Cuba welcomes closer ties with US, but few feel happy at embassy reopening

News of the imminent reopening of the US embassy has meant the overwhelmingly negative reaction by Cubans to increased contact with the outside world is growing increasingly loud.

Amid the opening Cuban government says it will improve the lives of its citizens with the US, which pulled out its last diplomats in 1961. But US regulations and deals are strict, if not sinister, and official attitudes in Cuba are mixed.

The US has lifted longstanding trade and financial restrictions, and offers US visas to Cuban university students. In return the US seeks Havana’s compliance with five-decade-old US and international laws on non-proliferation and human rights, and involvement in the US migration system.

With US President Donald Trump in office the plans of Cuban government officials have gone underground. This week, President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who replaced Raúl Castro as president on 31 July, announced his government will open the gates wider.

“A more active society will allow us to open channels of communication with our brother countries, including the United States, to try to promote the interests of both countries,” Diaz-Canel told a Communist party conference. “Cuba is eager to forge relations of respect, mutual recognition and coexistence.”

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Cuban voters will go to the polls in March and analysts say Diaz-Canel hopes to capitalise on a desire among many Cubans to free themselves from the chains of the one-party state. However, the opposition will be outlawed from the elections.

Experts predict that opposition groups will not be able to operate freely after Donald Trump pulled back the salary restrictions on US government employees last May, loosening financial and economic restrictions and allowing better contact and contact among the Cubans.

Trump also eased travel restrictions on Americans, allowing them to visit the island multiple times a year.

When Trump announced the reopening of the US embassy in Havana, Cubans condemned it as part of an American attack and forced the temporary shutdown of a nearby branch of the tourist agency representing the new embassy.

Since the announcement of a new bilateral relationship in June, details of diplomatic exchanges between the two countries have continued to emerge as leaders meet in Germany and are expected to have further meetings at the G20 summit in Argentina this week.

They have in the meantime endured constant accusations of leaving Cuba’s people in debt with the US for the decades-long trade embargo, the longest and most effective US ban on trade.

As diplomats and embassy workers return from “freedom” in Cuba, many Cubans continue to feel the embargo is preventing them from changing their lives. In many parts of Cuba the law will only allow the United States to supply 80% of supplies, leaving Cuba to choose the remaining 20%.

Asked if he planned to return to the US when his visa ends this month, Jorge Sanguis, a US citizen now living in Havana, said: “No. I won’t go there.

“If it happened it wouldn’t be good for my country. I’ll work here and stay here.”

In the coming days the US embassy will open its doors, but nobody knows exactly what life will be like inside.

Unlike diplomatic missions, the US embassy in Havana will not provide economic and diplomatic services to the island’s government, and functions in a relaxed way, likely to provide little direct link with the government to US citizens.

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