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This powerful quote captures what life is like for Cubans under embargo

Cuban writer Yoani Sanchez speaking in Mexico
Cuban writer Yoani Sanchez speaking in Mexico
Jose Castanares/AFP/Getty

The US embargo on Cuba is bad for Cubans, and the authoritarianism of the Castro government is bad for Cubans. These are two crucially important and true points you will see referenced many times in discussion of why the United States and Cuba agreed to begin normalizing relations after 50-plus years of hostility.

It is difficult to fully convey just how true those two facts are, how they feel for Cubans, and the degree to which the American embargo and Castro's brutality merged to isolate Cubans from the world.

But Yoani Sánchez, a Cuban dissident writer, articulated it heart-breakingly well, in a 2008 interview with New York Times columnist Roger Cohen. When Cohen asked her why the Cubans he saw sitting on Havana's seawall never seemed to look outward to the ocean, this is how she answered:

"We live turned away from the sea because it does not connect us, it encloses us. There is no movement on it. People are not allowed to buy boats because if they had boats, they would go to Florida. We are left, as one of our poets put it, with the unhappy circumstance of water at every turn."

This feeling of being so isolated, so walled in, that even the blue Caribbean has come to look like a prison wall is central to understanding the role that the official US-Cuban hostility has played in Cubans' lives, and why the beginning of the end of that hostility is so important.

None of those forces were ever going to end overnight, and the terms of this US-Cuba deal make that clear. The embargo will remain in place, just weakened — only Congress can fully end it. And the Castro government will still be an oppressive, authoritarian dictatorship. But travel restrictions and trade restrictions will ease, and Castro is allowing wider Internet access on the island. The Cuban circumstance of being surrounded by water — something most people would envy — will become a little less unhappy.

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