WASHINGTON— Since President Barack Obama reinstated limited travel to Cuba in 2011, hundreds of thousands of Americans have visited the communist island nation. Many of them say it is time to re-examine U.S.-Cuba relations, which have been frozen for more than 50 years.
Polls show that after making a visit to Cuba, many Americans decide they want closer U.S. ties with the island. New Yorker Ellen Lansberger is one.
"I think U.S.-Cuban relations should be open. People should be talking to each other. People should be sharing. We have a whole free trade system going on between the U.S., Mexico and Canada without economic borders, and we have this tiny little island that is of no threat to the U.S. that we are isolating from the world. It doesn't make sense," said Lansberger.
The United States cut off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 after communist leader Fidel Castro came to power. It also imposed a strict economic embargo on the island nation, about 150 kilometers south of Florida. However, after more than 50 years of hostilities, many people on both sides say they want the embargo to end.
"I think the North American people are like the Cuban people, a caring people with love and the desire to express and communicate. I think what we are all missing is the possibility of receiving that warmth so we can understand each other better. We're neighbors after all," said Delia Maria Barroso, director of the Danzares dance troupe.
For years, any move by U.S. politicians toward improving relations with Cuba was thwarted by Cuban-Americans who fled the communist regime. Most of them live in Florida. but a new generation of Cuban-Americans, born in the United States, wants to be able to travel to their ancestral land. The Obama administration has permitted so-called "people-to-people" travel to Cuba, which allows Americans to visit the island if they have family there or want to go for a cultural or religious visit. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said this week that the United States will continue to update its policies on Cuba.
"Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans visit Havana, and hundreds of millions of dollars in trade and remittances flow from the United States to Cuba. We are committed to this human interchange. And in the United States, we believe that our people are actually our best ambassadors," said Kerry.
There are signs that the Cuban government is beginning to relax its grip on society. Dissident Cuban author and blogger Yoani Sanchez told an audience at a literary event in Cartagena, Colombia, that she plans to launch a digital newspaper in her homeland with the idea of spurring press freedom.
"The worst can happen, that the first day we open the medium they break the door and block the website, which wouldn't be that bad because there's nothing more attractive than what's forbidden, right? But it's also possible that we are here starting the roots of a press that can transcend the present moment and become the newspaper of the future," said Sanchez.
Sanchez said the Cuban government is making small concessions because it can no longer convince people that its communist utopia ever can be a reality.