If you want to see the face of the new Cuba, talk to Niuris Higuiera, co-owner and chef of Havana’s Paladar Atelier (paladar’s the name Cubans use for privately-owned restaurants).
Higuiera’s not only a top chef, she’s as sharp an entrepreneur as you’ll find anywhere. To escape the rural community where she grew up, she and her brother exchanged 18 different houses until they secured a home in Havana’s comfortable Vedado neighborhood, which they’ve converted into one of the country’s best-known and most successful paladars.
Twenty years ago, all restaurants in Cuba were state-owned. Today, as part of ongoing efforts to restructure the economy, the government’s trying to get out of the restaurant business and is instead encouraging private ownership.
Or talk to Julio Alvarez, co-owner with his wife of the Nostalgic Car Company. Recognizing their economic potential, Alvarez founded a company to buy and restore Cuba’s fleet of aging, classic American cars from the 1950s. Visiting his shop, I watched mechanics working on a 1959 Chevy Impala and a 1955 Chevy Bel Air. Once rebuilt, restored and repainted, they become part of Havana’s colorful and hugely popular taxi fleet. What’s more nostalgic than riding along the Malecon in a 1957 Cadillac convertible?
Cuba is just 58 minutes away. You take off in Tampa and before you can say ‘Marco Rubio’s a loser’ you land in Havana.
Cuba’s also the new must-see place for Americans. Last year, 100,000 Americans visited Cuba. That number’s expected to double this year.
Yes, in large part because of improved relations with the United States, there’s a second revolution coming to Cuba, an economic revolution, which Cubans are quick to describe as ‘improvements’ to, and not the abandonment of, socialism.
That’s the most-debated question in Cuba today. Everybody’s excited about better relations with the United States, but nobody’s sure exactly what it will mean.
One thing’s for sure: Big, positive change is coming to Cuba. It’s already underway. And no matter how hard they try in Congress, Marco Rubio, Mario Diaz-Balart, Robert Menendez and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen can never stop it.