Latino Voices

10 Ways Cuba Has Changed Since The Cold War

The Cuban government of Premier Fidel Castro, left, seen in an undated photo, intensified a news blackout in the face of reports of the arrest of civilians and Army men in a move to smash a military revolt against the revolutionary regime. At right is Castro's brother Raul, commander in chief of the armed forces. (AP Photo)
The Cuban government of Premier Fidel Castro, left, seen in an undated photo, intensified a news blackout in the face of reports of the arrest of civilians and Army men in a move to smash a military revolt against the revolutionary regime. At right is Castro's brother Raul, commander in chief of the armed forces. (AP Photo)

Travelers who've had the chance to experience Cuba first-hand often describe it as a country where time has stood still. Powdered blue 1956 Fords and canary yellow 1952 Chevrolets may line the streets today, but for Cubans living on the island the passage of time has not gone unnoticed.

In a major development for two countries whose relationship has yet to thaw since the Cold War, President Barack Obama announced historic economic and political changes in U.S.-Cuba policies following the release of American Alan Gross.

"We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries," Obama said Wednesday.

Some of the most notable changes in policy include the opening of a U.S. Embassy in Havana, a loosening of the travel ban for Americans and allowing U.S. travelers to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba. During his speech, Obama also said he was willing to work with Congress to lift the 1960 embargo, which for decades has been viewed as outdated and ineffective by critics and politicians like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But these moves by the United States toward normalizing relations tell only one side of a story about two countries. Cuba itself has undergone major political and economic changes since the end of the Cold War.

Here are 10 ways Cuba has changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

1997: Buena Vista Social Club Starts New Era Of International Fascination For Cuban Music
AP Photo/StuartRamson
Inspired by a 1940s members club in Havana, the band Buena Vista Social Club released its first record in 1997, setting off an international craze and kindling Cuba nostalgia across the globe. Thanks to it’s popularity a documentary was later released that brought the band international attention. The musicians have traveled repeatedly to the United States to perform.
2006: Raúl Castro Takes Power After Brother Fidel Falls Ill
AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, Pool
It was a historic turning point for Cuba when Fidel Castro, then the world’s longest-living head of state, handed over his duties as head of state to his brother Raúl Castro in 2006, after suffering an undisclosed illness that has kept him largely out of the public spotlight ever since. Raúl Castro, the head of the military at the time originally acted as a temporary head of state, before taking over the position officially in 2008.

Under Raúl, Cuba has liberalized its economic and political system with major reforms that nevertheless keep the communist framework intact.
2007: A Blogger Movement Gains International Attention
AP Photo/Cliff Owen
In 2007, Yoani Sánchez founded her famous blog "Generation Y" detailing her daily experiences in Cuba and jabs against the island's government. Sánchez is just one of dozens of bloggers who use the web as an independent publishing platform in Cuba -- a marked divergence from the Cold War years, when few such options existed beyond the government-controlled press.

Sánchez and other bloggers are reviled by the Castro government, which views the bloggers as agents of U.S. imperialism -- a charge the bloggers deny.
2010: Fidel Castro Admits Wrong In Persecuting LGBT Community
AP Photo/Franklin Reyes
The 1960s and 1970s were a dark time for the LGBT community in Cuba, with many facing discrimination, imprisonment or isolation in "re-education camps."

Four years after falling ill and giving up his official duties, Fidel Castro admitted he was wrong to prosecute members of the LGBT community. Since then public attitudes have changed and the government has banned workplace discrimination and approved sex-change operations. Same-sex marriage, however, has yet to be legalized.
2010: Cubans Are Given Green Light For Small Businesses
AP Photo/Franklin Reyes
In an effort to energize a sluggish economy, the Cuban government allowed citizens to open up private businesses.

By Sept. 2013 over 430,000 private employment licenses had been issued, according to the Associated Press. The Cuban government decided to expand 18 new categories of independent employment, including real estate agents. By the end of 2013, Cuba also announced easier terms of lending for private business owners to help small businesses grow.
2011: Cubans Recieve Right To Private Property
One of Raúl Castro's most significant economic reforms included allowing Cubans to buy and sell property for the first time in decades. Cubans are also now able to pass property on to relatives without restriction.
2013: Many Cubans Receive Freedom To Travel
For over half a century, Cubans had to obtain an exit visa from the government in order to travel outside the country. In October 2012 the Cuban government announced they would be scrapping the exit visa requirement starting January 2013, allowing both everyday people and outspoken dissents like blogger Yoani Sanchez and leader of the group Ladies in White Berta Soler (pictured here) travel.

The decree carves out exemptions for "national security" reasons, leading some to speculate that dissidents may in some cases be denied the ability to leave the country. Doctors, scientists, athletes, military personnel could also be denied travel due to being considered key contributors, according to the Associated Press.
2014: First Cuban-American Artist Displayed In Havana
AP Photo/Franklin Reyes
The late Mario Sanchez became the first American artist of Cuban descent to have his work featured in Cuba's National Museum of Fine Arts. Thirty woodcuts were displayed as part of the "One Race" exhibition, which was part of an exchange between Havana and Key West.
2014: A New Catholic Church
Roberto Machado Noa via Getty Images
For the first time in 55 years, the government would allow the construction of a new Catholic church.

Experts say the move was symbolic of improving relations between the Cuban government and the Vatican, AP reports.
2014: New Generation Of Comedians In Cuba Push Limits On State Criticism
Communist Cuba hasn't showed great tolerance for criticism from citizens voicing their discontent with the government. But in recent years, it seems the government has relaxed their stance on criticism -- at least that's what a new generation of comedians are betting on. Some comedians are now reaching larger audiences through broadcast shows like "Vivir del Cuento" and live shows with their jokes that often feature jabs on daily life in Cuba.

"[He] speaks to the social reality of our country with humor. He doesn't cover things up. He makes us think, and I hope he makes the people in power in this country think, too," teacher Yahima Morales told AP after a show by comedian Luis Silva, pictured here.

Ana Maria Benedetti and Roque Planas contributed to this piece.

Before You Go

The rest of the world hates it

7 Reasons The Cuba Embargo Needs To Go

Popular in the Community