Soon after President Obama announced a sweeping overhaul of American policy toward Cuba in December, it became clear that change would unfold slowly. Untangling the web of sanctions the United States imposes on Cuba will take years because many are codified into law. The Cuban government, while publicly welcoming a rapprochement, seems intent on moving cautiously at a pivotal moment when its historically tight grip on Cuban society will inevitably be tested.
Mr. Obama, President Raúl Castro of Cuba and 33 other heads of state in the hemisphere gathered at the Seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, last week to take stock of the challenges and opportunities of the thaw in American-Cuban relations. The policy remains a work in progress, but it has already reset Cubans’ expectations about their future and their nation’s role in a global economy.
Whether, and how quickly, their aspirations for greater prosperity and for better communications within Cuba and the rest of the world are met will depend largely on their own government. One change is already clear: the Obama administration’s gamble on engaging with Cuba has made it increasingly hard for its leaders to blame their economic problems and isolation on the United States.
While the American and Cuban governments have yet to formally re-establish full diplomatic relations, some early concrete steps are promising. Obama administration officials and business executives have met in recent weeks with Cuban officials to explore how American companies can help upgrade the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure and provide cheaper and more available Internet service.
Executives from Google, whose platforms and services are widely desired in Cuba, visited the island in mid-March to make headway in the company’s goal of establishing its presence there.
Meanwhile, Airbnb, the company based in San Francisco that allows people to list their homes online for short-term rentals, announced last week that it had broken into the Cuban market, unveiling 1,000 listings there. That debut in Cuba could boost the small, but growing private sector in a nation where people have only recently been allowed to earn a living outside state employment.
Many Cuban-Americans expressed skepticism about Mr. Obama’s policy when it was announced. But a poll conducted last month by Bendixen & Amandi International found that 51 percent of Cuban-Americans agreed with the decision to start normalizing relations with Cuba, an increase from 44 percent in a survey in December.