What does a Cuban innovator await? Amazon and Home Depot, for starters

Isis Maria Salcines Milla inspects lettuce at her urban organic farm in the Havana suburb of Alamar. The farm has won worldwide praise for its work in sustainable farming.

Story highlights

  • Isis Maria Salcines Milla works on an organic farm, but she dreams of access to Amazon Prime and Home Depot
  • CNN talks to island residents who express hopes and concerns as the economic freeze with the United States starts to thaw

Havana, Cuba (CNN)Amidst acres of lettuce fields on a thriving 25-acre organic community farm in the sleepy Havana suburb of Alamar, Isis Maria Salcines Milla tells me the surprising things she would love to get her hands on if the United States trade embargo were to be repealed: "Amazon Prime," "Home Depot."

Bold words for a young agronomist raised on a healthy diet of socialism, but she dreams of a day where she cannot only host her idol, first lady Michelle Obama, but use the conveniences found 90 miles north to make her farm do better.
    Most Cubans you talk to will quickly share their disgust at the more than 50-year-old American economic blockade of their country.
    And while President Barack Obama has issued some executive orders that has taken a degree of the sting away, a complete scrapping of the embargo must come by way of Congress.
    The 150 employees of the Vivero Alamar farm make do with their antiquated equipment.
    Salcines, who was featured in the 2014 independent documentary "Tierralismo," appreciates the progress her country and the United States are making, but she insists it's not enough.
    "We need the investment, the input. We have a lot of knowledge, but the market is empty," she laments.
    Most Republicans support keeping the embargo in place. That includes White House hopeful Ted Cruz, who calls it "leverage." Salcines says she could not disagree more.
    "It's terrible for both parts, for the people from Cuba because the embargo isn't easy; we won't die, but we need to take a rest and start a new moment."

    A view from both sides

    Someone who wouldn't argue that Cuba needs foreign investment in its food sector is Imogene Tondre.
    The project director for a U.S.-based nonprofit brings a different perspective to things because she's American. Tondre grew up in Northern California, but after becoming involved with civic and social projects involving Cuba over the years, she made the move to the island in 2010.
    She's seen food sit and rot simply because the infrastructure didn't exist to transport it from one side of the island to the other. But she says Washington has to take the right approach if a partnership with Havana is going to truly work:
    "We definitely need foreign investment, if the United States is also kind of willing to accept the terms."
    Right now, she's working on starting a culinary center that would host Cuban and international chefs, acting both as a restaurant and a learning center. But her focus, she says, is helping Cuban people.
    "Our project is important because it's not about opening another restaurant for tourists; it's about getting healthy food to the Cuban people," she explains.
    She says it's "insulting" to think a strong change toward close relations with America would be a game-changer for life in Cuba, saying "Cuba has been going through internal changes for many years, and there's been many domestic reforms.
    "It doesn't need to imitate any other country; it never has. It's always been resistant to all the pressures to turn into something else."

    'Thirsty for finding a partner'

    Arturo Lopez Levy, a University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley lecturer and former Cuban government economic analyst , says relations are on the right path -- and that the time is now.
    "Cubans have been thirsty for finding a partner," he says.
    Being able to provide a unusual context as someone who has been a resident of both countries has made him an in-demand voice on U.S.-Cuban issues.
    "There were a lot of changes that people like me who live in the United States are able to experience," he explains.
    Back in Alamar, Salcines puts it even more plainly to describe her feelings about the potential opportunities there for her country, quoting something her father likes to say:
    "For Cuba, the United States is closer to us than God."