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Cubans On The Island See New U.S.-Cuba Relations As A Major Breakthrough

Julio Cortez

Earlier today, President Barack Obama proclaimed that the policies toward Cuba over the past 50 years have not worked and announced major changes in U.S.-Cuba relations.

Obama reiterated that opening travel, financial exchanges, and telecommunications between the two nations will allow American values to be more easily shared with the Cuban people.

This comes on the heels of a prisoner swap. American contractor Alan Gross, along with an unnamed U.S. intelligence agent who had been in jail in Cuba for 20 years, were exchanged for three Cuban intelligence agents, part of the Cuban Five, caught in the 1990s.

Cuba is also releasing 53 of its own prisoners as part of the deal. At the same time, Cuban leader Raúl Castro called for an end to the U.S. embargo.

WLRN’s morning news anchor Luis Hernandez spoke with el Nuevo Herald reporter Nora Gámez Torres to talk about what this deal really means for U.S.-Cuba relations. Here is an edited transcript of the interview.

Were there rumblings about this prisoner swap long before this happened?

Yes, there were. Actually, there was a lot of talk about normalization and that the single obstacle for normalization was the release of Alan Gross. The Cuban government made it very clear that the only thing they would accept for freeing Alan Gross would be having their three agents back in Havana.

What is “normal” after more than 50 years?

I think that means having an embassy... having high-level delegations traveling to the country. [Obama] has called for liberalization in trading between the two countries. It’s hard to say what’s normal after 55 years. It all starts with probably more dialogue.

Is this something that’s going to start happening right away?

Well, it seems they’re going to start right away. There are a lot of official statements from the Obama Administration. There is a high-level delegation going to Havana in January. At least, that’s what we know.

You talk about travel to Cuba. Does this mean travel by U.S. citizens is now open?

Yes. You basically have now a general license to travel. You don’t have to ask permission to travel to Cuba. They are lifting most of the restrictions on travel to Cuba.

Editor's note: U.S. still have to give a categorical reason for traveling to Cuba (academic, church exchange, business). Tourism travel is still banned.

This quantum shift in relations between the two countries -- what does that mean to the Cuban community in South Florida?

That’s the other interesting angle. The Cuban exiles feel they’re left aside... that their concerns are not being taken into account by the U.S. government.

What sense are you getting right now from the Cuban community? 

Many Cubans on the island see this as a major breakthrough and as a major opportunity to have access to a more open lifestyle, in a sense. Many have been born after the revolution, and the only thing they know is this current relationship between the U.S. and the Cuban government. They see this as a major opportunity to leave this behind. We have to see if the Cuban government is going to make any kind of changes in their human rights policy and in the political arena because the Cuban government hasn’t announced any kind of new measures as part of this new deal with the U.S.

You can read Torres' story about the new U.S.-Cuba relations in El Nuevo Herald.

Luis Hernandez is an award-winning journalist and host whose career spans three decades in cities across the U.S. He’s the host of WLRN’s newest daily talk show, Sundial (Mon-Thu), and the news anchor every afternoon during All Things Considered.