Havana, Cuba – President Barack Obama’s announcement that the US will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana was received with surprise, happiness, and relief after more than five decades of hostilities.
Still, there is a great deal of caution and incredulity among Cubans.
The long-held belief here is that changes that are good for the government are not always good for the people. Many know it will take time to normalise 54 years of animosity and mistrust between the two countries.
But they are also aware that there is no turning back from this process.
Al Jazeera talked to people in the capital Havana soon after the historic announcement was made. There were individual expressions of jubilation and real hope for what this could mean for the future.
Most of those interviewed said they preferred to give only their first name.
|Alberto, Yamile, and Maylin|
|Alberto, Yamile, and Maylin [Saddam Sanchez/Al Jazeera]|
Alberto, 42, Yamile, 23, and Maylin, 25, are fruit sellers on San Rafael Boulevard in Habana Vieja, or old Havana. Each expressed similar sentiments of hope regarding the news.
“Obama let the five [Cuba Five convicted in US as spies] go free. We now need him to lift the embargo,” Yamile says. “The world has changed. Let’s see if Cuba changes because it’s hard here.”
|Miguel and Vladimir|
|Miguel and Vladimir [Saddam Sanchez/Al Jazeera]|
Miguel, 45, and Vladimir, 51, are doormen at the Hotel Inglaterra in old Havana. Vladimir says he didn’t hear the actual announcement, but was glad to about it.
“We didn’t see it because we were working but everybody says Obama hit the spot. If they keep going this way I hope this situation will get sorted.”
|Jhon [Saddam Sanchez/Al Jazeera]|
Jhon, 66, is from Sweden but lives in Cuba eight months out of the year. He welcomed the news and says he is hopeful it will bring much-needed change.
“It’s good news. They need to talk, this guy and that guy. It’s good that they start talking.”
| Luis, Ignacio, and Sergio
|Luis, Ignacio, and Sergio [Saddam Sanchez/Al Jazeera]|
Luis, 46, Ignacio, 52, and Sergio, 48 drive taxis in Old Havana. Each is hopeful that Wednesday’s announcement will lead to the normalisation between the neighbouring countries.
“We’re living through an historic moment,” Luis says. “I hope it’s that way. We took an important step which was opening up the diplomatic relationships.”
| Barbara, Mariela, and Xiomara
|Barbara , Mariela, and Xiomara [Saddam Sanchez/Al Jazeera]|
Barbara, 26, Mariela, 47, and Xiomara, 42, drive motorcycle taxis known as cocotaxis in Cuba. For them, the news has personal and professional benefits.
“We’re very glad and surprised,” Barbara says. “We thought this was coming but a little farther away. It was a big surprise today; the unification for many families. A lot of families are celebrating now. I hope cruisers start coming, we need tourists and work.”
|Lazaro [Saddam Sanchez/Al Jazeera]|
Lazaro, 54, is a bicyle taxi driver. He says the news is vindication of former president Fidel Castro’s revolution launched in the 1950s.
“Fidel said ‘they will come back’, and now they are here. Viva Fidel! Viva Raul! Viva la rvolucion! I love this revolution because it gave me a university degree and made my son an engineer. I’m proud of this.”
| Leire Fernandez
|Leire Fernandez [Saddam Sanchez/Al Jazeera]|
Fernandez, 38, works as an international advisor for Culture for Latin American and Caribbean at UNESCO.
“I didn’t imagine this would happen so soon. As a professional I will have a lot of work now. As someone living here not so much will change, because things go slowly here. I think this news is like the Berlin Wall coming down. Not only for Cubans but for the rest of the world, because USA and Cuba have been for many years in a kind of Cold War.”
| Fernando Burgman
|Fernando Burman [Saddam Sanchez/Al Jazeera]|
Burgman heads UNESCO’s office in Cuba and says like many Cubans he has long waited for this moment.
“I’ve been here for six years. It’s great news. It was meant to happen. As United Nations, we of course represent this wish that things should finally get sorted. Like the whole world we are happy that these two countries are coming closer. We at UNESCO will continue working towards culture and education.”
| Jose Ignacio (48)
|Jose Ignacio [Saddam Sanchez/Al Jazeera]|
Ignacio, 48, is a chauffeur who grew up under the US embargo on the island.
“All my life I have heard that I could not have toys, or clothing, or so many things because of the US blockade … Now as a middle-aged man I look forward to this not being the reason anymore for why the country cannot prosper.”