Cuba’s New Now

After half a century under Fidel, Cubans feel a wary sense of possibility. But this time, don’t expect a revolution.

  1. “I want to show you where we’re hiding it,” Eduardo said.

    Bad idea, I said. Someone will notice the foreigner and wreck the plan.

    “No, I figured it out,” Eduardo said. “You won’t get out of the car. I’ll drive by, slowly, not so slow that we attract attention. I’ll tell you when to look. Be discreet.”

    He had borrowed a friend’s máquina, which means “machine” but is also what Cubans call the old American cars that are ubiquitous in the Havana souvenir postcards. This one was a 1956 Plymouth of a lurid color that I teased him about, but I pulled the passenger door shut gently, the way Cubans always remind you to, out of respect for their máquinas’ advanced age. Now we were driving along the coast, some distance from Havana, into the coastal town where Eduardo and nine other men had paid a guy, in secret, to build a boat sturdy enough to motor them all out of Cuba at once.

    “There,” Eduardo said, and slowed the Plymouth. Between two peeling-paint buildings, on the inland side of the street, a narrow alley ended in a windowless structure the size of a one-car garage. “We’ll have to carry it out and wheel it up the alley,” he said. “Then it’s a whole block along this main street, toward that gravel that leads into the water. We’ll wait until after midnight. But navy helicopters patrol offshore.”

    He peered into his rearview mirror at the empty street behind him, concentrating, so I shut up. Eduardo is 35, a light-skinned Cuban with short brown hair and a wrestler’s build, ...