Two years ago, Beyonce and Jay Z visited Cuba. While Americans visiting Cuba – by way of Mexico or Canada –wasn’t anything new, Jay and Bey’s visit was approved by the White House. What they couldn’t have known then was that at the end of 2014, President Barack Obama would announce that the U.S. and Cuba would work toward renewing relations after more than 50 years. In recent months, Cuba has seen its fair share of celebrities roll through.
This is just the beginning. Cuba and its residents are gearing up for the projected influx of visitors, who will travel both for leisure and business. Those who have the means to, both in and out of Cuba, are fixing up old houses and hotels, so that they can be used as conference rooms for business meetings, according to The Associated Press.
High-end clubs and bars have also been popping up around Cuba, with the AP saying that the amount of money being spent in one night is shocking to many Cubans.
One thing that remains unchanged is the embargo. In late September, after the presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro met for the second time since the two nations announced they would be renewing relations after more than 50 years of tension, Castro called for the 53-year embargo to end. He said that the two countries couldn’t normalize relations because of it, but it is unlikely Congress will vote to end it without seeing that Cuba’s political landscape is changing, according to The New York Times.
A lot has happened since Cuba and the U.S. made their first moves through a prisoner exchange in December 2014. Here’s our attempt to make sense of it all:
In July, JetBlue was offering five weekly charter flights to Cuba from John F. Kennedy International Airport. In September, the airline said they are ready for more lax rules ahead of a delegation meeting to discuss air services between Cuba and the U.S., according to CBS News. “We’re ready to go,” said Scott Laurence, senior vice president for airline planning at JetBlue. “We have plans on the shelf depending on how these air service talks turn out, and we’re ready to react immediately.”
Usher and Luda visit
Usher and Ludacris had a super fun best friend adventure in Cuba in September. They spend their time there rolling cigars and visiting clubs.
Though Google has not confirmed this, many outlets have reported that the company tried to offer Cuba wifi. However, Newsweek reported that a top Cuban official said that the country is not really feeling outside companies’ offer for free or low-cost Internet. He said that “the whole world knows that there is no Internet in Cuba because it has a high cost…. There are some people who want to give it to us for free, but not for Cuban people to communicate but to penetrate us and do ideological work for a new conquest.”
Francis Ford Coppola cooks
In July, Francis Ford Coppola returned to Cuba. He visited the International Film and Television School and held a series of informal conversations with film students. The best photo ops came from him cooking (or overseeing, really) a pasta meal.
In February, Cuba got Netflix, though it seems that for them it was more of a preemptive move before infrastructure was ready. The service was being offered at $7.99 a month, almost half of the $20 average monthly income on Cuba. Then, there’s that whole question of Internet not being readily available for most.
Rihanna shut it down
Rihanna shot the cover for Vanity Fair on her May visit to Cuba. Though she did some typical tourist stuff, she also shut it down. And by it, I mean the streets.
Unlike parts of American pop culture made available through El Paquete Semanal (Cuba’s version of the Internet), Bitcoin has not yet made a name for itself among the general populace. Cuban-American tech entrepreneur Fernando Villar founded BitcoinCuba, and in July, the first Bitcoin transaction transpired, according to the Huffington Post.
Villar and Bitcoin Cuba are trying to make it easier for people to learn about the currency through workshops. “Cubans are not using credit or debit cards and most do not have a bank account,” he said. “Bitcoin and blockchain can serve the needs of the unbanked, including entrepreneurs and individuals on the island.”
Floyd Mayweather enjoyed boxing
Floyd Mayweather bonded with Cubans through boxing.
Verizon is the first carrier to offer roaming to Cuba, so for those who visit, texting and social media is now possible. It’s also not cheap. Calls are $2.99/minute, and data is $2.05/megabyte. “By offering international services while traveling in Cuba, we are making it simple and easy for customers to stay connected wherever and whenever they choose,” said Verizon’s Vice President of Cultural and Segment Marketing Javier Farfan.
Airbnb launched in Cuba in April. By July, there were already more than 3,000 properties listed, according to CNN. This month, Airbnb revealed that Cuba and Philadelphia are two of their fastest-growing markets in the last six months, Business Insider reports. Pope Francis’ visit to both places seems to be partly responsible. Meanwhile, hotels wait for restrictions to ease.
In September, Carnival announced that it’s proposed cruises will include Cienfugos and Ernest Hemingway fave Santiago de Cuba, according to The Washington Times. Carnival still hasn’t gotten approval from Cuba, but the U.S. has already signed off on it. Travel to Cuba still remains an option for only some people, but Carnival said that their cruises qualify for the “people-to-people” cultural exchange program because the trips will “focus on supporting cultural exchange and economic development for the Cuban people and include a variety of artistic, educational, and humanitarian activities.” So, for once, you can travel like Jay Z and Beyoncé.
The cruises will start in May 2016 if approved.
As of Oct. 5, Victor, an on-demand charter service, began offering private jet service from 19 U.S. cities. The flight and a customized travel plan cost $40,000 and they can be ordered using a smartphone, according to Mashable.
Public opinion continues to be divided
Cuba is a difficult subject. Some are against the end of the embargo, because they believe it means supporting the Castros and a regime that hurt so many Cuban families. Outside of the United Nations General Assembly meeting, a group of Cubans held signs that denounced the thawing relations between Cuba and the US. Others feel that renewed relations mean the end of Cuba as it exists now, before it is ruined by the U.S.’s influence.
On the flip side, there are people who think that the embargo didn’t work because it did nothing to stop Fidel Castro’s grip on power, and instead it continued to be harmful to the citizens.