Cubans look fondly to U.S. as talks to resume relations start

Wed Jan 21, 2015 4:37pm EST
 
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By David Adams

HAVANA (Reuters) - Miguel Barnet, one of Cuba's most prominent Communist Party intellectuals, fondly recalls his teenage years in the 1950s, attending one of Havana's elite private schools, singing in the Episcopal church choir and performing in American musicals.

"I love North American culture, I was shaped by it," Barnet, a 74-year-old noted poet and anthropologist who is also a member of Cuba's powerful Council of State, said at his office in Havana, where images of Cuba's revolutionary leaders, Fidel Castro and Ernesto "Che" Guevara, adorn the walls.

He is not alone. After more than five decades of hostility from Washington, most Cubans firmly oppose U.S. policies and the long economic embargo against their communist-led country but they admire U.S. culture.

Many have relatives living in the United States, Cuban teenagers listen more to rap and hip hop than to home-grown son and salsa, and baseball is the country's most popular sport.

Following U.S. President Barack Obama's historic shift in Cuba policy last month, the two governments are meeting in Havana this week to set about restoring diplomatic relations.

Cuba's leaders have said little about the negotiations ahead, but they seem ready to make up.

"We never burned an American flag in Cuba," said Eusebio Leal, 72, another leading intellectual and the official historian of the city of Havana. "We Cubans don't have our hands soaked in American blood. There is no anti-American hatred here."

Since both sides promised a new era in relations on Dec. 17, Cuba has released dozens of people considered by Washington to be political prisoners and Obama has significantly eased sanctions against Cuba to allow more U.S. travel and trade.   Continued...

 
Miguel Barnet, a 74-year-old noted poet and anthropologist who is also a member of Cuba's powerful Council of State, poses for a photograph at his office in Havana January 9, 2015.   REUTERS/Stringer