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Revisited

Winds of freedom blowing in Havana, but Cubans remain sceptical

By: Martha PECINA

Our reporters returned to Havana, one year after the historic resumption of dialogue between Cuba and the United States. While businessmen are seeking to make the most of this promising new market, Cuban society so far feels relatively unaffected by the opening.

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Since the thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States initiated by Raul Castro and Barack Obama last year, Cuban society is timidly opening up.

Hugo Cancio, a Cuban-American investor exiled in Miami, Florida, makes multiple trips to Havana. He advises US companies, which are increasingly willing to set up on the island. But between the rigidity of the Cuban authorities and the impatience of US investors, he has to conduct a delicate balancing act.

Meanwhile Cuban youth, despite having almost no access to the internet, continually push back the limits of censorship to conquer new spaces of freedom. When night falls, young people try to pick up the wifi network in front of large hotels full of tourists. They still cultivate the art of resourcefulness, surfing on the limits of legality.

But gradually, speech is becoming freer in Havana. In the street, criticism of the regime is now more explicit and some, like political opponent Danilo Maldonado and his neighbour whom we met by chance, even dare to challenge the authorities on camera. They denounce a repressive regime that restricts personal freedoms and subdues opponents.

While some Cubans are radically opposed to the system, others, like artists and entrepreneurs, are trying to engage with the regime in order to modernise Cuban society. Overall, Habaneros agree on one thing: they want to preserve the identity of their capital and not abandon it to unbridled capitalism. Many put it this way: “We do not want a McDonald's on every street corner of Havana.”

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