Trump Faces a Tough Task in Unwinding Obama’s Cuba Policy


By Associated Press

President Obama’s 2014 easing of U.S. policy toward Cuba helped funnel American travel dollars into military-linked tourism conglomerates even as state security agents waged a fierce crackdown on dissent.

The rapprochement also poured hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. spending into privately owned businesses on the island, supercharging the growth of an entrepreneurial middle class independent of the communist state. It opened a new market for American corporations, with JetBlue and American Airlines operating from gleaming new Havana offices and tens of thousands of private bed-and-breakfasts listed on Airbnb.

Internet access became an affordable reality for hundreds of thousands of Cubans as President Raul Castro met a pledge to Obama and opened nearly 400 public Wi-Fi access points across the country. Longtime enemies separated by 90 miles of ocean struck agreements to cooperate on issues ranging from human trafficking to oil spills.

This is the complex scenario facing President Trump as Cuban American legislators and lobbyists pressure him to fulfill his campaign promise to undo Obama’s deal with Cuba. The administration is close to announcing a new policy that would prohibit business with the Cuban military while maintaining the full diplomatic relations restored by Obama, according to a Trump administration official and a person involved in the ongoing policy review.

“As the president has said, the current Cuba policy is a bad deal. It does not do enough to support human rights in Cuba,” White House spokesman Michael Short said. “We anticipate an announcement in the coming weeks.”

Still under debate: new restrictions on American leisure travel to Cuba, which has more than tripled since Obama’s announcement, to nearly 300,000 last year.

Anti-Castro Cuban Americans hate the idea of U.S. travelers enjoying mojitos in the police state that drove exiles from their homes and businesses. Tourism to Cuba remains barred by U.S. law, and American travelers to Cuba still must fall into one of 12 categories of justification for their travel, including religious and educational activities meant to bring the traveler into contact with Cuban people.

When Obama took office, “people-to-people” travelers could see the country only as part of organized tours — a measure meant to guarantee that Americans experienced educational activities such as visits to printing workshops or organic farmers markets.

In reality, the tour requirement guaranteed that American travelers spent virtually every second of their time in Cuba under the direct control of the government, which requires U.S. tour operators to use government tour buses and guides and stay almost entirely in state-run hotels.

As his second term came to a close, Obama eliminated that requirement and opened the door for tens of thousands of travelers to book their own independent trips to Cuba.

Opponents of Obama’s rollback say that has allowed many to engage in prohibited tourism, spending leisure days at the beach and all-inclusive resorts.

But individual travel has also served as rocket fuel for Cuba’s burgeoning private sector. Tens of thousands of Americans are booking direct flights on U.S. airlines to Havana, reserving private lodging through Airbnb and spending thousands of dollars on private guides, taxis and restaurants.

A former industrial engineer, 31-year-old Adyarin Ruiz runs a four-bedroom bed-and-breakfast in a restored section of Old Havana that’s seeing an increasing number of Americans willing to pay up to $100 a night in a country where state salaries average $25 a month.

“Over the last two years, since relations with the U.S. were restored, I’ve seen the growth in American tourism, and even more so since the direct flights started,” Ruiz said. “The Americans who’ve come here are VIPS. You can see that they have money and they appreciate and demand quality, and demand that the house looks really pretty.”

There are also now U.S. jobs dependent on travel to Cuba. The American pro-detente group Engage Cuba released a study Thursday asserting that a complete rollback of Obama’s Cuba policy would cost airlines and cruise lines $3.5 billion over the next four years and lead to the loss of 10,154 travel jobs.

Administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss ongoing policy talks say domestic political concerns are the main force driving any rollback on Cuba.

During the transition, Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson privately expressed support for Obama’s Cuba policy, U.S. officials from the former and current administrations told the Associated Press.

The main people still seeking a reversal in the opening are Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, both Cuban Americans and Republicans from Florida. The Trump government wants to maintain good relations with Rubio, who sits on the Senate committee investigating Trump’s relations with Russia, and Diaz-Balart, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Some top Trump advisors also believe that a 2020 reelection victory will rest on keeping the loyalty of Cuban Americans in Florida, whom they see as essential to winning the crucial swing state.

Many object to the Cuban government seeing any benefit from relations with the U.S., and are opposed to thousands of American travelers staying in hotels run by GAESA, an increasingly powerful business conglomerate with deep military ties. Cuban Americans have been particularly offended by Obama allowing U.S. companies to deal directly with military-linked companies, most prominently in an agreement for Stamford, Conn.-based Starwood to manage at least two Havana hotels. Anti-Castro forces have also been demanding action on human rights: Arrests and short-term detentions of protesters climbed from 8,899 in 2014 to 9,940 last year.

Cuban officials say many of those arrests are deliberately provoked by dissidents who are funded and backed by anti-Castro groups with the deliberate objective of driving up detention statistics.

But the officials say there’s another reason to tighten America’s Cuba policy: pressuring Venezuela. The Trump administration has been looking for ways to force Venezuela to address the near-daily protests and violence trying to shake President Nicolas Maduro‘s iron grip on power. Cuba is Maduro’s close ally and supporter, and measures against the Cuban military would send at least the appearance that the U.S. is taking action.

Meanwhile, Cuba is preparing for its own transition. Castro is planning to leave Cuba’s presidency in February and is expected to hand the role to a 57-year-old vice president who has said little about his vision for the country.

Rubio’s office described the senator’s goals as laying the groundwork for a new generation of Cuban leaders to empower ordinary citizens of the island.

“I am confident the president will keep his commitment on Cuba policy by making changes that are targeted and strategic and which advance the Cuban people’s aspirations for economic and political liberty,” Rubio said in a statement released by his office Thursday.

This AP report was published in The Los Angeles Times om June 2

King of the Road, Cuban-Style 


Welding together parts from Chinese Flying Pigeon bicycles that became ubiquitous in Cuba during the gasoline-starved era known as the Special Period, Félix Ramón Guirola Cepero has become Cuba’s king of towering Frankenstein-like bikes.

Everywhere he goes on his tall bikes, the cameras or cellphones come out to snap pictures of his creations, and people do double-takes. He thinks nothing of taking his everyday bicycle, which is more than 9  1/2 feet tall and made from a stack-up of three Flying Pigeon frames, on a spin along the seaside Malecón or through the narrow streets of Old Havana — where he must dodge everything from bici-taxis to vintage cars.

“When kids see me, they ask: ‘Hey, how do you climb up and climb down?’ So I demonstrate by jumping, holding on, passing. The kids wave at me; they kiss me. I get back on the bike and pedal off again,” Guirola said. “When I reach the traffic light, I climb off, cross the street and climb back on. I’ve never had a problem with traffic, never had an accident, never fallen or had any issues.”

And he’s been riding tall bikes for 34 years. Sometimes he gives his wife a ride to work on his tall bike. Sometimes he rides it without holding on to the handlebars.

Even his everyday bike generally gets a huge reaction. But at his home on Aguacate Street in Old Havana, he is working on his pièce de résistance, a tall bike that will soar 32 feet, 9.7 inches (10 meters) above the street. “That’s the bike I want to finish and display publicly before the end of the year and set a new record here in the capital,” said Guirola, 51. “I’m going to invent the largest bicycle in the history of the world.”

But he also has been invited to take the 10-meter bike to the United States and is weighing whether to try to set a new Guinness World Record on American soil. He expects he would be permitted to go: “With the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba now opening a little, because this is a cultural activity.”

I’m going to invent the largest bicycle in the history of the world Félix Ramón Guirola Cepero

If the new 10-meter bike is rideable and its height is certified by Guinness, it would easily eclipse the 20-foot, 2.5 inch (6.15 meters) record set in 2013 by “Stoopidtaller,” a tall bike built by Richie Trimble of Los Angeles. Given his lengthy experience with tall bikes, Guirola said he might even be able to set a record for the longest time riding “gigantic bikes.”

Guirola said he thinks he’s the only one in the world who would be able to ride a 10-meter bike. Others that he’s met on Facebook and who have seen his video on YouTube say so, as well.

One of the challenges in building the world’s tallest bike in Cuba is getting the right materials, he said. He favors thick Russian-made tires from 1981 to 1983 and says they’re very difficult to get. Bicycle chains are also hard to find, but he said GoPro Camera, which makes video cameras and mounts often used to capture extreme sports, helps him out from time to time with chains.

Guirola’s tallest completed bike stretches a shade over 19 feet, 8 inches (6 meters) and is attached to the facade of his home for easy mounting. Dressed in bicycle racing gear, he clambers up to his lofty bicycle seat like a spider.

To ride a tall bike, he said, stability and equilibrium are needed, as well as fearlessness. “I’m fascinated by height. When I go to a baseball stadium, I would prefer to see the game from the highest point, where nobody is sitting,” he said.

Guirola says he and half-brother Rolando Mergarejo Vega are the only ones in Cuba who make such tall bikes. So for camaraderie and advice, he turns to other tall-bike hobbyists in Miami, California and New York. Julian Valencia, of Miami, and two New York biking enthusiasts have been a big help, he said, and all three have come to Cuba and ridden with him along El Prado, the Malecón and near Capitolio, the capitol building that is now being restored.

The bicyclist says he’s happy to see the tall-bike clubs that have sprung up around the United States since the 1990s. “It’s extraordinary that what I’ve been doing for 34 years has spread around the world.”

Before he was a tall-bike rider, Guirola was a boxer who was runner-up champion in Cuba twice and boxed in international tournaments. But one day in 1981 when he was 17 years old, he saw the mechanic for the Cuban cycling team handling a tandem bike. It was the first time he had ever seen a tandem bike, and it gave him the urge to build his own nontraditional bicycle.

“I started soldering one bike frame atop of another bike frame, and so on. It became something of a festive occasion at every town carnival and cultural event in my native province of Ciego de Ávila,” he said. Now, Guirola, who came to Havana in 2012, still takes part in marathons and rides his bike at various cultural events around Cuba.

32 feet, 9.7 inches height of the bicycle Félix Ramón Guirola Cepero wants to build

He and his wife earn a living selling sweets and other items. As one of Cuba’s hundreds of thousands of cuentapropistas, the self-employed, he can set his own hours, leaving time to work on and ride his bicycles.

Among his side ventures is giving bicycle tours. When Swiss long-distance bicyclist and author Claude Marthaler, who has ridden all over the world, came to Cuba, he spent a week with him, Guirola said. The tires on his everyday bike are a gift from Marthaler, he said.

Marthaler wrote about his time with Guirola and his wife, Francisca, and his three-month solo bicycle tour of Cuba in the book Hasta la bicicleta siempre!, which was released in Italy, and in Confidences cubaines, released in France.

At the time — 2013 — he said Guirola was talking about building two very tall bikes: one 8 meters tall and a second 12 meters high.

Marthaler said that after he biked with Guirola in Morón, a city in Ciego de Ávila Province, the Cuban wanted to get back to Havana as soon as possible to begin work on his tall bikes. “I know Felix is foolish enough — in a good sense — to build [a 10-meter bicycle],” he said.

But he added, “Ten meters seems to be extremely high.” Such a bike also would have to be much more stable than Guirola’s previous models, said Marthaler, who lives in Geneva. And he also wondered whether it would be possible to build such a bike with just two wheels.

Even though Guirola’s passion is now tall bikes, he still has boxing in his blood and wants the world to know that he is Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao’s No. 1 fan in Cuba. In fact, he tears up as he talks about his admiration for Pacquiao. In the boxer’s recent fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr., “ I think he was the winner, not the loser, because he threw more punches, did more for the match,” Guirola said. “All Mayweather did was circle the ring and didn’t hit Pacquiao very much.”

Guirola also has a message for members of tall-bike clubs in the United States. “If they get the chance to visit Cuba, please come find me at Aguacate 405 between Teniente Rey and Muralla streets.” He says he’ll take them on any kind of bike tour they’d like.

Want to Visit Cuba? Trump May Make it Harder


By Alan Gomez , USA TODAY

President Trump likely will fulfill a campaign promise this month by curbing some of the ties with Cuba that former president Barack Obama adopted when he made his historic overture to the communist island.

Trump threatened during campaign stops in the Cuban-American enclave of Miami to cut ties with Cuba. After winning the election, he tweeted that he might “terminate” Obama’s renewal of diplomatic relations with Cuba, which ended more than 50 years of estrangement that began during the Cold War.

Cuban experts say Trump has backed off that stance, noting he has been preoccupied with other issues, plus a broad collection of American businesses have benefited from the opening.

“All the initial signs were that he was going to reverse everything,” said Frank Mora, a former Defense Department official under Obama and now director of the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University in Miami. “But (Trump) doesn’t really care about Cuba. There’s going to be much more symbolism in the kinds of changes they will announce than anything substantive.”

A report released last week by Engage Cuba, a Washington-based group, estimated that American companies would lose $6.6 billion and more than 12,000 U.S. jobs over Trump’s first term if he reversed course.

Opponents of Obama’s policy say it has done nothing to change Cuba’s communist system and repression. The Havana-based Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation said the government has detained more than 400 political prisoners each month this year, a drop from 2016 but a constant reminder of Cubans’ limited rights.

Trump is expected to announce the changes some time in June, possibly during a visit to Miami. Here are some key aspects of Obama’s opening with Cuba that could be at risk:


Even hard-line opponents of renewed ties don’t expect Trump to shut down diplomatic relations and close the recently reopened embassies in Washington and Havana.

The opening has allowed greater dialogue between the two governments, which have held dozens of high-level meetings that led to limited postal service, more intelligence sharing and government cooperation on drug interdiction, emergency response and environmental challenges.

Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba and one of the loudest critics of Obama’s opening, acknowledged he doesn’t want to see the embassies shuttered again. “You can never go back,” he said.


One of the most tangible changes under Obama was re-establishing direct commercial flights between the Cold War foes. Now, Americans traveling to Cuba under one of 12 categories approved by the U.S. government can hop online and book a flight.

The demand has not been as high as expected, prompting several airlines to scale back their flights and three — Spirit Airlines, Frontier and Silver Airways — to cancel all their Cuba flights. Pedro Freyre, an attorney with the Akerman law firm who brokered multiple deals between U.S. companies and Cuba, said Trump is unlikely to further punish U.S.-based airlines by canceling their limited runs.

“The invisible hand of the market is already working its magic,” Freyre said.

Cruise operators continue pushing ahead. Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises have announced more than 200 sailings to the island in the next three years, according to the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. Few expect those to be limited, since passengers mostly spend their nights on the American cruise ships and aren’t handing money to Cuban-owned hotels.


One likely area for change is the ability of U.S.-owned companies to manage hotel properties in Cuba.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts signed a deal with the Cuban government to operate — but not own — three landmark hotels in Havana. That arrangement angered Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and other Cuban-Americans because the deal made Starwood partners with the Cuban military, the largest hotel operator on the island.

“If the Americans want to deal with hotels in Cuba, the administration ought to find a way in which those hotels function as foreign hotels, as they do in other countries,” Calzon said. “The idea is not to finance the Cuban military.”

Airbnb could survive. The San Francisco-based company was one of the first to take advantage of the diplomatic opening with Cuba and now helps more than 8,000 Cubans rent their homes to tourists. Those visits mostly benefit Cuban homeowners, meaning Trump could allow that relationship to continue.


One of the most popular changes under Obama was the free flow of Cuba’s legendary rum and cigars.

His administration allowed Americans to return from Cuba with up to $100 worth of the items. That was later expanded so people traveling anywhere in the world can come back to the U.S. with as many bottles and boxes they wanted, as long as the items were for personal use.

Those changes are in jeopardy because the island’s rum and cigar companies are state owned, meaning most profits go to the Cuban government. Even supporters of more trade and travel with Cuba believe allowing rum and cigars will be shut down.

“That one is likely to be reversed,” Freyre said. “If I were to be in favor of any changes, which I’m not, I would be in favor of that one. It’s just so frivolous.”


Because of the economic embargo the U.S. maintains on Cuba, tourism remains off limits. Securing a visa was one of the hardest aspects of traveling to Cuba before Obama renewed diplomatic ties, because Americans had to get approval through the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, which was often handled by travel agencies. Travelers also had to show their visit complied with one of 12 allowable reasons, such as religious, educational or humanitarian trips.

The Obama administration made that process far simpler, allowing travelers to purchase their visas at airline counters and simply attest that they were going to Cuba for legal reasons. Calzon believes too many people take advantage of that process and visit Cuba simply as tourists.


Obama allowed Cuban-Americans to send unlimited amounts of money to relatives on the island. Trump could reimpose limits on those money transfers because the Cuban government takes a cut of each money transfer as a steady stream of income.

It’s unclear whether Trump will limit those remittances, but Freyre said that decision should not be political, but a humanitarian one.

“Even staunch defenders of the embargo say, ‘Don’t mess with the families,'” Freyre said. “If you now come out and say you can no longer send money to your grandmother, that’s just mean-spirited.”

Your Editor Suggests:  Let the Cubans in Cuba protest, It´s their right and obligation. That was Obama’s message. 

With Obama Visit to Cuba, Old Battle Lines Fade

In Havana on Thursday, a man on a laptop and others on cellphones took advantage of a Wi-Fi hot spot. Many clamor for more access to the Internet, which remains extremely limited in Cuba. Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

For decades, Cuba and the United States have framed their relationship as a conflict of opposites: Communism vs. capitalism; Cuban loyalists vs. Cuban exiles; the state vs. the individual.

But last week’s visit to the island by President Obama — the first by a sitting American president since Calvin Coolidge — made clear that the old lines of battle are breaking down. Here in a place known for its rigidity, ruled since 1959 by a single family, a confounding mash-up of what was once held apart now defines how life works.

Just watching the awkward dance between Mr. Obama and his Cuban counterpart at a news conference on Monday left many Cubans stunned. Young and old remarked that their president, Raúl Castro, did not deliver a strong performance. But there he was, a Castro, admitting he had agreed to take only one question, then stumbling through three — about human rights, no less — as an American president nudged him along in a classic ritual of a more open society.

It was awkward to watch, the octogenarian guerrilla and the younger American, especially the missed handshake-hug at the end, precisely because it showed Mr. Castro moving into uncomfortable territory.

Mr. Obama’s engagement policy and Mr. Castro’s minor opening to free-market ideas and careful criticism have together created a new dynamic for Cuba that is just beginning to reveal what it could become.

“While I’m confident that history will judge Obama’s visit and speech as a unmitigated home run, in the Cuban context he’s only a pinch-hitter or a warm-up batter,” said Ted Henken, a Cuba scholar at Baruch College. “The real contest can only be decided through a frank, respectful and broadly inclusive national dialogue among Cubans themselves.”

Loyalists vs. Exiles

Mr. Obama’s first major Cuba policy speech occurred about six months before he was first elected president, at a luncheon hosted by the Cuban American National Foundation that I attended in Miami on May 23, 2008.

Cuban-Americans of some prominence, including Jorge Mas Santos, the son of Jorge Mas Canosa, who used the foundation as a cudgel against the Castros, had told Mr. Obama that there would be broad support in the exile community for loosening travel rules, to allow Cuban-Americans more freedom to go back.

Mr. Obama and his campaign chose to elevate emotion over ideology. Who could oppose reuniting Cuban families?

I was the New York Times bureau chief in Miami then, and I remember thinking the Obama approach was a bit risky. The embargo prohibiting imports and exports was still sacred, and Cuban-American hard-liners dominated public discussion, calling those who asked if the politics around Cuba were changing “clowns,” “idiots” or worse. Polls showed most Cuban-Americans still supported the embargo and a stiff anti-Cuba position.

Obama CubaBut when Mr. Obama told the crowd that if elected, he would immediately allow “unlimited family travel and remittances to the island,” a cheer arose, even among middle-aged exiles in Guayaberas who told me they had previously rejected that kind of engagement.

When Mr. Obama fulfilled that promise with a policy change in 2009, a rush to Cuba began. Now more than 400,000 Cuban-Americans go annually. When Mr. Castro later signaled a shift of his own, no longer calling exiles gusanos, or worms, as his brother and predecessor Fidel Castro had done, the divide between Cuban and Cuban-American, between exile and loyalist, eased further away.

The examples Mr. Obama cited in his speech on Tuesday of Cuban-Americans’ experiencing emotional reunions — including Melinda Lopez, who said “so many of us are now getting so much back” by returning after more than 50 years — are commonplace now. And they are only part of the story.

More significant are the connections between recent migrants and relatives back in Cuba who have opened small businesses under Raúl Castro’s new allowances for self-employment. Over the past few years, I’ve met mechanics, chefs, barbers and clothes sellers who all relied on family members abroad to act as unofficial partners, even though investment is illegal under the embargo and Cuban law.

The entire idea of going and staying is now being renegotiated. With Cuba also gambling on Cuban families — in 2012, Raúl Castro made it easier for Cubans to travel without losing citizenship — many more Cubans leave, but do not stay away.

A few weeks ago at Florida International University in Miami, I visited a class filled with the children and grandchildren of exiles, and Analiz Faife, a biology major, who told me she was sad to have left Cuba just two years ago (after waiting seven years for a visa) and planned to move back as soon as she could. “We’re here not just for our own futures,” she said through a rush of tears, “but because we want to go back and help our country.”

Outside the baseball stadium where Mr. Obama and Mr. Castro sat together for a game, I heard something similar from Juliet Garcia Gonzalez, 17. “Most people here want to leave and come back,” she said. “That’s really the best way to do it.”

We were standing in a new Wi-Fi zone. Juliet fiddled with her phone; she was eager to keep video-chatting with a friend already in Miami.

Communism vs. Capitalism

Many Cubans see technology and affordable Internet access as one of, if not the, most important priorities for their country. In his speech on Tuesday, Mr. Obama told them, “The Internet should be available across the island so that Cubans can connect to the wider world and to one of the greatest engines of growth in human history.”

But his meeting with entrepreneurs the day before missed the degree of activity already taking place, and the way some Cubans see technology as the path to a new economic model that is neither communist nor capitalist, and perfectly suited to Cuba’s culture of sharing.

Medardo Rodriguez is a leader of this techno-movement. A lanky former computer science professor from the countryside whose quirky brilliance becomes apparent the longer you listen to him tell you not to interrupt, Mr. Rodriguez is a co-founder of Merchise Startup Circle, a group of Cuban programmers who have begun to host two-day start-up competitions in Havana.

I met Mr. Rodriguez outside the entrepreneur event, then sat down with him later for a lengthy interview that began with coffee and moved on to beer. He told me that Merchise’s goal was to create a series of networking events and online and offline communities of people across the country who could use their programming skills to earn money with contracts for global software companies (which already happens, somewhat), then create start-ups to serve Latin-American and American markets.

It was the kind of thing that would have been impossible to imagine before the announcement of restored relations between Cuba and the United States on Dec. 17, 2014. But a few days before the Obama visit, Stripe Atlas — a start-up in San Francisco that helps international companies set up a payment system in the United States — agreed to work with Merchise.

“We think there’s a lot of pent-up potential here,” said Patrick Collison, chief executive of Stripe Atlas. “There are a lot of people who have been programming for 20 years, but it’s never been possible to start a company.”

Mr. Rodriguez, who started Merchise in the 1990s by recruiting two or three of his best students from each of his classes, said he expected sizable growth, with several events in the coming year. Even though public Internet access is still limited to hotels and government Wi-Fi hot spots, he said most programmers worked offline and then got online when they needed to.

“The great thing about right now is that we have the attention of the world,” he said. “I’m constantly getting emails from people I don’t know, who want to work with us.” He went on to say, “This is a perfect moment for Cuba,” adding, “We just have to take advantage of it.”

He acknowledged challenges, mentioning infrastructure and bureaucracy. But when I asked if he thought the Cuban government would allow what sounded like a grand capitalist experiment, he cautioned against such categorizations.

“I don’t like names; what is capitalism?” he said. “Is it the United States, France, Haiti or Burundi?”

State vs. Individual

The techo-utopian dream of Merchise slows to a crawl when confronted with questions of freedom of expression and politics. The state continues to be ever-present and suffocating for Cubans seeking changes beyond the safety of business.

Elizardo Sánchez, who heads the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said he worried that the hopes that blossomed during the president’s visit would be crushed by government repression.

Mr. Obama with Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson, at a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuba’s national team. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Mr. Obama with Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson, at a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuba’s national team. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

He himself had been detained for several hours at the Havana airport when he flew in last weekend from Miami to join a group of dissidents meeting with Mr. Obama on Tuesday.

“Obama is running a grave risk, because the government of Cuba has an enormous capacity to make promises they never fulfill,” he said. “They manipulate everything.”

“The Castros,” he added, “have an enormous capacity to intimidate all Cubans.”

Yet Mr. Sánchez was not too intimidated to speak up, nor are many others. Cubans have been becoming bolder since Raúl Castro took over. But Mr. Obama’s visit has cracked open Cuba’s careful conversations, creating an eruption of frank criticism of Mr. Castro’s policies, at least in private.

The ranks of independent Cuban reporters trying to capture those voices, explain Cuba and hold it accountable are not large, nor are they as well-financed as the state-run media that filled the television airwaves this week with the usual menu of anti-American propaganda between Obama appearances. (Many Cubans turned off their TVs at that point.)

But those ranks are growing. Elaine Diaz, a former Nieman fellow at Harvard, told me she had come back to Cuba after relations were restored because she felt there might be more freedom to do real journalism here, and she said that had mostly proven true.

“I’m feeling much more calm,” she told me, adding, “It’s impossible to control millions of Cubans.”

What Ms. Diaz and many other Cubans say they want is a Cuba that confronts its own problems separate from its relationship with the United States.

In many corners, there is a desire to look further back in history, to before Castro’s revolution, for Cuba’s essential nature, and to be done with the duality that Mr. Obama described when he said, “Cuba has emphasized the role and rights of the state; the United States is founded upon the rights of the individual.”

The Cubans I’ve talked to during this trip and many others want something else. A pair of teachers, who now have nearly 40 students per class, told me they hoped economic growth would lead to a better free education system. A tour guide for the government said the state needed to shrink quickly and significantly, but stay strong enough to keep inequality in check.

The challenge for the United States and Cuba — or, really, for the Castro family — now involves finding ways to help Cubans chart their own course into this unfamiliar territory that is neither purely go-go American, nor the restricted Cuba of today.

It means more uncomfortable questions. And more answers.

A version of this article appears in print on March 27, 2016, on page A6 of the New York edition with the headline: With Obama’s Visit to Cuba, Old Battle Lines Fade. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe

Your Editor Asks: Many Cubans I spoke with in the past two weeks believe Obama traveled to Cuba to say “The Yankee is going hone.”  Will future presidents follow that cue?

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