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U.S. Deal May Not Change Life Much For Everyday Cubans


We're going to get reaction from Havana now, from Steve Wicary. He's a Canadian journalist who's been based in Havana for the last two- and-a-half years.

Welcome to the program.

STEVE WICARY: Hey, thanks very much.

BLOCK: And what sort reaction have you been hearing on the streets of Havana today?

WICARY: Pleasant surprise. There's been - Cuba has a really good system of sort of word-of-mouth gossip and there's been a sense that something has been in the works for a while but nobody knew exactly what nor when it would come down. And unlike the rest of the world, Cubans aren't really connected. So while we were all looking at smartphones or online finding out about the news as it broke, no one here knew about it until the regular daily television broadcast was interrupted at noon and all of the sudden Raul Castro appeared on their screen.

BLOCK: And what happened then? I mean, could you tell - was there - was the public riveted to what he was saying?

WICARY: I was still at home at the time and it was pretty quiet. You could hear in the building next to mine and the building across the street that everybody was watching it and when Raul got to the point in his remarks where he announced that just as Fidel had promised in 2001 when the five agents were convicted in Miami that they would come back, the three that were remaining in jail in the States had been released as a result of this, everybody cheered. And that seems to be the most emotional part of today's developments for Cubans, is the return of their three of the remaining five heroes.

BLOCK: We should explain, Steve, that you're talking about the group known as the Cuban five who are apparently hailed as heroes in Cuba, but were convicted in the United States of spying and for their role in eventually the shooting-down of a plane carrying folks from the group Brothers to the Rescue.

WICARY: Exactly, exactly. The Cuban propaganda on the topic is that their conviction was sort of a kangaroo court, an unfair trial in Miami orchestrated by the anti-Castro mafia.

BLOCK: What would you say is the most direct impact that this diplomatic shift will have on the lives of everyday Cubans?

WICARY: I don't think there's going to be major impact until you start to see more American tourists coming. That is going to be the biggest disruptive change. The normal relations can only be good in the long-term for the Cuban economy. We'll eventually allow them to start to access international finance, but all of those are long-term changes and people on the ground realize that this is a long game. And they're not expecting drastic change in their lives in coming weeks or coming months. A lot of the changes have already been made on the Cuban side. The travel reform last year was probably the biggest change I've witnessed, that Cubans no longer have to seek permit from their own government to leave the country is a far bigger sort of street-level impact than anything that was announced so far. That's not to say that won't change down the road.

BLOCK: We've been hearing criticism from folks here in the United States, including Senator Marco Rubio, who say that the United States gave up way too much for essentially nothing from Cuba. Do the Castro supporters that you've talked with in Havana also look at this news as a victory over the United States?

WICARY: Nobody I've talked to - and I have talked to party members - is talking about it in terms of victory and everybody says it's good news. But I think what this is is a beginning - it's the beginning of the end of seeing the relationship in hostile fashion. It's not about victories over enemies anymore. It's about a civil discussion moving forward into what is an admittedly uncertain future for the Cuban government and most likely a brighter future for the Cuban people.

BLOCK: Steve Wicary. He's a Canadian journalist based in Havana.

Thanks for talking with us.

WICARY: Thanks very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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