NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – President Obama said Wednesday that it’s time for a “new approach” as the U.S. and Cuba work to restore full diplomatic relations after more than 50 years of hostility.
Cubans call it “a wish come true” and celebrated in Havana Wednesday. Many thought a day would never come when the political standoff between Cuba and the United States would end, including Norfolk’s Rene Perez-Lopez.
“The situation is very abnormal, because this is almost the closest country geographically to the United States, and yet it’s been our official enemy,” Perez-Lopez said.
In January 1961, the U.S. cut relations with Cuba, just after the Castro brothers lead the country to a revolution. Perez-Lopez was only 16-years-old when he left his parents and two brothers behind in Santa Clara, Cuba to come to America.
“I was forced to make the decision because life closed in on me,” he said. “I was a boy scout, and that became a paramilitary organization.”
That standoff between the countries spanned five decades and 10 presidents, but it has begun to crumble. President Obama wants to “cut the shackles of the past” to help the Cuban people.
“I’m excited,” Perez-Lopez said. “I admire the move. I think it’s very worthy of the kind of quality place the U.S. is.”
“Whoever’s idea it was, it was a bad idea,” said Newport News resident Al Guerra. “Raul and Fidel Castro are killers. They are no different than Pol Pat. They are no different than Adolph Hitler.”
Guerra left his home in Havana when he was 10-years-old.
“I experienced people in my family being put in prison,” he said. “Luckily, nobody in my family was killed.”
Guerra is not sure why Wednesday’s announcement has Cubans dancing in the streets.
“It is not a good thing,” he said. “What does it say about the people who died or who lost their businesses? [What about the] people who’ve had their lives turned upside down? People seem to say that’s old news. It’s not old news. It happened to me. It happened to a lot of my family.”
Both Perez-Lopez and Guerra say they aren’t sure how much things will change as long as the Castro brothers remain in power.
“We still have the Castro brothers doing damage,” Perez-Lopez said. “How do we move to reasonable men and women in Cuba who would want government?”
“I see over there two guys getting a free pass and getting away with it, and I don’t think it’s right,” Guerra said.
Wednesday’s announcement could make it easier for Americans to travel to and do business with Cubans.