sure will. We'll be talking about Cuba all week.

MONTAGNE: That's our David Greene in Miami back from a week in Cuba. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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