Cuba on Instagram: Tourists give Americans unfettered view of Havana

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Havana Is Open for Business

The city of Havana is going to great lengths to prepare for Barack Obama's historic visit this month, which is taking place a year after the U.S. and Cuba restored diplomatic relations that were severed from years of Cold War-era drama. Vocativ unearthed a stash of Instagram photos that shows the capital city is planning to look its best for the visit on March 20th.

People in Havana are uploading photos of newly-painted buildings, men working at construction sites, newly-erected scaffolding and taxis decorated with tiny American flags.

Preparations "are in full swing," according to Ben Raderstorf, a program assistant with Inter-American Dialogue's Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program, a Washington D.C.-based think tank that focuses on Latin America.

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"The city, for all its charm, is visibly in need of a face lift. Buildings, streets, landmarks and infrastructure are crumbling badly," Raderstorf said in an email to Vocativ. "In particular, the Latinoamericano Stadium—which will play host to the exhibition game that the President will attend on March 22—has been the focus of intense restoration work (in large part funded by Major League Baseball)."

Raderstorf added that the effort isn't surprising—though the Cuban government remains distrustful of the U.S., Obama is extremely popular on the island. In addition to normalizing relations, Obama also reduced restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba, as well. "The few opinion polls that exist suggest that overwhelming majorities of Cubans support the ongoing normalization and look to this visit with anticipation."

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Cuba has one of the lowest rates of Internet penetration and social media access in the world, according to rankings from Freedom House, a democracy watchdog. This means many of the photos seen below are shared by Havana's tourists from around the world.

James Baer, a senior research fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) who visited in January, told Vocativ in an email about a recent correspondence he had with a Cuban national.

"[I] asked them what they thought about the visit by Obama. One said the following: 'We are awaiting the visits of [Secretary of State] Kerry and Obama and hope they open a new opportunity for the Island and encourage democracy and other liberties in our country. We shall see what happens.'"

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Baer, who clarified that his contact is not a dissident or someone who opposes the Castro regime, said he believes such a response reflects accurately what many Cubans feel at the moment.

"The official encouragement of Obama's visit in the efforts to clean up Havana indicates the importance of more normal relations between the U.S. and Cuba for trade and economic opportunities as well as prestige for the regime," he said, adding, however, that Havana's Capitolio has been undergoing repairs for a while prior to Obama's visit. "Ordinary Cubans are excited because they hope it may increase the pace of change."

Obama will be the second U.S. president to visit Cuba, and the first since the country's revolution in 1959, when Fidel Castro overthrew a pro-American government led by Fulgenico Batista.

Obama is scheduled to watch a Major League Baseball exhibition game as well as address Cubans on state television.

The post Cuba On Instagram: Tourists Give Americans Unfettered View Of Havana appeared first on Vocativ.

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Cuba on Instagram: Tourists give Americans unfettered view of Havana
Refrigerator magnets are displayed for sale in a tourist shop, several showing images of U.S. President Barack Obama, at a market in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. President Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A taxi pedals his bicycle, decorated with Cuban and U.S. flags, as he transports a woman holding a sleeping girl, near the Capitolio in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A fighting rooster wearing a leash on its ankle waits in the sun for its owner in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A youth fishes by hand using fishing line on the shores of Regla, as commuters cross the bay by ferry to Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. People who fish here tend to catch small sardines and a fish known as "bonito." U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
An artisan who goes by the nickname Buby displays several refrigerator magnets of U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama for sale at a souvenir shop in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. Obama is traveling to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A classic American convertible sits parked outside the National Theatre where U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to speak during his upcoming trip, in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20 for a trip that will mark a watershed moment in U.S.-Cuba relations, making Obama the first sitting U.S. president to set foot on the island in nearly seven decades. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
A taxi driving a classic American car passes a billboard that reads in Spanish: "Long live free Cuba" in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. The trip will mark a watershed moment in U.S.-Cuba relations, making Obama the first sitting U.S. president to set foot on the island in nearly seven decades. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
A "quinceanera" poses during her photo session in front of the cathedral as tourists line up to enter the building, in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Tourists walk next to an weathered old photo of Ernest Hemingway and Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A man enters a building that has a mural with the face of a woman, in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
An elderly woman attends an outdoor Tai Chi session in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Workers repair the street in front of the Capitolio in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A youth fishes by hand using fishing line on the shores of Regla, as commuters cross the bay by ferry to Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. People who fish here tend to catch small sardines and a fish known as "bonito." U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
The artisan called "Buby" displays several refrigerator magnets showing images of U.S. President Barack Obama, for sale in a tourist shop in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. President Barack Obama is traveling to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
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