December 17, 2014 / 8:51 PM / 3 years ago

Cubans joyous over improved ties with U.S. but some skeptical

HAVANA (Reuters) - Stunned Cubans celebrated an apparent end to decades of conflict with the United States on Wednesday after both governments said they would restore diplomatic relations cut off in 1961.

In one student demonstration on a busy Havana street corner, about 100 people shut off traffic while motorists honked their horns. Neighbors peered out from their balconies, joining in the cheers.

“Long live Fidel! Long live Raul! Long live the revolution!” they chanted, in support of retired historic leader Fidel Castro, current President Raul Castro and the 1959 revolution that they led.

Many said they expected a restoration of ties would lead to the end of a U.S. economic embargo against Cuba, which is vilified daily in the official media and which Cubans accept as a key cause of widespread poverty on the island.

“I have waited for this day since I can remember,” said Havana taxi driver Jorge Reymond, wiping away tears from his face.

Reymond said he was 5 years old when Fidel Castro rose to power in Cuba’s 1959 revolution, sending many Cubans into exile and leading the United States to cut off ties with the country in 1961.

“The pain for my family of being divided between Cuba and the United States has been enormous, I can’t explain it with words,” Reymond said.

Still, other Cubans like car mechanic Jorge Guerra found it hard to believe that decades of hostility between Cuba and the United States were really ending.

“Hopefully it’s true all of this, but I‘m skeptical. There have been so many years of conflict, it’s difficult to believe they’re finally going to reach an agreement,” said Guerra, visibly excited by the news. “Hope is the last thing you lose.”

Castro made the announcement on television at midday and the news was repeated on the daily state news broadcast shortly later. Word spread quickly around Havana even though only a tiny fraction of Cubans have internet access.

Eliecer Avila, a 29-year-old engineer and political activist, said it was now up to ordinary Cubans to take advantage of the change in U.S.-Cuban relations.

“The general vision of Cubans is beginning to shift after being stuck for more than 50 years,” said Avila, leader of a group called Somos + which calls on Cubans to build a more modern, developed society.

Reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes and Nelson Acosta; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Kieran Murray and Andrew Hay

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