This week presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro shook hands in a historic meeting, and the normalisation of relations between America and Cuba has already started to have an impact on Cuban society.
Co-operatives continue to play an important role in decentralising the Cuban economy from state-controlled to citizen-controlled enterprises.
In 2011, the Cuban government began the first reforms to enable the transitioning of state-owned farms and enterprises into co-operatives. These changes gave people the chance to form co-operatives in other sectors, including education.
The transition is slow, with only 22 new co-operatives created last year in sectors other than agriculture. Nevertheless, with the relieving of tensions between the USA and Cuba, the demand for English classes has increased. The economic reforms have also attracted investment from Cubans living abroad.
Five years ago a group of teachers set up the Cuban School of Foreign Languages, a network of co-operative schools to teach English and the arts. It already has four branches in Havana and is opening another two in the western province of Pinar del Rio. Each of the branches works with one public school in the area and sends a teacher to the school to teach English lessons. Around 800 students across Cuba are taking classes through the network.
The school provides online English grammar and essay writing courses. More specialised classes are also available for professionals in different sectors, from business to nursing, tourism, catering and flight attendants. The network is the first Cuban institution to offer such courses.
The Cuban government has been placing a stronger emphasis on English recently, partly due to looser trade restrictions – which have also led to more tourists visiting the country. Between January and May 2015, there was an overall rise of 14% in tourism. US citizens are also more likely to visit the island now; last year 36% more American nationals visited Cuba between January and May.
In September 2015 the Communist party also announced a new English proficiency requirement for Cuban college students. This means that students unable to speak English will not be able to graduate.
In his final speech as part of his visit in Cuba, President Obama praised its people for setting up co-operatives.
He said: “In a global economy powered by ideas and information, a country’s greatest asset is its people. In the United States, we have a clear monument to what the Cuban people can build — it’s called Miami. Here in Havana, we see that same talent in self-employed initiatives, co-operatives, and old cars that still run.”