Here Comes a Wave of Change for Cuba

Warming relations with the U.S. has an upbeat but wary island bracing for a rush of visitors from its Cold War adversary.

The first Cuba sighting came Monday morning, just after sunrise. The island is almost 800 miles tip to tip, and for a while there was a horizon shimmer, then hilly outlines against pink sky, and finally: rooftops. A domed shape, maybe a cupola.

The ship’s topmost deck was jammed with television crews; the rest of us mashed up against the railings on the next deck down. Somebody handed out little Cuban and American flags. Now we could make out the Malecón, the seawall and walkway that serves as a collective front porch for people seeking fresh air or respite from overcrowded households. On warm evenings Cubans always populate the Malecón, but this was something new—nine in the morning, and crowds seemed to have gathered, lofting flags of their own, waving. Cheering!

None of us had known what to expect; as we left Miami on Sunday afternoon, there’d been speculation that the first U.S. cruise ship to dock in Cuba in nearly four decades might fire up anti-Castro hostilities. A lone protest motorboat had chugged around with “Democracia” painted in defiant red along the hull, but that was all. And now in Havana the celebrations were so exuberant, once we made our way into the city’s passenger ship terminal, that the currency exchange booth clerk and I shouted at each other in Spanish through the glass.

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