Havana, Cuba. March 2015.
As relations between the United States and Cuba begin to thaw, much is at stake for the island nation of 11 million people. Cuba struggled with resisting domination by the U.S. – both economically and politically – long before the 1959 revolution brought Fidel Castro to power, and the prospect of greater ties between the neighbors has revived those concerns.
Cuban per capita GDP is about $10,000, 20 percent of that in the U.S., and so the appeal of American investment is clear. The country’s infrastructure is crumbling, with stately mansions constructed more than a century ago for captains of industry decomposing around the residents who live in them now – rent free. There is a beauty to the decay, but it is decay nonetheless. American investment holds the promise of restoring the luster that has been lost after a half century of sanctions, and in many ways, Cubans are ready. Despite its isolation from its neighbor to the north, its airwaves are already filled with American pop music.
So far, both governments have taken a go-slow approach to reestablishing ties. It is wise, perhaps, given the risk posed by a flood of American dollars, which in addition to improving economic conditions may rapidly expose disparities that have been flattened under the command economy.