Is Cuba ready for the big business, tourism that U.S. will bring?

U.S. and Cuban diplomats resumed talks to iron out details of normalizing relations after decades of hostility. Judy Woodruff learns more from senior correspondent Jeffrey Brown, reporting from Cuba, and chief foreign correspondent Margaret Warner, who has been following the talks in Washington.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Officials from the U.S. and Cuba resumed talks today in Washington. They're trying to iron out the details of reestablishing diplomatic relations, which were broken off more than 50 years ago.

    At issue today, what it will take to reopen embassies in each other's capitals? In December, Presidents Obama and Castro announced that they reestablish ties. And meeting in Panama, they reaffirmed that commitment.

    Our own Jeffrey Brown is in Cuba all this week, reporting on what the opening up of that country means for them. And chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner has been following the progress of the talks here.

    And we welcome both of you.

    So, Margaret, you have been following these talks. What's the latest?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The latest is, Judy, that they have wrapped up for the day and there is still no deal. Now, this is the fourth time they have met over the fairly confined issue of opening up embassies in each other's capitals. And it's proved tougher than they thought.

    That said, apparently, things went encouragingly enough today that the two negotiators, Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary, and her counterpart from Cuba, are having back-to-back news conferences tomorrow morning here in Washington. But then Ms. Vidal is returning to Havana.

    There is some concern among U.S. officials that Cuba may be dragging its feet here a bit. Cuba has gotten what it wanted here, which was to have the president take it off the state sponsors of terrorism list and also help in finding a U.S. bank that was willing to handle Cuban money for the interests section.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Right.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The U.S., however, has not gotten satisfaction on what it wants to reopen an embassy, which is that U.S. diplomats can travel around the country to Cuba, two, that they can receive equipment and documents and secure containers.

    And, then, three, President Castro threw in a new issue last week, in which he was very critical of these pro-democracy programs that the U.S. runs out of the interests section, which trains independent journalists, for example.

    So if you look at what's tying those issues together, there is a bit of paranoia on the part of the Cuban government officials that the U.S. is going to use this access to stir up dissent in Cuba. And though President Obama says it's not going to try to change the political system in Cuba, given the history, there is perhaps understandable concern on the Cubans' part.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, it's not just the opening of the embassy.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    No.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It's what would happen with that embassy being there.

    So, Jeff, you have been in Havana for the last few days. Are people talking about it? Are they aware of these negotiations going on and what are they saying about it?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Oh, very much so, Judy. Everyone's paying attention here.

    Even today, just talking to people on the street, they were aware of watching the news and following even these talks that Margaret's talking about in Washington. And everybody talks about what happened since December. Any number of people said they never expected this kind of thing to happen in their lifetimes.

    Everybody talks about it with real hope, actually, caution, but hope. And the hope is really around two important things, the economy. The economy is really bad here. People are — people scrounging for a living. They're hoping that the opening can make a real difference. We heard that from any number of people.

    The other thing is just the sense of isolation. Remember, this is how people have lived with the embargo and with this isolation from the U.S. and from much of the world for so long that we hear about the possibility for opening that up.

    Here's a couple of people, some clips of some people we talked to just in the last day or two. One is a woman who runs a small craft shop, which is, of course, in itself, another sign of what's happening here in Cuba, opening up a little to the private Margaret. And the second is a young man who's an athlete who's interested in travel and he thinks maybe there will some hope for that.

    What do you think about U.S. and Cuba relations now?

  • MADELINE SUAREZ:

    I think it's perfect. It's amazing, this opportunity that we have here to meet people that, for 56 years, we haven't been in touch with each other. So it's beautiful to know each other and start relationships.

  • MAN (through interpreter):

    For many years, we have thought this should be resolved. It is very good to improve relations, so that everything flows better. The society improves, the blockade, all these things that have been affecting us many years.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You hear the optimism, but also there is real caution about what exactly is going to happen, how fast it can — it will happen and how far it will go.

    And I should say, one thing that ties a lot of this together is the Internet. Everybody talks about how disconnected this place is, whether you're just trying to communicate around the world or whether you're trying to have a business. And we feel it here. You're very disconnected. Opening of the Internet would be a real opening in this — for this island.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, Margaret, listening to what these people are saying, are these expectations that can be fulfilled by these talks, these negotiations?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Well, down the line, yes, Judy, but it's interesting that they focused on a couple things that in fact either Congress or the president has eased restrictions on.

    So, one is Internet/telecommunications. Congress decided a number of years ago. It was sort of all a part of, let's expose the Cuban people to more information. So the president then announced that restrictions — any restrictions on American companies going down, you know, Verizon, AT&T, whoever, to help set up a real infrastructure for the Internet would be relaxed and these American companies could do it.

    But, as Jeff indicated, only 5 percent of this island even has Internet penetration, only 5 percent of its citizens. And so American companies who — and they desperately need foreign investment, on the other hand, to help the economy. Well, American companies have said, we can't run a business out of here without high-speed Internet access.

    And the Cubans know that. At the same time, it is a means of control, both of political thought and also frankly of business, of just knowing what everybody is doing. And the second thing that was — Jeff seemed to mention was tourism. And there again, large-scale tourism, the big hotels are all owned, apparently, by the son-in-law of President Raul Castro.

    And the idea that big American firms can go in there and establish big-scale tourist facilities is still a long way off. And so, yes, Airbnb has got 2,000 sign-ups from people with rooms in their private homes, but it's a way to go.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, Jeff, you were telling me earlier that whatever happens from these talks, things are already changing in Cuba.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, I mean, you can sort of see it on the streets. You see fewer of the revolutionary slogans than you used to see, I'm told.

    You see a lot of — I happen to be here in a very festive time. There's a lot of tourists, including a lot of American tourists. We have been told that a lot of people, a lot of interests coming right after December. The Minnesota Orchestra was just here, a big cultural exchange. The Havana biennial, one of the reasons I'm here, is — is on, a big international festival.

    So, there's a lot of people, there's a lot of energy. At the same time, though, the kinds of things Margaret was just talking about, the infrastructure problem is just so obvious here. And the Internet, we have talked about. The hotel space, there's just not that much if they're going to start having people, the banking system, credit cards. We can't use our credit cards here.

    Getting around, those old cars, yes, they're on the street, and it's — they look great, but it's a sign of how poor people are here, that there's not that many cars available to people. So, all kinds of, as I said, hope for what's possible here, but it's so obvious to see just walking around, in a very beautiful city you can see behind me, but one that is crumbling in many ways as well.

    So, many questions about what's to come — even if it did open to some development, the kinds of things Margaret was just talking about, who would come in and take over those things? What's the future of this city and this country? Big questions.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So many contrasts.

    Jeffrey Brown reporting all this week from Havana, Margaret here in Washington, thank you both.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Thank you, Judy.

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