The following article is published in the #RGNNCuba Magazine: Vol. IV, Summer 2019, produced during ROOSTERGNN Academy’s Travel Journalism, Photography & Video Internship & Mentoring Program in Havana and Trinidad, Cuba, under the editorial direction of RGNN Expert and Mentor Juanjo Montanary. Follow #RGNNCuba for all of our Cuba coverage.

Capitalist and communist neighbors, relations between America and Cuba have had a rocky history. From American imperialism, to the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, the two countries have been at odds for decades. The disconnect between the two countries’ citizens can be explained through lack of communication and misunderstanding of past international relations. Most of the world’s understanding of Cuba is stunted due to Cold War propaganda. And Cubans are not as technologically connected to the rest of the world so it is hard for them to set the record straight.

A mural in Havana, Cuba | Alicia Kay

“There’s a lot of problems in Cuba, but nothing is really changing. Cubans want more connection between them and North Americans in the future,” said Luis Alvarado Sanchez, a Cuban native who works at a fruit stand in central Havana. “We [Cubans] are good with your people [Americans].” 

American tourists buy souvenir hats in Havana, Cuba | Alicia Kay

Catherin Peterssen Catalan was born in Havana and has spent her whole life in Cuba. In her own words, she explains, “I recognize that we have some aspects that the country can improve on, but I feel free here. I feel happy because my daughter can go out with her friends, and I can study whatever I want. I may not have as much money as I would like to be able to go out and travel the world, but I can study what I want. I can see my girl grow up, I am happy here.” 

When asked about what message he would like Americans to know, Daniel, a young man that frequents the streets of central Havana said, “First of all, we want Americans to know that this conflict between the two countries isn’t worth it. We want more exchange between Americans and Cubans without problems from the government, because this is an old conflict between the two governments.” He goes on to explain that “Cubans want Americans to know that they want to end the blockade. It affecting the people of Cuba more than it is affecting the government. Because of the blockade prices are higher and it is affecting cuban citizens and making it difficult for them to buy everything they need.”

Classic 1950s cars cruise the streets of Havana, Cuba | Alicia Kay

Travel and trade between the two countries has been restricted for some time. The Obama administration opened the gate for more travel and trade between the two countries in December 2014, in what is commonly known as the Cuban thaw, ending 54 years of hostility. And in April 2015, the Obama administration removed Cuba from the United States ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’ list. Barack Obama became the first US President to visit Cuba since 1928. In the first 5 months of 2015, Americans visiting Cuba with no family ties was 36% higher than those months in the previous year. And a report by the Pew Research Center found that the number of Cubans entering the United States was 78% higher in 2015 than 2014. However, under the Trump administration, it was announced that the business and travel restrictions that Obama loosened between the two countries would go back into effect by November 2017. Trump continued to build a metaphorical wall between the two countries in 2019 by further restricting travel to and from Cuba.  

A birds eye view of Havana, Cuba | Alicia Kay

Daniel continues to speak about travel between the two countries, saying “The Cubans want to go to North American not just to stay all the time, if we have the opportunity to go and come back it would be easier to build our economy. We also enjoy the cultural exchange, Americans like salsa and Cubans like American music. Also many international artists go to America to perform and we would love to travel to see them.” 

“Everyone knows that Cubans are good people and hard working. But it’s not as easy as we want to travel and trade with the United States,” said Luis Alvarado Sanchez. 

“If I could spread one message to Americans it would be that we are the same people,”  said Catherin Peterssen Catalan, “We are all human. We are different in color, heights, and weights. We can live in different parts of the world and speak different languages but are all people. Please concentrate on how good people are and how we should help all the people of the world.” 

A busy square in Havana, Cuba | Alicia Kay

In conclusion, the citizens of America and Cuba don’t have any qualms with each other, and yearn to travel and trade to create a better connection. The American and Cuban governments need to realize that it is not the Cold War anymore, and the Cuban people pose no threat to the United States. Cuban citizens just want peace and to end the blockade so that they can have the freedom to build up their economy.

Edited by Julissa Ramirez.