First, I can confirm that Cuba is not yet over run with Americans. In two weeks I met just two; both New Yorkers whose Cuban parents or grandparents were exiled to Jamaica and later Miami.
I have also not witnessed any kind of beer shortage. Though if there is one I apologise for my contribution to this. (See http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/10/cuba-running-low-on-beer-as-thirsty-us-tourists-descend).
While everyone in Havana is talking about this colossal transformation that Cuba will be undergoing, it is currently all in the anticipation and speculation of eager tourists (arriving in their droves from Europe 'before it changes') and in the rumors and perspectives of the Cubans who feel comfortable to speak out. There is no evidence of a Starbucks opening downtown. In fact, walking into a supermarket you will still be faced with a bare minimum of available products, most of which will be bottled water to sell to tourists. A lack of imports are still only too noticeable. And away from the tourist areas it is only the odd mobile phone that signifies that it is not still 1960.
Yet everyday you hear a new rumour from a rickshaw driver or a waiter; 'there will be 80 new hotels built in Havana this year', 'there will be 100 flights a week extra from the US to Cuba by the summer' or 'Americans have just bought all of the property in that street'. No one really knows how accurate these are but the mounting expectation is whipped up daily. And those few Cubans who are making money entrepreneurially through the tourist industry are operating quite literally in a different economy to the rest of their country. (The average monthly wage in Cuba is 25 USD, yet tourists are often charged more than that for a home stay or a two hour tour.)
So what do Cuban people think of all this? My conversations seemed to suggest a difference between generations; while those under 30 seem ready for all out change, those over 30 are more appreciative of the current benefits of the Cuban way of life, mainly high quality healthcare and education.
18 year old Marie told me she is so excited about her and Cuba's future. Obama is her hero. 'I want to be able to travel and see the world outside Cuba,' she tells me. 'I see work as more important than study so that I can earn money, start a business and be part of the world.'
Gypsy on the other hand, in her 30s and, just round the corner from Marie, tells me 'we are a revolutionary country and we will not go back to capitalism. We just want our wages to increase and our economy to be stronger. We are optimistic that the embargo will end and improve things for us but it will not change who we are and what we value.'
These two perspectives were across everyone I met with a clear bias for change from younger people, though it may just be that they are more naive of the consequences of speaking out against the current regime. Under their breath, however, everyone mutters criticism of the controlling nature of the current government.
Can Cuba be open to the world and keep the best of what it has? I hope that the significant investment of the Castro regime in education and the arts has given the young generation of cubans the literacy and creativity to shape Cuba's new reality, rather than be the victims of it. It also seems that much of the enterprise is led by confident and sassy Cuban women, which is great to see. Though inevitably they are also doing the cooking and cleaning and child rearing while their menfolk spend their evenings on the street, chatting and smoking cigars.
For better or worse, there is a sense of inevitability to change in Cuba now that the US floodgates have opened, to whatever extent and on whatever timeline. I just hope that it is the Cuban people, and in particular the younger generation, who can define and shape the future of Cuba, not global corporations and tour companies.Suggest a correction