This morning, like any other, outside the building of the United States Interests Section in Havana, the day dawned full of people waiting to apply for a visa to visit or settle in the neighboring country. Few of those gathered were aware that today the date will be announced for the opening of the embassies of the United States and Cuba in the respective countries. After six months of negotiations, the Cuban Foreign Ministry said Wednesday in a statement that the expected date will be 20 July. Previously, the official press had opened the door to the possibility that there would be an announcement, without providing an exact estimate of the date.
Under the harsh sun of the Havana morning, people gathered with umbrellas and sunglasses outside the office in hopes of finding their names on the list of those who would have to go into the building for the visa process. Nothing indicated that this day would end more than 54 years of diplomatic confrontation, they didn’t even learn of the public appearance of the US president Barack Obama, meanwhile it was happening.
When asked about the change of the US Interests Section into an embassy, most of those interviewed showed a tendency toward cautious optimism. Such is the case with Ruben, a retiree who has visited Miami three times and is going for a third visa, who said that, “This was coming, now we have to think what is going to happen next, because changing the name of a building is not a magic act, nor does it solve the things of now right now.”
Consuelo, 56, was accompanying her sister who wanted to visit her daughter who emigrated four years ago. “No, I didn’t know that today would be the day they would say there would be an embassy, but I hope that with this news the officials are a bit softer and give my sister a visa,” she commented.
Felix Navarro Rodriguez, a regime opponent living in the town of Perico, Matanzas province, believes, “They never should have established contact between the two governments behind the backs of Cuban citizens, the backs of those in the opposition, and the backs of the different factors that should have been taken into account.”
However, the regime opponent believes that, as this has occurred, “There should be a mechanism that can facilitate relations with Cubans, in a diplomatic site totally within the law. In any event, the dissidence is also going to have many variables against it, such as limitations on participating in events, using the Internet navigation rooms, and taking the courses consistently offered by the United States Interest Section in Havana. Those of us who have taken a critical position on the reestablishment of relations, we see that this situation will get worse.”
“Those of us who have taken a critical position on the reestablishment of relations, we see that this situation will get worse.”
The symbols that have, for decades, represented the enemy will return to Havana and some — like Ramón Estupiñán Fajardo, retired from the Ministry of Construction and living in San Miguel del Padrón, Havana — are not satisfied.
“I’ll never forget when we took down the American eagle from the monument to the Maine. Now they say they will reopen the embassy and the Yankee flag will again fly on the Malecon. I have no doubt that the eagle will also be returned to its place, but I think this is only going to bother me and a few of us who remember those times with emotion. It seems to me that most people are happy, but there is a lot of naiveté in this happiness, as long as they don’t end the blockade it’s like nothing has happened. Another thing is that they respect us and that is not achieved at the negotiating table.”
For Elizabeth Batista Acosta, a housewife and resident of the city of Camagüey, the change could mean dreams, a family reunion. “I have two brothers who I only know through photographs, because I am the youngest of the three and they went to the United States on a raft when I was starting elementary school,” she recalls. “They never wanted to return and they won’t give me a visa to go see them. I don’t know how things will be, but I imagine that if they open an embassy and the tension between the two governments eases a little they might come to visit me and my mother and bring flowers to the old ones at the cemetery.”
“Human rights and democracy are unconditional US values. Havana says have their own values. The diplomatic relations will give rise to new opportunities that will tell us who is right”
Yampier Gonzalez Cuervo, a self-employed woman who recently cancelled her license for the food sales, insists that the opening of the embassy “Is not that important.” This resident of Vedado in Havana believes that, “The good will come after (…) I had a snack bar near Linea Street and if they open the embassy I might start it up again, because I’m sure I would have more customers. Perhaps, also, with this measure more yumas (Americans) will come, and who knows but that one of them might fall in love with my business and want to invest to expand it.”
“We’ve had 56 years of the same, and it’s time to change things. It will be a long process but I believe it’s on the right track. I saw Obama’s speech, but I was left with a lot of doubts. What will the conditions be for the opening? When will the ambassador be named? Who will it be,” asks Raul Medina, a bus driver from Hialeah (in Florida).”
“I came to Miami in 2003, when George W. Bush was president. I remember very well that I could only travel to Cuba once every three years, back then,” explains Maria Suarez, living in Miami, who had gone a long time without seeing her family because of that law. “I hope diplomatic relations between the two countries help Cubans from there and from here so we can be ever more united. I don’t understand much about politics, but I do know that we shouldn’t go backwards.”
For Marifeli Perez-Stable, a professor of sociology at Florida International University in Miami, Obama’s announcement closes the first stage since December 17. “The US diplomats will travel throughout the island in order to learn about the Cuban people, civil society and, why not, the government officials in the provinces. After 54 years of absence, the American flag will fly at the embassy on the Malecon. The road from now forward won’t be easy. Human rights and democracy are unconditional values of the United States. Havana says they have their own values. The diplomatic relations, I’m sure, will give rise to new opportunities that will tell us who is right.”
Following the publication of the Cuban president Raul Castro’s letter to his American counterpart, some readers of the newspaper Granma expressed their desire to know the contents of the letter Jeffrey DeLaurentis, chief of the United States Interest Section in Havana delivered in the morning to the Cuban Foreign Ministry. “We expect a better future for the Cuban people, but it seems that we will continue with the secrecy, or perhaps Mr. Obama asked president Raul Castro not to publish his letter?”