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World

Cubans React To U.S. Moves To Normalize Relations With Cuba

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

So far the mood in Cuba seems to be celebratory. For more on reaction there, we put in a call to journalist Marc Frank in Havana. He's lived and worked in Cuba for more than 20 years. Good morning.

MARC FRANK: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Describe for us some of the scenes you have witnessed since early yesterday after the two presidents announced this warming of ties.

FRANK: Well, you know, there has been, like, small demonstrations, but in general everybody's smiling. Everybody's very happy. Some people are, you know, beeping their horns, even crying with happiness. I've talked to people in Camaguey, which is in central Cuba, and everybody there was thrilled. Probably there was more kind of a show of it on the streets than here in Havana. People are out talking about it, walking through the streets, chanting. I've talked to people in Artemisa, which is another province to the west of Havana, and they all watched on television - they watched both Raul Castro announcing it and Obama announcing it. So they were just thanking them both - very, very positive about President Obama, etc.

MONTAGNE: Could you just briefly remind us what has the embargo meant over the years for the average Cuban?

FRANK: Well, you know, I've lived here. It's really meant that you live in a pressure cooker. It always hangs over everything. It hung over things like not being able to see your family because they're outside of the country, though that now has changed. It's very difficult to do many things that are normal in your lives. You can't have access to any kind of credit cards. Any kind of high technology can't come in. It's kind of just - I mean, it's just a presence and a negative one that impacts you along with many other problems that the country has.

MONTAGNE: I'm wondering if there were any hints that something big was in the works.

FRANK: Yes. Well, I think in retrospect there were a number of hints. There was Mr. Obama going to Miami and talking about the need to change policy over a year ago. There was a handshake in South Africa.

MONTAGNE: The handshake between President Obama and President Raul Castro at Mandela's funeral.

FRANK: Exactly, which, you know, maybe we didn't realize it at the time, but they'd already begun talks. These talks have now been going on for 18 months.

MONTAGNE: You know, I'm just curious what about the Cuban government? Do you think it's up to meeting the challenge of an open Cuba?

FRANK: Yeah, I think it is up to meeting the challenge. I think they made a decision four or five years ago that as part of their efforts to reform their economy, four or five years ago they started building these big marinas for boats that never came. They started talking about golf courses. They started building a huge, new container port on the northern coast near Havana. And at the time we all said, well, they must know something we don't know because these projects make no sense without improved relations with the U.S. So I think they made the decision at the same time that they decided to start changing their economy that they needed to find a way to mend tensions with the United States.

MONTAGNE: Journalist Marc Frank is based in Havana. His most recent book is "Cuban Revelations: Behind The Scenes In Havana." Thank you for joining us.

FRANK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.