Dreams and doubts in Cuba after news of US thaw

HAVANA - Stunned by the sudden announcement of Cuba's rapprochement with the United States, residents of Havana on Thursday oscillated between joy and skepticism as they tried figure out what it all means.

"I'm still in shock, still digesting the news," said Rolando Rodriguez, a 44-year-old car washer in the capital's Vedado district.

"But really I don't have all the pieces to understand the puzzle."

Rodriguez said President Raul Castro had been "very brief" during his solemn speech announcing the historic news on Wednesday, and the local press hadn't offered much in the way of clear explanations.

The dramatic breakthrough in relations between the Cold War foes came after Havana released jailed US contractor Alan Gross and a Cuban who spied for Washington and had been held for 20 years - one of the most important US agents in Cuba.

The United States in turn released three Cuban spies, and US President Barack Obama said he had instructed the State Department to re-examine its designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.

It was a paradigm-changing moment in more than a half-century of tensions.

Manuel Ramos, a 62-year-old Cuban-American, is among those who came back to Cuba in light of reforms that were launched by Raul Castro after he succeeded his brother Fidel Castro in 2008.

In front of the television Wednesday evening, Ramos admits to shedding a few tears when he finally heard the news he said he'd been waiting for since his parents left Cuba 54 years ago to flee the Castro revolution.

Still, like many here, Ramos remains sceptical.

"Until now, all we have are promises of change. ... It's hard to see it clearly."

The simultaneous announcements of Obama and Raul Castro may have raised the hopes of many Cubans, but the trade embargo remains in place and can only be lifted by the US Congress.

Still, Obama said Washington is ready to review trade ties and to re-open its embassy in communist Cuba, which has been closed since 1961, two years after Fidel Castro came to power.

'Now Obama deserves the Nobel'

"A good relationship with the United States will bring us prosperity. With money from (Americans), the blockade will be lifted in three days," said bicycle-taxi driver Yordanis Herrera, who works in Havana's old town.

Electrician Armando Rodriguez, 49, is already dreaming of "the arrival of thousands of North American businesses and tourists."

"Obama ... now he really deserves the Nobel Peace Prize," said Rodriguez, who remembers the days before the revolution.

Obama won the prize in 2009 to mixed reactions from many commentators who wondered if he'd done enough to merit the honour.

Juan del Sol, 52, who rents the ground floor of his house to an Italian restaurant, said Cuba could be very important for the American tourism industry.

He wants American tourism to be freed up but such a measure is suspended until the embargo is eventually lifted.

Silfredo Reyes, owner of the private restaurant "Abdala" hopes for better supplies for his business.

"This rapprochement can help Cuba build the infrastructure which we need to do our work," he said, pointing to current difficulties with shortages and delivery issues.