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Cubans on the Streets of Havana 'Overjoyed' by Announcement on US Relations Shift

Strangers embraced and tears were shed on the streets of Cuba's capital as word spread that decades of frosty relations with the United States would finally thaw.
Photo by Ramon Espinosa/AP

"I was walking down the street, when I saw a group of young people cheering, waving flags," Orlando Piñon, a retired doctor in Havana told VICE News on Wednesday. "I asked them what happened — and almost fell over when they told me."

Cubans on the streets of Havana reacted with jubilation but also a measure of caution after US president Barack Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro announced a historic shift in bilateral relations that ended more than 50 years of Cold War chill between the world's superpower and the Communist island nation.


"I am overjoyed. I can't begin to say what I was expecting. This has been building for a long time now — but it happened," Piñon said. "This is a moment that both the US people and the Cubans have been fighting for."

Across Havana, citizens spent the day absorbing to the news.

Small crowds gathered in the street and in shops to listen to radio reports. Strangers embraced, and tears were shed, after the announcement of the liberation of the final three members of the "Cuban Five" — Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, and Ramón Labañino — who were released by the United States and were flown to Havana while the jailed US contractor Alan Gross was released and flown to the United States.

The other two, Fernando González and René González, had been released in the last three years. Both were reunited Wednesday with the three who had been held since their 1998 arrest.

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Above, US president Barack Obama's announcement on the normalization process.

The announcement surprised leaders gathered at a summit in Argentina for member nations of Mecrosur, a regional bloc of South American Atlantic coastal countries that includes Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela, Paraguay, and Argentina.

Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner called president Obama's announcement "a truly historic moment," adding during the summit in the city Paraná that she had "profound respect for the dignity of the Cuban people, and their government, for having upheld their ideals for so long."


Her statement was met with applause by the other Latin American leaders present.

'The games are over.'

In Colombia, the US's strongest ally in South America, president Juan Manuel Santos also celebrated the news in a national address. Santos said he received a call from US vice president Joe Biden informing him on the normalization process. Biden also called Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto on Wednesday to share the news.

"I am glad that both parties are open to discussing in an open and frank manner subjects such as democracy, freedom, and human rights," Santos said. "[It is a ] very, very good opportunity that cannot be wasted."

Above, Cuban president Raul Castro's announcement, in Spanish.

World leaders were not the only ones cheering. Isnel Acea, a 59-year-old woman who pulled over in old Cadillac on a Havana street, applauded the release of the remaining "Cuban Five," who were given a hero's welcome after landing in the Cuban capital.

"This is proof that these countries are willing to make things right. The games are over," Acea said.

"My mother-in-law told me over the phone, and I didn't believe it," said Antonio Bermúdez, a young philosophy student at the University of Havana. "But then they brought out a television, because Raul Castro was about to speak, and I was convinced that 'the Five' would be back here again."

Alan Gross returns home as US and Cuba restore diplomatic relationships in historic policy shift. Read more here.


Above, a report by a Cuban news agency with citizens reacting to the normalization announcement.

"I see an opening on the horizon," Camila Hernandez, a young Havana resident, told VICE News. "Hopefully, this will improve the flow of communication, and we will have, in the future, better options for connecting with the world, to understand the realities faced everywhere."

"I know they haven't removed the embargo, and there is still more to do," an elderly man, Reimundo Febles, said as he sat in Havana's Central Park. "But, that is a dream that — with all that has happened today — we see closer than ever to becoming a reality."

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Andrea Noel in Mexico City contributed to this report.