CNN blogger reports Cuba's gigantic transformation from an American's viewpoint

Posted: 20-Sep-16 10:58

Patrick Oppman, CNN journalist living in Havana for four years, shares how drastic the changes in Cuba have been since the so-called special period until the present. As the US and Cuba take steps towards normalization, the reality for Americans in the island has greatly improved.

CNN blogger reports Cuba's gigantic transformation from an American's viewpoint

Only ten years ago flying to Cuba was almost impossible for Americans due to the hostile Cold War policies that had dominated between the two countries for over half a century. Today, with the re-establishment of diplomatic bonds and legalisation of 12 categories for travel to Cuba, visiting the island is now a possibility for thousands of US citizens. CNN journalist, Patrick Oppman, who has been visiting the island since 1994, shares his viewpoint as an American on how things have changed during this relatively short period of time.

Fulfilling his grandfather’s dream, Oppman first set foot in Cuba during the “special period”, years of terrible economic recession after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Though Cuba had to reopen to tourism in order to salvage their economy, Oppman recalls a paranoid and grim atmosphere during his first trip, as well as difficult conditions all around:

“Going into Havana that first time, I saw far more bikes on the road than cars. There were blackouts everywhere.”

During that time, the only way for Americans to get to the island was through a third country and they ran the risk of US government fines that considered any commerce with Cuba “trading with the enemy”. As of 2014, this situation changed drastically when embassies opened both in Washington and Havana. Oppman, who has been living in the Cuban capital for four years states:

All I have to do is walk outside the door of the CNN Havana bureau to see crowds of Americans touring the colonial streets of Old Havana. Sometimes I don't need to even go that far, as every two weeks a Carnival Cruise ship full of US citizens docks in front of our office window.

According to Cuban statistics, the number of American visitors has nearly doubled in the last year during the first semester. Many of the Americans Oppman has had the chance to talk to say they have fallen in love at first sight with Cuba's warm people and their rich culture and history. It has become a big cliche for visitors to want to visit before Cuba changes; but according to CNN journalist, Cuba has already changed.

The first of several American-run hotels has opened up, Cubans are sporting once-banned US flags and you can now find Miller Genuine Draft on the shelves of state-run department stores. A cafe that serves all-day brunch and carrot-ginger smoothies in Old Havana is full of American hipsters who look as if they just strolled in from Brooklyn. Before long, there will probably be five more just like it.

The number of Americans will only rise as direct air service between the US and Cuba recently resumed with an inaugural flight by JetBlue. With US airliners charging about $200 for a round-trip ticket to Cuba, many US citizens are eager to travel to this sunny and fascinating destination that has been off-limits for years. The US and Cuba agreed to allow up to 110 daily flights to the island, with 20 flights going to Havana each day and another 10 flights traveling to nine other international airports in the provinces, according to the US Department of Transportation. 


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