By ANITA SNOW – Associated Press – February 18, 2015
HAVANA (AP) – Rolling toward customs with a 60-pound suitcase filled with clothing and electronics for friends, my stomach clenched when a female agent in a light green uniform approached. As a former longtime Cuba correspondent returning after nearly six years, I thought I knew what would come next: a search of my luggage by stoned-faced military men, a scolding, maybe even a fine.
Instead, I got a pass.
“Pasa, mi amor,” the agent said with a smile, directing me to the exit. “Go right on through, my love.”
It was the first sign of the more relaxed and hopeful atmosphere I found during a brief visit back to Havana this month, a feeling that didn’t exist during my 1999-2009 tenure. The differences I saw and felt made me realize how much my decade in Cuba had been characterized by anxiety and isolation, and what a different country it is becoming under President Raul Castro’s modest reforms. Everywhere I traveled around Havana, hopes were high for more change after Cuba and the U.S. announcement on Dec. 17 they would move toward a more normal relationship. Cubans seem especially keen for more visits by Americans.