Bill Press: Change comes to Cuba

Bill Press: Change comes to Cuba
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Dateline: Havana. 

It happens so fast. You leave Tampa, and before you can say “Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump Hillicon Valley: New FTC chief eyes shake up of tech regulation | Lawmakers target Google, Huawei partnership | Microsoft employees voice anger over ICE contract Lawmakers urge Google to drop partnership with Chinese phone maker Huawei MORE,” you’re there.

But once you arrive in Cuba, you not only realize you’re in another country, you think you’ve landed in another century — especially when every other car you see on the streets is a (beautifully restored) 1950s Chevy or Ford.

But all that’s about to change fast, now that President Obama and President Raúl Castro have agreed to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba. 

Indeed, you can feel change in the air. Peter Kornbluh, co-author of the new book Back Channel to Cuba, which tells the backstory of negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba, told me that what’s happening is “a historic transition in the Cuban economy and the entire future of Cuban society.”

Cuba is in fashion — starting with world leaders. The president of France was here last week, Japan’s foreign affairs minister and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited last month. Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryShould President Trump, like President Obama, forsake human rights in pursuit of the deal with a tyrant? GOP Senate report says Obama officials gave Iran access to US financial system Democrats conflicted over how hard to hit Trump on Iran MORE is expected to come to Havana to open the new American embassy. Pope Francis, who engineered the rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba, is due in September. 

Cuba’s also the “must” place to go for many Americans. Last year, 100,000 people from the U.S. visited Cuba. This year, that number’s expected to double, evidence of which we soon discovered. Shortly after my charter flight from Tampa arrived, another charter from John F. Kennedy International Airport rolled up on the tarmac. Our first stop was the Plaza de la Revolución, where we met an American tour group. We later arrived at the Hotel Nacional for dinner, only to run into another group of Americans. There are now more than 2,000 listings in Cuba on Airbnb. This week in Havana, every hotel room is booked, restaurants are full and every tour bus is rented out.

Leading the charge to Cuba are American businessmen, attracted by the enormous potential of a largely undeveloped country with a population of 11 million, one that’s only 90 miles from Florida. Rice growers from California and representatives from all the big hotel chains have been here. So have many other business leaders, including MasterCard, Google and Microsoft. Some deals have already been signed.

Yes, a second revolution is coming to Cuba with the normalization of relations with the U.S. The only question is, will Cuba be able to maintain its own identity and resist the “Americanization” of its country, with a Starbucks on every corner? That remains to be seen. While Kornbluh says the Cuban people have “high expectations that this change will be beneficial for their daily lives,” the running joke in Cuba is: “¡Cuba, sí; Yanquis, no sé!” Meaning “I don’t know what the Yankees will bring.”

One thing’s for sure: Big, positive change is coming to Cuba. And no matter how hard they may try in Congress, Marco Rubio, Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSchumer: Obama 'very amenable' to helping Senate Dems in midterms The Hill's Morning Report: Can Trump close the deal with North Korea? Senate must save itself by confirming Mike Pompeo MORE, Mario Díaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen can never stop it. 

Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.