Al Diaz / Miami Herald

On Saturday, Cuba’s communist leaders will launch their seventh party congress – a gathering to set the island’s future political and economic course. It will run through Tuesday, April 19.

The last congress was held five years ago – but since then, Cuba has normalized relations with its sworn cold-war enemy, the United States.

When a man claiming to have on a suicide vest demanded to be flown to Cyprus this week, it wasn't terrorism as we know it. Instead, it was reminiscent of the skyjackings once commonplace in the U.S.

In his book The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking, Brendan Koerner writes that from 1961 to 1972, nearly 160 planes were hijacked in the U.S. Those early hijackings all had one thing in common: Cuba.

Tom Hudson /

In his historic speech from Havana last week, President Obama called for a number of changes in Cuba. More human rights. More economic reform.

But the one that seemed to elicit the most applause from Cubans was his call for more Internet – which Obama said “should be available across the island so that Cubans can connect to the wider world – and to one of the greatest engines of growth in human history.”

Only 5 percent of the island’s 11 million people have full household access to the Web. That’s one of the lowest –and slowest – Internet coverage rates in the world.

Al Diaz / Miami Herald

It’s been 15 months since President Obama placed a phone call from the Oval Office in the White House to Havana, Cuba. He was calling Raul Castro. That conversation upturned more than a half century of American foreign policy as relations have moved from silent isolation to a presidential visit. A lot of history has been made in those short 15 months. Here's some of that history by the numbers:


88 • number of years since a sitting U.S. president visited Cuba


Shortly after Barack Obama’s historic speech in Havana Tuesday morning, I met a smart, 34-year-old Cuban accountant named Kariel González in the Vedado district.

He’d listened to President Obama on the radio, and he was cheering the U.S. leader's last line – ¡Sí Se Puede! – a Spanish rendering of his iconic campaign slogan, Yes We Can!

González said he'd already heard Cubans repeat the soundbite on the sidewalks. “It’s the sort of thing that makes Obama so popular on the island,” he told me.

Cubans Embrace President Obama's Call For Change On The Island

Mar 23, 2016
Tim Padgett /

It's fairly apparent that President Obama's historic speech to Cubans yesterday was received positively on the island.

Obama called for democracy, free expression and a freer economy during his 35-minute speech at the Gran Teatro in Old Havana Tuesday morning. Obama even directly addressed Cuban leader Raúl Castro, who was in the audience, telling him the U.S. presidential visit means he no longer needs to fear Cuba's Cold War foe.

"I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas," Obama declared in perhaps the linchpin line of his speech.

  President Obama's speech in Havana.

Tim Padgett /

Rubén Valladares just might be one of the most important entrepreneurs in Cuba.

No, he’s not a tourism tycoon. He’s not a tech titan.

Truth is, he makes…paper bags.

“But we are the biggest provider of bags in Cuba,” says Valladares, a slender, middle-aged man who finishes his sentences with the sort of raspy chuckle that helps people get through each trying day on this island.

Tom Hudson/WLRN

Elizabeth Duconge says she has quadrupled her income in the past two months. She had been an art curator in Havana. Now she works at a paladar in the Vedado district here.

Paladares are privately owned restaurants and some of the most visible reforms of the Cuban economy. Duconge said she makes 30 Cuban pesos a week waitressing at La Moraleja.

The Sunshine Economy in Cuba

Mar 21, 2016
Tom Hudson

Elizabeth Duconge says she has quadrupled her income in the past two months. She had been an art curator in Havana. Now she works at a paladar in the Vedado district here. Paladares are privately owned restaurants and some of the most visible reforms of the Cuban economy. Duconge said she makes $30 Cuban pesos a week waitressing at La Moraleja. “I didn’t have a way to support myself and my family,” she said a few hours before President Obama arrived in Cuba on Sunday. “I started to work here and it changed. Now I can help my family and support myself.

Tom Hudson /

President Obama is betting that business owners will be engines of change in communist Cuba. Especially millennials. Two of them will meet the President on Monday in Havana – and then head to Miami this summer for more intense biz training.

Oscar Matienzo is a 25-year-old Afro-Cuban with a sharp head for fashion and computer marketing. He’s put both those talents to work for Procle, the private clothing business his family owns in Havana.

Tim Padgett /

Shortly before President Obama arrived in Cuba today, a human rights march turned into an ugly street confrontation - an incident that served to send Obama two opposing messages.

The President's historic visit to Havana this week is largely focused on the opening of economic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. But Cuba’s communist government and its pro-democracy dissidents are making it clear he can’t ignore the island’s political challenges.

Tom Hudson /

Cubans are getting ready for President Obama's historic three-day visit to their country starting Sunday. But the mood of the Cuban government and that of ordinary Cubans seem a bit different.

Tom Hudson / WLRN

President Obama is going to Cuba this weekend.

WLRN's Tom Hudson and Tim Padgett are there awaiting Obama's visit. What is the mood in Havana ahead of the historic trip? And they're looking at the changes that have occurred since the two nations started talking again.

Donald Trump looks like the Republican nominee in this presidential election, while Florida's Senator Marco Rubio is back in the halls of the senate, now that’s he no longer running for president. But, what do we make of his claim that he won’t return to politics after January?