“Now when they lift the blockade …” a student says jokingly to his friends sitting in Mella Park at the University of Havana. His sentence ends mentioning some a problem that has been solved, supposedly, by the foreseeable end to the US embargo on Cuba. The group laughs and continues talking about the next party of the Law School or the salary a computer engineer earns at a company like Google.
Sitting on a bench to the side and eavesdropping on the conversation doesn’t feel quite right, but it is, perhaps, the only way to capture accurately what the University feels about the latest news. Actually, few agreed to answer questions for this report, and one group of young people apologized with, “They’ve already been asking us a lot of questions today, the foreign press has been around all day.” On presenting myself as a reporter, one of them got up to leave. So it’s impossible to get a face or a statement, even though two or three loners are disposed – always in confidence and hurriedly – to offer their particular vision.
Alberto, sitting on the side of the grand staircase waiting for his classes to begin, is one. “We have to see if everything is not just words, but I’d give it a greater than 50 percent chance that things are going to go well.” He is still wary, however, both of the changes to come and of my identify, so he doesn’t even want to say what department he’s in.
A recently graduated professor is less concise. “Everyone’s talking now about the approaches [between the governments].” And this seems to be true, because near us three or four students are talking about it. She confesses, “I believe that the reestablishment of relations is more important than the return of the prisoners. At the end of the day, it’s what was expected. And of course it has much more influence on what will happen from now on.” She is also more positive than pessimistic about the future.
Beyond University Hill, toward one end of the city, is the José Antonio Echeverría Polytechnic Institute (CUJAE), the university for engineers. Its students were less timid about offering their opinions for this report, and in general were much more excited about the important statements of Wednesday.
The first response of three of them, Telecommunications Engineering students, about what to expect from the Cuba-US rapprochement, touched on the improvement in connectivity. “Imagine, in our career,” they commented. “We hope that very soon we have more opportunities to access the Internet and that there will be more advances in this. Even the professors have talked about everything it [the announcement] could mean. It’s going to be good.”
In the faculty of Civil Engineering, a young professor at the Hydraulic Research Center (CIH) says he also has faith. “When I got the news via SMS, before the announcement midday on Wednesday, I did not want to believe it. And Obama’s speech… it didn’t match the summaries on Telesur and I heard it again that night. I thought the translation was bad, but it’s true. It’s wonderful.”
Referring to the perspectives of his specialty in this new environment, he notes that, “The rapprochement could facilitate our use of the CIH equipment, which is in a pretty bad state. Right now, for example, we can’t test with the wave simulator.” However, the interviewee said that “things are not going to change overnight.”
A little more than two days ago the nation suffered a political shakeup, and Friday was the last day of classes for the year for many university students, who start their Christmas vacations next week. The year 2015 is a great unknown for some; but unlike other times the answer, whatever it is, seems to be really close. In a few words: the university students don’t know what to expect, but they are filled with expectations.