“It’s a whole new era: after 50 years of hostility, the opening of embassies will finally allow us to discuss our differences in a civilized manner,” said Thale. “Sweeping changes are underway on both sides of the Florida Straits. Cuba is undergoing huge societal and economic changes, and the U.S. public – even Cuban Americans – overwhelmingly favors deeper engagement.”
Secretary Kerry’s visit comes as Cuban society is undergoing major political, societal, and economic reforms, which WOLA has highlighted in an accompanying fact sheet. Among the most significant changes on the island in recent years are:
- The elimination of the “exit visa” requirement in 2013, which allows citizens to leave the country without advance approval. In the first year following this announcement, travel abroad increased by 35 percent.
- Increased access to cell phones and internet, with a growing number of Wi-Fi hot spots and internet cafes, and more than 2 million cell phone users on the island today.
- Moves toward a mixed economy, with a surge in the number of self-employed individuals. More than 500,000 Cubans are currently self-employed, accounting for 11 percent of the workforce; another 10 percent are involved in cooperatives or private agricultural ventures.
“In the process of normalizing relations, this is the champagne-popping moment.” said Thale. “WOLA started advocating for normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations when sometimes it seemed like a quixotic and lonely venture. This is an incredible moment to witness, and leaves me hopeful for what continued engagement could mean for both countries.”