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Normalizing relations

18 December 2014

Cuban flag

There’s been big news. No idea how it’s playing in the U.S., if at all ("Obama surrenders to Communists"?), but it’s big news for both countries.

I’m talking of course about the announcement that the U.S. is normalizing relations with Cuba, including embassies and taking Cuba off the state sponsors of terrorism list, in addition to the prisoner exchange of Alan Gross for the last three of the Cuban Five.

I didn’t know all of this until later last night, though.

I woke up and put the TV on just in time to see an all-channel broadcast. A woman announced that at noon, Chief of the Army and President of the State Councils and Ministries Raul Castro Ruz would make an announcement about the government of the United States. She repeated this a few more times before the broadcast ended and went back to the regularly scheduled programming of Olympic speed skating on an NBC-length delay.

My first thought was ‘‘Oh, Fidel’s dead,’’ but then why mention the U.S.? Did someone kill Obama? Were we at war? For more than a few minutes, I seriously considered packing my suitcase just in case I had to haul ass to the embassy.

Noon rolled around and there’s Raul Castro Ruz, Chief of the etc., and I make out the words “Cuba,” “Fidel,” “Barack Obama,” “Estados Unidos,” and (I was pretty sure) “died.” Then more talk about the government of the U.S.

No context from Castro’s tone, by the way. All world leaders I’ve seen on TV speak with the same plodding cadence, baritone with no inflection in their voice. Watch Obama pardon a turkey and pretend you don’t speak English. It could sound like the turkey was a war criminal captured in the Balkans and being paraded in front of a victorious nation.

My neighbors weren’t knocking on my door at this point -- in the case of my Cuban grandmother to warn or console me, or in the case of the CDR block captain to arrest me, so I figure it’s not Earth shattering, whatever it is.

Still, I knocked on my grandma’s door to see what the deal is and she explains the Cuban Five are coming back and that it’s good news, “‘tranquilo,” etc.

I continued on with my day, visited a few museums, got lunch, etc. and there are no parties in the streets, other than small displays for San Lazaro, the leper saint. Business as usual.

Hit the baseball game that night, and talked with some Finns at their first-ever baseball game. At one point they show (on a newly installed video board) the manager of the Industriales talking on a cellphone in the locker room welcoming the Three back home.

An American sat next to me after the Finns left and filled me in. He tells me about the embassies, the state sponsor of terrorism list, that I can now bring $100 worth of cigars back, and that Obama wants to visit in the next few months.

I asked what he does and in an only-in-Cuba moment, I found out I just learned about normalization with Cuba from Eric Nadel, the radio play-by-play announcer for the Texas Rangers.

Overall, it’s been a muted reaction. The couple who run the café across the street from me where I get coffee every morning are less than optimistic, saying “The policies here won’t change, it’ll still be the same.” Other people who know me say “Good news today!” but that’s about it, really. There’s very much a wait-and-see feeling on the streets.

Obviously, it’s not quite throwing open the doors, lifting the embargo (or is it? I don’t get MSNBC here), and declaring the Capitalist Republic of Cuba open for business, but it’s a great big step in the right direction, and one whose time has long past come.

There’s always been “amistad” between the two countries – the citizens, anyway. They’ve been playing baseball here just about as long as we have in the U.S., so they can’t be all bad, right?

While watching Game 1 of the World Series at a bar with a satellite link, an Englishman asked if “If they’re so anti-America here, why is there baseball on TV?”

And that’s just it, baseball transcends all that. Maybe if more Americans knew how gaga for baseball they are here instead of soccer, things would’ve been different sooner.

I hope that when Obama visits, he can spend some time with Raul talking about the White Sox and Jose Abreu like the two old friends their countries are.

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