Cubans celebrate after historic Castro-Obama meeting


Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuba’s President Raul Castro during a meeting on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas at the ATLAPA Convention centre Photo: AFP/Getty

Havana watched with joy as its president shook hands with US counterpart Barack Obama, ending 50 years of animosity

Cubans hailed Saturday’s historic meeting between presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama but said they want to see ties warm faster between the Cold War foes so that the lives of ordinary people on the island can improve.

Havana residents stopped in the middle of errands or family time to watch Castro and Obama shaking hands and addressing the press about their efforts to re-establish diplomatic ties.

In a broadcast seen in homes and business across Cuba, both presidents said they agreed about the need for progress. Shortly before the meeting, Castro told gathered Latin American leaders that despite the US history of seeking regime change in Cuba, he saw Obama as “an honest man” who could be trusted because of his humble origins.

“The fact that Raul and Obama sat down to talk in a civilized way after all these years of such serious tensions seems historic to me,” said Roger Rodriguez, a university professor.

Irene Quintana, a homemaker, said she was cleaning house when her grandmother called her over to watch the meeting on television.
“It seems magnificent to me, incredible. It excited me so much and I think that it’s hopeful,” she said.

The Castro-Obama meeting was the most dramatic development since the two presidents’ announcement on Dec. 17 that they would release captured spies and restore full diplomatic relations as part of an effort to broadly normalize relations between the two countries.

The announcement was greeted inside Cuba by jubilation but emotions have since cooled as the two countries have struggled to strike a deal on the first landmark in normalisation – the re-establishment of full embassies in Havana and Washington.

Many Cubans are eager to see embassies and, as soon as possible, an opening of greater trade and tourism from the United States that will help Cuba’s stagnant economy and the daily struggles of ordinary people whose salaries of $20 a month on average make it tough to put food on the table.

“I like that Raul left all the doors open. That seems important to me,” Magaly Delgado, a retired office worker, said of Saturday’s meeting. “We’ll see if it leads to results.”

Rosa Marie Argudin, a street performer, said: “It’s been years that we’ve been waiting for something like this. I hope this doesn’t just remain a conversation.”

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