Satellite image of Cuba
Satellite image of Cuba
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What is the thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations likely to mean for Cuba over the next several years? People familiar with the country have different views on that.

David Montgomery ’83, a reporter for The Washington Post who has been to the island twice, predicts that Cubans will cling fiercely to their independence. “That’s so deep in their blood,” he says. “They want that even more than consumer goods.”

Professor Rubén Gallo compares Cuba today with Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Expectations are high, he says — perhaps too high. “Everyone thinks the future will just bring positive things, better opportunities, and unlimited riches. I think things will get better for the average Cuban, but the immediate expectations are probably unrealistic.”

Fears that normalization will bring massive income inequality are not misplaced, suggests Woodrow Wilson School professor Stanley Katz, who organized the first Princeton study program in Cuba nearly a decade ago. He, too, doubts that economic liberalization will lead quickly to political liberalization. A revolutionary gerontocracy and the military, both embodied by President Raul Castro, remain firmly entrenched.

“It’s the nomenklatura that takes advantage of market reforms to enrich themselves,” Katz says. “It was true in Russia, in Eastern Europe, in China, in Vietnam — and it’s going to be true in Cuba.”

Still, he says, increasing contact between Cuba and the United States will help expand Cubans’ perspectives. “That will make a difference over the mid-term and certainly over the long term,” he says. “Anything that loosens that rigid regime is good for Cubans. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”