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Five Years after Reduced Tensions with US, Cubans Say Hopes Decreasing


People try to board a public bus in Havana, Cuba, September 11, 2019. (REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini)
Five Years after Reduced Tensions with US, Cubans Say Hopes Decreasing
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This week marks the fifth anniversary of the end of nearly 60 years of hostilities between Cuba and the United States.

On December 17, 2014, bells could be heard ringing across Havana as leaders of the two countries announced that they would reestablish diplomatic ties. Five years later, it is as if that historic event never happened, Cubans say.

The Associated Press (AP) reports that President Donald Trump has spent about as much time undoing détente as former president Barack Obama spent building it. These days, relations between the two sides are at their lowest point since the end of the Soviet Union.

Trump has cut back U.S. visits to Cuba. He has barred cruise ships, flights to most Cuban cities and unguided educational trips to the island.

The number of workers at the U.S. Embassy in Havana has been cut after diplomats reported health problems. The cause of the problems is still unknown. The embassy closed its visa office, and ended special five-year visas for Cubans this year. That means travel to the United States has become nearly impossible for many Cubans who once flew often to South Florida to see family members and buy supplies.

The Cuban economy is weak. Tourism numbers are down as is normal financial aid from Venezuela. Venezuela is in the middle of its own economic crisis.

In 2014, the announcement of reestablished ties felt like a new beginning, people in Cuba told The AP. Now, the two years of détente under Obama feel like it was a temporary break, they said.

“There was hope, thinking that there would be an opening with Obama,” said 37-year-old Alfredo Piñera. “And with Trump, it's like a child's dream, gone up in smoke.''

Piñera works in Mexico, and returns to Cuba often to see his wife and sons. He said he hoped that the end of hostilities with the U.S. government would bring a better life for him, his family and his homeland.

He said, “I felt good...There was hope for improvement, for change in this country, economically, politically, socially.”

Piñera said he and his family were surviving in economic hard times, which are not nearly as bad as just after the Soviet Union collapsed. But, he added, the loss of the excitement they felt five years ago has been hard for Cubans.

On Tuesday, the Cuban government celebrated the anniversary of the return of three of five Cuban agents jailed in the United States. The agents were arrested as they carried out raids on anti-Castro groups. The agents were exchanged for a jailed spy and Alan Gross, who worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development. The exchange set the détente in motion, but that was not noted on Cuban state television.

The Trump administration says it is trying to cut off the flow of money and oil to Cuba’s economy. It hopes to stop the Cuban government from supporting Venezuela.

Carlos Fernández de Cossio is the director of U.S. affairs for the Cuban Foreign Ministry. He said some powerful people in the United States were working to end relations between the U.S. and Cuba. He added that the island's government was prepared.

He said, “Cuba can't be taken by surprise by that reality.”

I’m Jonathan Evans.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words In This Story

bell n. an object usually made of metal that sounds a clear musical note when struck

ring – v. to make a clear sound

détente n. an easing of relations between two countries that once were strong enemies

tourismn. the business of people visiting a place for pleasure

excitement – n. a feeling of eager enthusiasm and interest

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