Determining the overall reactions of Cubans to the December 17th announcement of their country’s embarking on a path of reconciliation with the U.S. is difficult for anyone, much less a non-Cuban living in Minnesota. Nevertheless, I will attempt to do so based upon generally available information filtered through my having been to Cuba on three church mission trips over the past 12 years, my listening to others from my church who have been on other such trips, my talking with Cubans on the island and in the U.S. and following carefully the news on this subject during these years. My analysis also endeavors to put myself in the shoes of Cubans in this historical moment.
This analysis focuses first on the actions of the leaders of the Cuban government and then on the reactions of the Cuban people.
The Cuban Government
First, the Cuban government over 18 months conducted secret negotiations with the U.S. government to achieve the breakthrough on December 17th when President Raûl Castro announced this important development to the Cuban people.
At that time Castro said, “We need to learn to live together in a civilized way, with our differences,” He also exulted in the release of the three Cuban agents from U.S. prison, saying it was a cause of “enormous joy for their families and all of our people.” He praised President Obama with these words””This decision by President Obama deserves respect and recognition by our people.”
Subsequently President Raûl Castro has made other statements reiterating his government’s commitment to the process of reconciliation while also emphasizing some of the difficulties in achieving complete normalization.
- In his December 20th speech to Cuba’s National Assembly, President Castro said, “The Cuban people are grateful [for Mr. Obama’s decision] to remove the obstacles to our relations.” He also stated, “”In the same way that we have never demanded that the United States change its political system, we will demand respect for ours.”
- At the January 28th CELAC conference in Costa Rica, President Castro stated, “The reestablishment of diplomatic relations is the beginning of a process of . . . normalization of bilateral relations, but this will not be possible as long as the [U.S. embargo or] blockade exists, or as long as the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base is not returned, or radio and television broadcasts which violate international norms continue, or just compensation is not provided our people for the human and economic damage that they have suffered.” In essence, he said, “Cuba and the United States must learn the art of civilized co-existence, based on respect for the differences which exist between both governments and cooperation on issues of common interest. . . . [In doing so Cuba will not ] renounce its ideals of independence and social justice, or abandon a single one of our principles, nor cede a millimeter in the defense of our national sovereignty.” Raul Castro continued, “If these problems are not resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States makes no sense.”
Raúl’s brother, Fidel Castro, belatedly voiced his guarded approval. On January 27th, Fidel said,“I do not trust the politics of the United States, nor have I exchanged a word with them, but this is not, in any way, a rejection of a peaceful solution to conflicts. Any peaceful or negotiated solution to the problems between the United States and the peoples or any people of Latin America that doesn’t imply force or the use of force should be treated in accordance with international norms and principles. We will always defend cooperation and friendship with all the people of the world, including with our political adversaries.” His brother, Fidel said, had “taken the relevant steps in line with the prerogatives and authorities awarded to him by the National Assembly and the Cuban Communist Party.”
Moreover, the Cuban government has fulfilled its obligations under the accord with the U.S. to release from its jails and prisons Alan Gross, a U.S. spy and 53 Cuban dissidents.
In addition, Cuba hosted a visit of a delegation of U.S. Senators and Representatives led by Senator Leahy and the January 21-22 diplomatic conference in Havana to discuss additional steps of normalization. Although no significant agreements were reached on specific issues, both governments spoke of the spirit of respect and cooperation that was present in those sessions. The diplomatic conference was discussed in posts before and after the sessions.
The day before this conference, a senior official from Cuba’s foreign ministry told reporters that it was “unfair” to keep Cuba on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and that Cuba “cannot conceive of re-establishing diplomatic relations” while Cuba remains on that list.”
After the conference, Cuba’s top diplomat for U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, said, “One can’t think that in order to improve and normalize relations with the U.S., Cuba has to give up the principles it believes in. Changes in Cuba aren’t negotiable.” She also objected to allowing U.S. diplomats on the island to have liberty to go anywhere until they conducted themselves with total respect for Cuban laws. The last point was in response to the U.S. insistence that its diplomats in Havana have the unrestricted ability to travel within the country and to meet with whomever it wants, including Cuban dissidents. Vidal re-emphasized this position in an extensive February 2nd interview in Granma, Cuba’s only newspaper.
The Cuban People 
As there are no national public opinion polls in Cuba, assessing such opinion relies on a melange of sources.
Immediately after the December 17th announcement of the detente, Granma reported that the Cuban people were “overjoyed to the two great events of the day, year and century: the return to the country of three Cuban heroes who were previously incarcerated in U.S. prisons, and the announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S.”
The day after the announcement a Western journalist reported that “many Cubans expressed hope . . . that it will mean greater access to jobs and the creature comforts taken for granted elsewhere, and lift a struggling socialist economy where staples like meat, cooking oil and toilet paper are often hard to come by. That yearning, however, was tempered with anxiety. Some fear a cultural onslaught, or that crime and drugs, both rare in Cuba, will become common along with visitors from the United States. There is also concern that the country will become just another Caribbean destination.”
Another western journalist, William Neuman, this last Christmas made a 17-hour car trip around the island and observed that in his “conversations with Cubans about the lifting of parts of the American embargo and the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, what they talked about most was that they hoped it would breathe life into the economy and eventually lead to a better standard of living.”
In early January an Associated Press journalist interviewed 10 of the 53 Cuban dissidents who were released from jail or prison by the Cuban government as part of the December 17th announcement, and eight of them “expressed confidence the decrease in tensions with the U.S. will improve life in Cuba and make their activism easier. Only one had a negative view of the deal.”
More recently, on January 23rd in Havana U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson hosted a meeting in Havana of certain Cuban dissidents, as discussed in a prior post. Some of those in attendance were opposed to the detente while others supported it. (The Cuban government was very unhappy over this meeting.)
On February 3rd a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing about the detente. Four of the witnesses were the following Cuban dissidents.
- Berta Soler, President of Cuban Ladies in White, testified about the continued arrests and harassment of dissidents by the Cuban government.
- Mrs. Miriam Levia, a human rights advocate and independent journalist, testified, “While many dissidents and opponents support the new approach of the American Administration in the relations with the Cuban government, others do not. Nevertheless, the objective is the same: defense of human rights, democratic values, and friendship and assistance to the Cuban people. Likewise in the opposition and dissidence, we all seek the wellbeing and progress of the Cuban people and our country.” She added, “Reestablishing relations will grant a better environment for the American diplomats in Cuba, their contacts with the Cuban population and the civil society, and their ability to access a direct channel to the national officials, among other issues. Normalizing the 56 years long estrangement will take a long time. But there is now a unique opportunity to assist the Cuban people and it must not be wasted. . . .The American policy towards the Cuban government has disserved it for 56 years, so it must be changed. The embargo must be lifted for the benefit of our peoples and nations.”
- Manuel Cuesta Morúa, representing the Progressive Arc and Coordinator of New Country, testified, “Do not believe that the change in U.S. policy will bring us freedom, which would be the best outcome. The freedom of Cuba is exclusively a matter for Cubans. But believe me, that new policy will give us better options for us to obtain it by ourselves.”
- Rosa Maria Paya, a member of Christian Liberation Movement and Daughter of Slain Dissident Oswaldo Paya Sardińas, testified, ““Your government must move forward and extend a hand to the people and government of Cuba, but with the request that the hands of Cuban citizens not be tied. Otherwise, the opening will only be for the Cuban government, and will be another episode of an international spectacle full of hypocrisy. A spectacle that reinforces oppression, and plunges the Cuban people deeper into the lie and total defenselessness, seriously damaging the desire of Cubans for the inevitable changes to be achieved peacefully. The pursuit of friendship between the United States of America and Cuba is inseparable from the pursuit of liberty. We want to be free and be friends.” God bless and protect our peoples.”
This January David Adams of Reuters reported that “most Cubans firmly oppose U.S. policies and the long economic embargo . . . but admire U.S. culture. Many have relatives living in the United States, Cuban teenagers listen more to rap and hip hop than to home-grown son and salsa, and baseball is the country’s most popular sport.” Adams cites three examples:
- Miguel Barnet, a poet and anthropologist and a member of Cuba’s powerful Council of State, “fondly recalls his teenage years in the 1950s, attending one of Havana’s elite private schools, singing in the Episcopal church choir and performing in American musicals.‘I love North American culture, I was shaped by it.’”
- The official historian of Havana, Eusebio Leal, added, “We never burned an American flag in Cuba. We Cubans don’t have our hands soaked in American blood. There is no anti-American hatred here.”
- Camilo Martinez, the operator of a small Havana bed and breakfast, said, “Everyone wants to see what the future will bring. They can taste the consumer benefits in the future. No one can stop this. Everyone wants to work with people in the United States, we all have friends and relatives there …. Everyone can see the future: McDonald’s, Home Depot, Walmart.”
A first-time visitor to Cuba reported in January that If you ask [Cubans] about politics, the response often starts with a deep breath or shrug. Cubans are mostly interested in economic improvement, one invariably hears, and an intangible ‘normal’ in their lives.”
Another measure of the Cuban people’s desperate economic conditions and their reactions to the detente was a post-December 17th surge in the number of U.S. Coast Guard interdictions of Cubans attempting to reach the U.S. illegally in rafts. They apparently were motivated in part by fear that the detente would mean an end to the U.S. “wet foot/dry foot” immigration policy allowing Cubans who reached U.S. soil to remain in the country.
The Cuban government clearly has concluded that an accord with the U.S. was in Cuba’s national interest. It potentially reduces, if not eliminates, a feared hostile U.S. intervention. It should lead to increased U.S. investment in Cuba and increased U.S. tourism, all benefiting the Cuban economy and the economic lives of many of its citizens. Such positive impacts will be enhanced by the anticipated abolition of the U.S. embargo or blockade of the island. These considerations for Cuba presumably were enhanced by the increasing economic troubles, if not possible implosion, of Venezuela, which has been a major Cuban benefactor.
On the other hand, the Cuban government has recognized, as has the U.S., that there are many difficult problems that have accumulated over the last 50-plus years that must be addressed, but will not be easy to resolve.
I concur in the observations of the previously mentioned journalists that most Cubans have warm feelings toward the American people and culture and are hopeful that the accord will result in improvements in their daily lives.
 Reuters, Cuba’s Castro Hails New Era of Living Together with U.S., N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 2014); Cave, Raúl Castro Thanks U.S., but Reaffirms Communist Rule in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Dec. 20, 2014); Reuters, Cuba Says U.S.Must Respect Its Communist System, N.Y. Times (Dec. 20, 2014); Assoc. Press, Cuba Digs in Heels on Concessions as Part of Better US Ties, N.Y. Times (Jan. 25, 2015); Burnett, Fidel Castro Shares Views on Warming of Relations, N.Y. Times (Jan. 27, 2015); President Raúl Castro speaks to third CELAC Summit in Costa Rica, Granma (Jan. 29, 2015); Assoc. Press, Raul Castro: US Must Return Guantanamo for Normal Relations, N.Y. Times (Jan. 28, 2015); Reuters, Raul Castro Warns U.S. Against Meddling in Cuba’s Affairs, N.Y. Times (Jan. 28, 2015), Escobar, The blockade has not ended, Granma (Feb. 2, 2015) (extensive interview of Josefina Vidal); Reuters, Cuba Sounds Warning Ahead of Next Round of U.S. Talks, N.Y. Times (Feb. 3, 2015); Reuters, Exclusive–U.S. Pressing Cuba to Restore Diplomatic Ties before April: Officials, N.Y.Times (Feb. 6, 2015).
 Assoc. Press, Hope and Some Fear in Cuba Amid Thaw with US, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 2014); Hernandez, Cuba overjoyed, Granma (Dec. 18, 2014); Assoc. Press, Coast Guard Reports Surge in Cubans Trying to Reach Florida, N.Y. Times (Jan. 5, 2015); Neuman, Cuban Road Trip: Reporter’s Notebook, N. Y. Times (Jan. 7, 2015); Assoc. Press, Freed Cuban Dissidents Praise Detente, Pledge Push for Change, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2015); Adams, Cubans Look Fondly to U.S. as Talks to Resume Relations Start, N.Y. Times (Jan.21, 2015); Assoc. Press, For First-Time Visitor, Havana Is Charming-And Complicated, N.Y. Times (Jan. 24, 2015); DeYoung, As normalization talks begin, Cubans begin anticipating challenges to come, Wash. Post (Jan. 24, 2015); Miroff, Fear of immigration policy change triggers new wave of Cuban migrants, Wash. Post (Jan. 27, 2015); U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Hearing: Understanding the Impact of U.S. Policy changes on Human Rights and Democracy in Cuba (Feb. 3, 2015).