Before the Revolution

Socialites and celebrities flocked to Cuba in the 1950s

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In protest of the government's corruption, Cubans immediately ransacked the casinos and destroyed the parking meters that Batista had installed. Castro also eliminated gambling and prostitution, a healthy move for the national identity, but not so much for the tourism industry.

More than 350,000 visitors came to Cuba in 1957; by 1961, the number of American tourists had dropped to around 4,000. The U.S. government, responding to increasing intolerance of Castro's communism, delivered a final blow by enacting the trade and travel embargo in 1963, still in place today, closing off the popular Caribbean playground to Americans.

Still, the excitement and solidarity brought by the new government didn't last long, Halley says. Many of Castro's supporters ended up fleeing when they realized his Communist intentions. Between 1959 and 1970, half a million Cubans left the country.

"It all happened so fast," says Halley, who boarded a plane with just one suitcase in 1960, expecting to come back in a few months. Almost 50 years later, she and many others who left are still waiting for a chance to return.

Natasha Del Toro, a journalist in Tampa Bay, Florida, has produced a short documentary for PBS Frontline World on Cuban artists.


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