AFP and AP
HAVANA, Cuba–Cubans erupted into celebration Wednesday at news of a historic renewal in relations with the United States, voicing hope the breakthrough would change their lives amid economic decay. In Havana’s old town, where overjoyed groups gathered in the street as the news spread, the phrase ��historic day�� was on many people’s lips as the more than 50-year-old Cold War standoff showed signs of ending. ��I have goosebumps all over,�� said Ernesto Perez, 52, who works at a cafeteria in the capital. In a sign of the communist island’s baby steps toward reform, Perez got the news on his cell phone �X devices President Raul Castro legalized shortly after taking power in 2006 during a health crisis for his older brother Fidel, the father of Cuba’s 1959 revolution. But in this country where the government still controls the media, Perez got the announcement from state news portal Cubadebate. ��It’s very important news that will change all our lives. I think everything is going to change. A lot of things can change, and for the better,�� he said. Many Cubans were at work or school when they got the news that the U.S. had agreed to revive diplomatic ties and ease its five-decade trade embargo �X an announcement made simultaneously in Havana and Washington by President Castro and his American counterpart Barack Obama. The announcement caught many by surprise, despite tentative signs of a thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations recently. Bank employee Amelia Gutierrez, who is seven months pregnant, said she got a knot in her throat when she realized her baby would grow up in a new era for U.S.-Cuban relations. ��He won’t have to live under the atmosphere of tension that has marked the relationship between Cuba and the United States for the past 50 years,�� said Gutierrez, 28. ��This is great news. It’s a historic day. Cuba and the United States are neighboring countries. There’s no reason they should get along so poorly,�� she told AFP. ��Only God knows if things will get better slowly or quickly. But this is a huge first step.�� Hopes for Economic Revival
Marlon Torrez, a 16-year-old student, said he hoped above all that the changes would help Cuba’s economy, which despite minor reforms has never been on solid footing since losing the vital support of the Soviet Union. ��This could open a lot of doors, especially in terms of trade between the two countries, which are very close neighbors,�� said Torrez, one of the 7.7 million people on this island of 11.1 million who have lived their whole lives under the U.S. embargo. Many Cubans were also overjoyed at the return of three prisoners jailed for more than 15 years in the United States on spying charges.
��It makes me incredibly happy that these three men can reunite with their families in Cuba. It’s about time,�� said Bertha Perez, a 58-year-old librarian at Simon Bolivar House. Hugo Cansio, a Cuban-American who runs a magazine called On Cuba, said the move was long overdue. ��Some of us have worked very hard for many years to bring about a change in policy between Cuba and the United States,�� the 50-year-old businessman said in an email to AFP. ��Today is a great day, a historic day, the beginning of a new dream, a new opportunity for all Cubans.�� ‘Cuban Five’
The ��Cuban Five�� refers to intelligence agents whose so-called ��Wasp Network�� operated in Florida in the 1990s. They were arrested in 1998 and later convicted on charges including conspiracy and failing to register as foreign agents.