Cubans React with Indifference and Curiosity to the US Return to Havana

By Beatriz Juez e Isaac Risco (dpa)

Lining up for the daily bread roll. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — It almost felt like a normal day as many Cubans quietly waited for the reopening of the US Embassy in Havana on Thursday, the day before one of the most significant of historical events to take place since the two countries broke diplomatic relations more than fifty years ago.

The cameras are aimed this morning at Havana’s renowned Malecon ocean drive to capture the historic moment, the day when John Kerry, a US Secretary of State, set foot on the island for the first time in more than 70 years.

In Cuba, which hasn’t given the visit much coverage in the media, many Cubans look on the day in which the Star-Spangled Banner is set to flutter in Havana again with mere curiosity and even indifference.

“I knew that would happen,” comments Cesar Aroche, who lives across town, near Old Havana’s Parque de la Fraterninad. In this spot in Old Havana, very near the Capitolio building, stands what is perhaps the only statue on the island showing a US president: Abraham Lincoln, who put an end to slavery in his country.

Suggestively, Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States, is the one who has decided to open this new chapter in bilateral relations between the two countries, after more than 50 years of a failed policy towards the island.

“I expect nothing of this,” 63-year-old Aroche, who earns a living pedaling a bicycle taxi around town, affirms. “Political relations between the governments are going to improve, but life will continue being the same for us.”

Waiting for a visa appointment outside the US Embassy. Photo: Juan Suarez

Aroche wasn’t going to watch the embassy reopening ceremony on television. “I don’t like wasting my time. I have to go out and work. I’m not interested in politics. My politics is trying to earn a bit of money so I can eat,” he says. His pension – some 11 dollars a month at the current exchange rate – isn’t enough to live on, he explains.

Maximo, who’s been selling iced drinks at the park for 20 years, wants the United States to lift the embargo, because life in Cuba “is very tough.” “Let’s hope everything changes,” the 50-year-old Cuban (who used to work as a house painter) adds.

Thalia, a 15-year-old student, hadn’t even found out Kerry was visiting Havana.

“I didn’t know anything. I was studying and had no time. I’m in two schools now, a cooking and a language school, and I don’t have time to read the papers,” the young woman apologetically says. She tells DPA her dream is to “work at a hotel or travel abroad.”

73-year-old Ranulfo Quiala Zambrano puts down his copy of Juventud Rebelde, showing an opinion piece by Fidel Castro on the front page, to talk with DPA.

“The first thing they need to do is lift the blockade,” he says, “but the US Congress doesn’t want to. They also don’t want to give back the Guantanamo Naval Base,” the retiree complains. He tells us he was a messenger for Fidel Castro’s rebel army up in the Sierra Maestra. Later, he worked as a music teacher and many other things.

Public transportation. Photo: Juan Suarez

Quiala can’t bring himself to trust Washington. “What are they hiding?” he asks. “After failing with all other forms of war, (…) they see this as a subtle way of penetrating the country,” accusing the United States of “secretly paying the Ladies in White to go out and protest.”

Quila is going to follow the ceremonies on television. “I’m very much interested in political issues. I have a degree in Marxist Philosophy,” he says.

Yoel, 38, sees things quite differently. “Let’s see if (after the embassies have opened) the Cuban government stops lying so much and gives Cubans the freedom to express themselves and do things with less restrictions.”

“They tell you Cuba is fine, that everything is fine, when in fact everything’s not fine,” adds Yoel, without mincing his words.

“Until we see the changes, the flag doesn’t mean much to us. I’m hoping for economic change and a bit more freedom,” says Yoel. “We want to have Internet access, freedom of expression and we want this to change,” he adds, conscious that changes will not come in the short term, and that the United States won’t be bringing any of that today.


11 thoughts on “Cubans React with Indifference and Curiosity to the US Return to Havana

  • August 16, 2015 at 7:03 am
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    Cubans KNOW exactly “what thy are missing out”. What they don’t know is why Germany doesn’t sell their 300 series sedan in Cuba. In Germany these cars are used for taxis. Any Brazilian importer could buy a ship load of these cars from Mercedes Benz and resell them to Cuba. Why don’t they? BECAUSE CUBA IS POOR. Cuba doesn’t sell enough Cuban stuff to earn the euros to buy that ship load of cars. So instead they buy those crappy cars from China. But Cubans know that they are missing out.

  • August 16, 2015 at 6:57 am
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    The WIFI public locations was where the interviews were done. In fairness,
    almost all those on TV emphatically noted life in Cuba was hard, unfair and
    especially internet and cell access, a major failure. Almost all though said they loved their country, families, education and health care. None were robots and yes, as with progressive thinking in the US was in the big city.

  • August 15, 2015 at 11:45 pm
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    In my fairly deep experience, Cubans invariably love their country. They don’t love their political masters – the Castro family regime, although the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of Cuba (There is one!) has done a good job of turning Fidel Castro into a sort of communist equivalent of Father Christmas minus the gifts. Like all those who live in countries with social medical services and free education (we all – including Cubans actually pay for it) they are glad to have those two services.
    I would like to bet that the interviews you saw came from Havana!

  • August 15, 2015 at 11:37 pm
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    If you think change is very much underway in Cuba, you should have another think. The Socialismo system of Cuba has had 56 years to try and improve production – which we would probably agree is the measure of economy. Year after year, production has decreased, so where suddenly is efficient management going to come from? Finally the concept of incentives being available to Cubans is a pipe dream of the innocent.

  • August 15, 2015 at 11:31 pm
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    Even if they knew what they were missing they could not afford to buy it. The average income per man woman and child in Cuba being 33 cents (US) per day.

  • August 15, 2015 at 6:36 pm
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    They don’t know what they are missing out. And the fact that they don’t know what they are missing is exactly how the embargo affected their lives.

  • August 15, 2015 at 5:56 am
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    You make a good argument for why it should be lifted. Other than negotiating the resolution of the confiscated property, it serves little purpose. It is a crutch to explain why things are not better. Congress should return power to the executive branch to finalize an end to it. Obama like other Presidents has not been perfect. He has made mistakes. But Cuba is not one of them. His administration has managed the opening of relations very well given all the strings attached that prevent him from doing more.

  • August 15, 2015 at 5:41 am
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    The change is not enough, but change is very much underway in Cuba. With change, it is always the language that changes first. Then action begins to follow. A very big change is the role of money in the system. A monetized socialist system is very different than one where goods and services are directly bartered by the state. The average person may not feel it, but a system with better price signals becomes more efficient over time. Productivity is key to increasing average wages. That requires efficient management of resources and incentives.

  • August 14, 2015 at 10:16 pm
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    I ask my Cuban friends if they would like to see the EMBARGO lifted and of course they answer yes. Then when I ask them how the embargo has effected them, they run on about the things that Cuba struggles to import if they can import it at all. When I ask them what money will they use to purchase these newly imported goods the stuttering begins. Most Cubans parrot the idea of lifting the embargo but have no idea how lifting the embargo will effect their lives.

  • August 14, 2015 at 6:36 pm
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    Internet access is the game changer. Interesting though after seeing quite a few interviews the past few days out of Cuba. Many Cuban’s love their country, especially health care and
    education.

  • August 14, 2015 at 11:41 am
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    The world at large appears to think that there is change in Cuba. But the reality is expressed by Aroche saying:
    “life will continue being the same for us.”
    Academic pontification will not ease the iron grip that the Castro family regime has upon the politics of Cuba. The power and control will remain the same and Cubans will continue to vainly hope for liberty and freedom.
    As Yoel said:
    “We want to have Internet access, freedom of expression”
    As it has for the past fifty six years, hope springs eternal in the breasts of the subjugated people of Cuba.

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