Thursday, February 26, 2015

Reality sinks in for many Cubans on eve of talks with US

Reality sinks in for many Cubans on eve of talks with US

HAVANA (AP) — The jubilation that greeted the announcement of U.S.-Cuban
detente two months ago has faded to resignation for many Cubans who are
realizing they're at the start of a long process unlikely to ease their
daily struggles anytime soon.

Dreams of U.S. products flooding Havana stores and easy visits to family
members in Florida have dissipated, in part because of a coordinated
campaign by Cuban state media and officials to lower expectations and
remind people that the main planks of the half-century-old U.S. trade
embargo remain in place.

As Cuban officials head to Washington for a second round of talks on
restoring diplomatic relations Friday, many working-class islanders say
they no longer expect immediate changes in their lives regardless of
what emerges from the negotiations.

"The great expectations that surged with the news that first day have
been lowered a lot and now the man in the street barely talks about it
anymore," said Magali Delgado, a retired worker in the Ministry of
Foreign Commerce who subsists on a pension of $11 a month. "People are
so desperate ... they wanted immediate, concrete results."

It's a stark contrast to the giddy moments on Dec. 17 when Cubans
cheered in the streets after Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro
announced that they were exchanging imprisoned spies, moving to reopen
embassies in Havana and Washington, and seeking to normalize their
countries' long-dysfunctional relationship.

"Expectations went far beyond what was in the announcements," said
Joaquin Borges, a sociologist and widely read cultural critic. "Some
people misunderstood things, particularly on the street, as if
everything was going to be solved and the shortages that Cuba has had
because of the embargo and the economic crisis were going to be resolved
from one day to another."

Gustavo Machin, Cuba's deputy head of U.S. relations, said the communist
government felt it needed to make clear to its people and the rest of
the world that an opening with the U.S. did not mean things would change

"I think that not just Cubans but Americans and the whole world needed
to be made clear about the reality of what was being announced and
unfortunately the expectations had to be lowered," Machin said.

But pessimism is far from universal.

Obama's easing of restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba and the
quadrupling of limits on remittances are expected to have a dramatic
short-term impact on the privileged class of Cubans with links to the
global economy. There are also thousands of motivated, highly educated
young people who hope to seize on the opening with the U.S. as a chance
to move up into greater prosperity.

"I'm an optimist. I have a vision of a better future," Jose Torres, a
nurse, said as he stood on a street corner checking text messages on his
smartphone. "Better Internet, better in the sense of travel to other
countries, exporting Cuban goods, importing U.S. goods ... having access
to Facebook and Google."

The dour mood is strongest among Cubans who lack ties to the
tourist-fueled economy, family members abroad to send them money or a
sense that they can transition into one of the economic sectors boosted
by tighter ties with the United States. Virtually all the proposed new
economic links between the countries involve Cuba's private sector,
which has grown to as much as 40 percent of total employment, according
to a 2013 Brookings Institute study.

"There's a new generation that's mastered the Internet, that's mastered
computing, that, yes, has possibilities," bicycle-taxi driver Alberto
Rodriguez said as he cleaned dirt from his cab's gears and chain on a
street in Old Havana. "I'm older and I don't have what it takes to
compete in this market."

Alexis Ramos, a janitor in a medical clinic, said grimly, "I expect the
rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer."

A senior State Department official, who insisted on anonymity, said
Wednesday that U.S. officials would be delighted to reopen their Havana
embassy before April's Summit of the Americas in Panama, which both
Obama and Castro are expected to attend.

But the countries still appear far apart on some central issues,
particularly Cuba's presence on a U.S. list of state sponsors of
international terrorism. While Obama has all but said Cuba will be
removed from the list, the State Department official said Washington
sees the process as separate from the diplomatic talks with Cuba and any
holdup linked to the terror list is "a delay of their own making."

View gallery
Roberto Alvarez, 47, right, chats with friends backdropped by a wall
decorated with images of Cuban …
Officials in Havana disagree.

Machin, Cuba's deputy head of U.S. relations, said that while removal
from the list isn't a formal condition for the re-establishment of
relations, significant progress will be impossible without progress on
the issue.

"How can we explain to the Cuban people, to the U.S., to Latin America,
to the whole world, that Cuba and the U.S. are re-establishing
diplomatic relations and Cuba is still on the list?"


Associated Press writers Anne-Marie Garcia and Andrea Rodriguez
contributed to this report.


Michael Weissenstein on Twitter:

Source: Reality sinks in for many Cubans on eve of talks with US - Yahoo
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