Our man in Havana

In Dec. 2014, the same day President Obama announced that the United States will normalize relations with the people of Cuba, Magnet AP U.S. History teacher Juan Morillo traveled to Havana, Cuba and attended the 30-year anniversary of the “Festival Jazz Plaza” as a guest of the Ministry of Culture.

Morillo is the manager of several jazz musicians. The American Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), allows Morillo to travel to Cuba for cultural and educational purposes. He traveled to Havana with some of his musicians to attend the music festival which according to Morillo held some brilliant talent.

Morillo has traveled to Cuba many times before, both east and west of the island. However, on this specific trip, he described the atmosphere in Cuba as “hopeful.”

The United States has not had any diplomatic relations with Cuba since 1961. In President Obama’s White House statement regarding normalizing relations between both countries, Obama states his reason for doing so is “to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.”

When speaking to Morillo about the political future of Cuba, he responded that these changes have been long awaited and that the people of Cuba are ready to embrace the changes in political climate, especially because of the many job opportunities they will have available.

“It is a stereotype that Cubans, especially in Miami, Florida, object to normalizing relations with Cuba at this time. Not all Cubans object the matter and many do in fact want a complete change in the system” said Morillo.

Despite being miles away from the American shore, the lives of the people in Cuba could not be more different. Cuba has two currencies, the “Cuban Peso” for Cuban nationals, and the “CUC” which is very similar to the American dollar and can be converted to Cuban pesos for tourists.

The Cuban government restricts all forms of media, private and commercial. The government’s control over the media is depicted through Cuban propaganda, which populates the country.

Modern satellite connections allow the Cuban society access to Western media via radio, internet, and limited television access. The internet serves as a channel of communication between Cuba and the Western society, keeping Cubans regularly informed. Internet in Cuban homes depends on wealth and is most common among university students and the government.

When the Optimist asked Morillo if music will be our conduit to opening these doors with Cuba, his response was that we had already seen a similar situation with the Soviet Union when Billy Joel became one of the first Americans to play in the Soviet Union since the Berlin Wall went up.

“Cuba is an influence in modern music” said Morillo. According to Morillo, the United States and other countries around the world owe Cuba much of their success musically speaking.

Morillo took his musicians to Cuba to continue to bridge the building of the two cultures. “Cuba has some of the best musicians in the entire world,” Morillo said.

Morillo believes that the political future of Cuba demands progressive change. “Changes need to take place in all levels. Cuba can easily open up to democracy— it is up to them,” Morillo said.

The Optimist also interviewed film making teacher Dennis Madrigal, who is half Cuban and has family living in Cuba today.

“The changes that President Obama is initiating are very exciting for me and my family because we will finally have access to communication,” said Madrigal who has not been able to communicate with his family in Cuba for several years.

—Jocelyn Garcia