Yesterday at midnight Cuba and the United States formally reopened embassies in each other’s capitals, restoring full diplomatic relations after a 54-year hiatus. Today, in Havana’s busy Vedado neighborhood a large American flag flies. On Washington D.C.’s 16th Street, north of the White House, Cuba’s red, white and blue flag ruffles in the slow summer breeze. This is the most symbolic step yet in the slow and cautious process of normalization that Cuban and U.S. leadership embarked on last December.
Both governments have serious and complicated issues to work out with each other. No amount of good feeling can obscure that. But on the street in Cuba, good feeling is so abundant. It is conveyed in countless thousands of individual interactions American visitors (maybe over a million this year) have with Cubans. The sentiment is reciprocated across the Florida Straits, where polls consistently show strong majorities of Americans support closer ties with Cuba and an end to the embargo.
What’s clear is that our two societies are already close. We share values and interests, family and history. And what’s also clear is that our societies will be drivers in the difficult work of rebuilding the trust and respect that will be at the core of a new and different kind relationship.
So it is important that Americans and Cubans get to know each other better. Today we launch HavanaInsider.com with a hope that it can contribute to that process. We focus on what we like best in Havana, Cuba’s 500 year old capital. Its cultural heritage, its art, its food, its music, its people. We hope it makes you want to travel there, and meet the Cubans who are, bit by bit, shaping their future.
If you do, you’ll likely leave with a much greater respect for Cubans’ dignity and accomplishments, and the challenges they face. And they will come to understand much better, through you, an American society that is warm and empathetic–and that genuinely wishes its neighbors well as we all try to chart our courses in the 21st century. These feelings will challenge inaccurate stereotypes in both countries.
Havana is physically near–but will seem exotic and faraway for most American visitors. We can’t think of a more interesting and worthwhile place to visit. Savor the city today. It won’t be the same tomorrow.
U.S.-based William McIlhenny is Associate Publisher of JamesSuckling.com, and Co-Publisher of HavanaInsider.com, James Suckling’s newest Cuba-related project. He is a former American diplomat and an adviser to several international companies and foundations.