Sixty Years After the Revolution, Is a ‘New Cuba’ Emerging?

Sixty Years After the Revolution, Is a ‘New Cuba’ Emerging?
Young Cubans attend a march celebrating the 60th anniversary of the arrival of Fidel Castro and his rebel army to Regla, an area within Havana, Cuba, Jan. 8, 2019 (AP photo by Ramon Espinosa).

Is the Cuban Revolution reinventing itself at age 60? That was my unmistakable impression during a visit to Cuba last month. Change is in the air as the island celebrates the anniversary of the 1959 revolution.

Last year, Raul Castro stepped down as president in favor of his protégé, 58-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel, who promised a “new Cuba”—a government more open and responsive to people’s needs. In the ensuing months, three constituencies—the churches, the private sector and the arts community—took advantage of that promise to launch organized campaigns pushing back against government policies they opposed. And in each case, the government backed off.

The internet played an important role in these campaigns. Since 2009, when Cuban leaders decided that a wired nation was essential for a 21st century economy, internet access has exploded. The government has opened over 800 public Wi-Fi hot spots and cybercafés in the past five years, and home internet access became available in 2017. By the end of 2018, nearly half the Cuban population had personal cell phones—illegal until 2008—and there was 3G internet access for anyone who could afford it, though the price is still out of reach for many. These changes have made possible new forms of communication, networking and organizing via social media.

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