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Will ordinary Cubans reap the spoils of American tourism?

Who will benefit if the US lifts travel restrictions to Cuba — the Cuban government or ordinary Cubans?

“American tourists are going to want to come see what it is that’s made people so passionate about Cuba for all these years,” said Gorry.

If curious American visitors do venture beyond the beach resorts and visit the island’s towns and cities, plenty of ordinary Cubans are likely to profit. Taxi drivers, bartenders, tour guides and operators of private restaurants are among the many Cubans who would get an immediate economic boost from the Americans.

“We are waiting for the Americans to come. It would be great for us,” said Yovani Santi, who sells handmade refrigerator magnets, bracelets and other knickknacks from a stall he rents from the government in an Old Havana market hall that overlooks the city’s harbor. Next door were port terminals wide enough to park a cruise ship, but they were all empty.

“If American people can come here and cruise ships can come into our port, we’ll have a lot of tourists here,” said Santi, who has been a handicraft vendor for 14 years. “Your people are very good people,” he said.

In the past few weeks, the debate over U.S. travel restrictions has increasingly become intertwined with Cuba’s human rights record, after New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a scathing report on Cuba’s treatment of dissidents and others who speak out against the Castro government’s one-party state.

But none of Cuba’s most prominent government opponents support the travel ban. Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, who remains largely unknown on the island but has a huge international following among Cubans living abroad, sent a letter to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) that was read aloud at the Congressional hearing last month on U.S. travel restrictions.

“Cuban citizens, for our part, would benefit from the injection of material resources and money that these tourists from the north would spend in alternative services networks,” Sanchez wrote.

“Without a doubt, economic autonomy would then result in ideological and political autonomy, in real empowerment,” she argued. “The natural cultural, historical and family ties between both peoples could take shape without the shadow of the current regulations and prohibitions.”

Martha Beatriz Roque, one of the Castro government’s most outspoken critics on the island, said she isn’t so optimistic. But she said she opposes the travel ban on principle. “I don’t think it’s going to change the Cuban government at all,” said Beatriz Roque in her tiny Havana apartment, where a sticker on the front door read “CAMBIO” (Change).

“But I believe in democracy and freedom,” she added. “I think everyone should have the freedom to travel, which is something that the Cuban people lack. So if we’re fighting here for democracy, how can we try to restrict the freedom of the American people?”