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Cuba Awaits Obama's Arrival

HAVANA—Count the number of candy-colored classic cars at a Havana stoplight, and you’ll find just as many expectations for the imminent visit of U.S. President Barack Obama.

There are those who hope the visit is a milestone en route to lifting the economic embargo by the U.S., and those who believe Cuba cannot really change under the current government.

There are Cubans like Yosleny Borroto, who see the first state visit by an American leader since the 1920s as a sign of the changes she sees in her country.

"He has been one of the U.S. presidents who has extended his hand to us. To help us … to help us get ahead as a country," said Borroto.



For Claudia Toledo, an international buyer for a major food company, the nascent rapprochement means her job could improve; access to machine parts from the U.S., for example. It also feels like a sign of more openness to practical, daily-life benefits, like more Internet access.

"This participation from both sides is good for both countries," Toledo said.

No one expects immediate changes — except for a few road repairs along Obama's route through the capital and at least a day without alcohol sales, as mandated by the government.

Once the excitement fades, the trade embargo remains firmly intact, though the president's arrival with American CEOs (from Xerox and Marriott) hints at future business pacts. Commercial flights from the United States are already scheduled to resume later this year.


Some fear more problems ahead

But then there are Cubans like Oscar Casanella Saint-Blancard. He already feels targeted by the government for his friendships with outspoken dissidents, and fears that reestablished diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana not only fall short of real change, they may in fact bring more problems.

"The first question is: What's going to be the behavior of the Cuban government" afterward?

"It’s not enough to be more politically open or flexible," said Casanella. "... It's not enough that part of the embargo mechanism starts to crumble. Because there's an embargo from the Cuban government against the Cuban people, and I think that's the one that does the most damage."

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