Obama victory leaves Cubans relieved, hopeful
Wed Nov 7, 2012 3:35am EST
* Cubans feared Romney would toughen U.S. policy
* Obama lifted restrictions on remittances, travel to Cuba
* U.S.-Cuba relations slightly improved under Obama
By Jeff Franks
HAVANA, Nov 7 (Reuters) – Cubans breathed a collective sigh of relief on
Wednesday over U.S. President Barack Obama's re-election victory and
expressed hope he might still bring a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba
that many expected after he won his first term in 2008.
They generally supported him over Republican candidate Mitt Romney
because they feared Romney would be the second coming of President
George W. Bush, who toughened the longstanding U.S. trade embargo and
hardened relations with the Cuban government during his time in the
"Bush made it really hard for us economically and even to see family who
live in the United States. If Romney had won most of the people here
would have been really sad," said Havana domestic worker Violeta
Gutierrez as she washed dishes in her employer's kitchen.
Obama's 2008 victory raised hopes that the U.S. trade embargo against
Cuba, imposed in 1962 with the intent of toppling the island's communist
government, would finally be lifted and U.S.-Cuba relations, hostile
since the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro, would improve.
The embargo is still in place and relations have improved only slightly,
but in 2009 Obama lifted Bush-era restrictions on remittances and Cuban
American visits to the country 90 miles (145 km) from Florida, both
heartily welcomed by Cubans.
The flow of remittances has risen to an estimated $2 billion, a huge
help to Cubans who earn on average $19 a month, and 300,000 to 400,000
Cuban Americans have been pouring into the island annually, bringing
their families a steady flow of consumer goods, food and medicines hard
to find in Cuba.
They have helped Cuba's budding self-employed sector by bringing items
for Cubans to sell, although stiff new import duties imposed by the
government threaten the influx of goods.
MONEY CHANGED LIVES
"The money people receive from their family has changed their lives. It
helps them eat better, dress, buy soap for a bath, everything thanks to
that money," said Gutierrez, who gets money occasionally from family
members in Miami.
Romney had threatened to roll back Obama's changes if he won the
presidency and was supported by Cuban American lawmakers who say the
easing of restrictions had only helped the Cuban government, led by
President Raul Castro, younger brother of now retired Fidel Castro.
"The Cuban American extremists favor policies that hurt the Cuban people
and give the Cuban government excuses for their failures," said
dissident Miriam Leiva at an election night function at the U.S.
Interests Section in Havana, which the United States has instead of an
embassy because the two countries have no official diplomatic relations.
A straw vote by those in attendance, among them Cuban dissidents and
diplomats from the United States and other countries, went to Obama 64-19.
Obama also renewed U.S.-Cuba talks on immigration and postal issues, but
the mild rapprochement ended when Cuba arrested American Alan Gross and
sentenced him to 15 years in prison for setting up Internet networks on
Washington insisted he was only trying to improve Internet access for
Cuban Jewish groups, but he was working for a U.S. program that promotes
political change on the island, which the Cuban government views as
Despite the setbacks, handicrafts vendor Rene Castillo said four more
years of Obama still held the promise of hope for better days between
the two ideological foes.
"Obama is the hope that more things change between Cuba and the United
States. Not even under (President Bill) Clinton, who also did his part
in favor of better ties, was there so much interaction as there is with
Obama," he said.
"Now it's needed that he fill himself with courage and lift the embargo,
but here everyone knows he can't do it alone," said Castillo.
Cuban officials have expressed less optimism about Obama, saying before
the election they expected no major changes in U.S. policy no matter who
won because Obama and Romney shared the goal of toppling Cuban
communism, but with different tactics.
Obama "proposes to liquidate the Cuban Revolution, but with softness,"
Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon told Venezuelan
television network Telesur in a recent interview.