- NEW: “We are still in a situation that is just beginning,” one Cuban-American says
- Church bells ring in Havana as Cuban president announces easing of relations with U.S.
- At a popular Miami restaurant, there’s anger about a change in U.S.-Cuban relations
- Some Cuban dissidents worry that their concerns will now be overlooked
Havana (CNN) — Church bells rang out Wednesday afternoon in Havana, marking a major moment in history — Cuba and the United States are easing diplomatic relations after decades of ice-cold tension.
Word of the massive change was met with passionate opinions and some protests in the United States. And tearful celebrations erupted in the streets of the island nation after President Raul Castro announced the news in a televised address there.
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But there was uncertainty and some anger amidst the joy.
Dissident Cuban blogger Yusaby Perez tweeted that his neighbor asked him if a change in U.S.-Cuban trade relations would mean that he could finally afford to buy meat.
“Let’s see if the embargo can be lifted also for better relations, so our quality of life can improve, so we can get more food, more things from other countries,” Alexandro Perez told a Reuters journalist in Havana.
Dissidents worried that their concerns will now be overlooked.
Yoani Sanchez, a well known Cuban blogger, decried what she described as a carefully plotted victory for the Castro regime in the swap of detained U.S. contractor Alan Gross for Cuban spies imprisoned in America.
“With the main obstacle for the re-establishment of relations eliminated, the only unknown is the next step,” she wrote in a column for 14ymedio.com. “Is the Cuban government planning another move to return to a position of force with the U.S. government? Or this time are all the cards on the table, before the weary eyes of a population that senses that the Castro regime will also win the next move.”
In Miami — known for its large population of Cuban exiles — reactions were split, largely along generational lines.
“Being a relatively recent Miami re-transplant, I think I have an optimistic view,” said 28-year-old Natalia Martinez of Roots of Hope, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Miami that helps students and young professionals in Cuba to their peers in the U.S. to share information through the Internet and other technologies. “There is a generational divide between young Cuban arrivals.”
Martinez was born in Cuba and lived there until she was 6. She then moved to Mexico and came to the United States when she was 11.
There’s value to how older Cuban-Americans feel, she said.
But the conversation, she said, has shifted. “It’s more focused on what we (Cuba and the U.S.) can agree on as opposed to the things we disagree on.”
Some older Cubans, many of them exiles in Miami, were decidedly angry about the news. A crowd quickly grew Wednesday morning in the city’s Little Havana neighborhood at the Versailles Cafe. Hours before President Obama addressed the nation, to explain the release of Gross and the change in policy, many were fuming.
While happy about Gross’ freedom, some said the price was too steep: the release of three Cuban intelligence agents convicted of espionage in 2001, and a sweeping change in America’s diplomatic approach toward its communist neighbor.
Some patrons shouted: “Obama a coward! Coward, coward, coward!” Some held signs that read: “Obama administration conspiracy with Castro terrorist.”
“There is a long history here of people who have a lot of anger, people who have been hurt,” said John Losada, who’s been an exile since the 1960s.
Miami’s Mayor Tomás Pedro Regalado, who came to the U.S. in the ’60s, said he thinks Cuba will make more arrests and crack down even more on human rights after the U.S. changes its policy. The Castro government won’t change its ways, he said.
Miguel Saavedra, another exile, said there’s a practical issue to consider: 70% of Cuban exiles “don’t support business to Cuba,” he said.
Easing relations with Cuba feels like a “betrayal,” Felix Gonzalez told CNN Wednesday. The 76-year-old Cuban-American immigrated to the U.S. in 1961 and had come to Versailles for his morning coffee. “I don’t trust the Castro government,” he said. “I will never.”
But others in the United States seemed cautiously optimistic.
“It was a huge surprise for me,” said Raúl Galván, a Cuban-American historian who also works for a public television station in Wisconsin. “I know that they opened economic doors. But beyond that, we are still in a situation that is just beginning. There is a lot more to do still.”
Raúl Galván, who’s lived in the United States since the 1960s, said he was grateful that Obama had taken the steps to thaw relations with the Cuban government, and interested to see what happens next.
“The Cuban side of me is hoping that someday I can travel to Cuba freely,” he told CNN en Español.
CNN’s Patrick Oppmann reported from Havana, Alina Machado reported from Miami and Ashley Fantz reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Saeed Ahmed and Catherine E. Shoichet and CNN en Español’s Camilo Egaña contributed to this report.
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