Not So Fast: Members of Cuba’s Opposition Respond
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President Obama’s speech Wednesday signaling his intention to normalize relations with Cuba (including, eventually, lifting the trade embargo) has prompted many passionate responses from Americans. But Obama’s speech — in which he also announced that Alan Gross, an American contractor who spent five years in a Cuban jail, had been released to American custody in exchange for the release of three Cubans jailed for espionage in America — also caused strong reactions in Cuba, especially among its dissident community. Here are reactions from two prominent Cuban dissidents and a Cuban priest living on the island (All interview questions translated from Spanish.)

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo: Cuba Blogger and photojournalist from Havana, Cuba

ALLOTTS: Can you summarize in one word how you felt when you heard the news that President Obama will attempt to normalize relations with Cuba?

LAZO: A deep sadness and feelings of betrayal.

ALLOTTS: Is there something you want to tell the American people about how you feel this agreement will affect the Cuban people?

LAZO: You Americans cannot do anything for the tragedy of the Cuban people. It seems you neither understand nor care.

ALLOTTS: How are most Cubans taking this news?

LAZO: In disbelief and we have fear in our hearts.

Fr. Roberto Hernandez: Catholic priest living in Las Tunas, Cuba

ALLOTTS: Can you summarize in one word how you felt when you heard the news that President Obama will attempt to normalize relations with Cuba?

HERNANDEZ: Hopeful.

ALLOTTS: What effect will this have on the daily lives of Cubans?

HERNANDEZ: Immediately, not much, but it can be an indication of a different view of both parties, the Americans and the Cubans, a posture of dialogue and negotiation to allow a new relationship with the United States to help solve many problems of ordinary Cubans and of Cuba in general.

ALLOTTS: Why do you think the U.S. and Cuba have done this now?

HERNANDEZ: I think this is not something improvised, I think this must have been being prepared for a long time and has matured now. However, it can be an indicator of awareness that there needed to be changes and changes that must occur slowly and precisely from the structures of government in Cuba.

ALLOTTS: Is there something you want to tell the American people about how you feel this agreement will affect the Cuban people?

HERNANDEZ: At this time the people are waiting. We want a different life, with broader horizons, with more possibilities and opportunities most likely to choose the destiny and direction of one’s life. We do not want a wild capitalism and we do not want to lose the good we have, but perhaps live what Saint John Paul II said during his visit to the island: “May the world open to Cuba and Cuba is open to world.” And if what is happening is a way to do this, it is welcome and blessed.

Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez : Founder and Director of Hablemos Press

ALLOTTS: Can you summarize in one word how you felt when you heard the news that President Obama will attempt to normalize relations with Cuba?

PEREZ: When I heard the news that Alan Gross was released I was very happy, but sad to learn that he had been exchanged for the three spies. Gross has not committed crimes, but the spies have.

ALLOTTS: What effect will this have on the daily lives of Cubans?

PEREZ: Today I have been out doing video interviews and Cubans are very misinformed, do not know who Gross was nor can they explain that the embargo has caused their problems. Many were happy, others said there will be no benefit from this.

ALLOTTS: Why do you think this happened now?

PEREZ: I think this happened now because Gross is very ill and the regime did not want him to die here. And the Cuban regime needs money because the economy is very weak. [Cuban president] Raul Castro needs time because the Cuban government has not solved anything in the 56 years of dictatorship. There is great discontent among the population, they know that people cannot take anymore.

ALLOTTS: Is there something you want to tell the American people about how you feel this agreement will affect the Cuban people?

PEREZ: My message is that this move will give very little benefit to the Cuban people… this has been a move by the regime to gain time. The regime does not respect human rights and continues to arrest protesters and others. For there to be real change in Cuba, there must be respect for freedom of expression and opinion, religion, movement… and there have been no such changes. Change also requires no more political prisoners, that every Cuban has decent housing, fair wages and a decent job. I wish Obama had considered the opinion of the Cuban people before making this change.

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