-Analysis-

HAVANA — The Cubans are not going to forget the picture of Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama talking at the recent Summit of the Americas in Panama.

The slogans of "Down with Imperialism" or "Yes to Cuba, No to Yankees," are a thing of the past. The Caribbean island that defied its powerful neighbor and resisted the tide of history for 50 years as it sought to impose its socialist model, finally understood that this revolutionary energy was exhausted.

The leadership led by the Castro brothers has had to accept that at least as far as the economy was concerned, it had failed — even if it can still defend its model for universal healthcare and education, and maintaining dignity for all rungs of society, which has become an example for many to follow in Latin America.
 
The Cubans were forced toward the conclusion that the top-down authoritarian model, isolation, curbed liberties and the castrating of private enterprise were no longer viable. This has left them facing a new revolution that is already displaying an unstoppable momentum: we can call it the "self-employed" revolution. It is the triumph of private enterprise, creativity and of individual verve and dynamism over the state's attempts to own all means of production and control society at large.
 
 
Obama and Castro shook hands at the Summit of the Americas — Photo: Estudios Revolucion / ZUMA
 
For the past eight years since taking power, Raúl Castro has been opening the doors to this new dynamic, which he saw as a matter of social urgency. Daily, we see more and more Cubans abandoning their public-sector and civil service jobs and trying to earn a living by working for themselves. This increasing flexibility has prompted an explosion of personal tastes, in the form of private eateries of all levels, bars and cafés, musical and artistic groups and a range of services — though it still excludes all businesses linked to the Internet, which is still tightly controlled by the socialist regime that fears the free flow of information and links to the rest of the world.
 
New lab for the Americas
 
President Castro's rural policies have also been innovative. He has allowed the leasing of abandoned land plots, letting peasants to form or join cooperative associations to produce food. Part of this is sold to the state, and outstanding yields may be sold on the market, which has made farming an important source of income for country folk. Cuba used to import a good deal of its food, and finding fresh produce in markets was difficult. This particular opening, one of the most important so far, has already had an undeniable impact on all of Cuba's economy.
 
Havana hotels have recovered their dynamic as cosmopolitan centers filled already with North American and European tourists. Old Havana, the city's historic district, is experiencing an unstoppable economic recovery. It represents alongside the neighborhoods of El Vedado and Miramar with their early 20th century houses, the country's wealth of urban architecture, which has, thanks to the socialist regime, been protected from real-estate development and speculation that have devastated the traditional fabric of Latin American cities. Havana is, for now, intact. 
 
The picture of Presidents Castro and Obama together is the start of an interesting transition in Cuba. Like 50 years ago, it could again become a laboratory of social and economic experimentation, and teach other North and South Americans a thing or two.