Cubans in Richmond are reacting to the president’s push to restore relations between Cuba and the U.S. in hopes of loosening restrictions on travel and trade banned under a decades-long embargo from the Kennedy administration.
The younger Cuban generations say they’re happy about the news, hoping it will help put Cuba back on the map economically, socially and culturally.
“For us this is the news of the year, this is the news of the century for us,” said Hector Valenzuela, owner of Illusions Night Club.
Cuban Americans like Valenzuela are applauding President Obama’s move to re-establish ties with Cuba.
“Everybody is happy!” Valenzuela added.
The president aims to expand economic ties, open an embassy in Havana and send high-ranking U.S. officials to visit Cuba. The U.S. is also easing restrictions on travel for family visits, government business and educational activities.
“Cubans get the liberty to go visit their families and make business in the future,” said Valenzuela.
But some worry the move will only strengthen the Castro regime, and that these negotiations do nothing for the oppressed people in the communist island nation.
“But what about the freedom of the people who’ve been suffering for 50-something years?” asked Cuban-American Omar Gonzalez. “They don’t have access to the Internet, they don’t have access to open media.”
President Obama also called on looser trade restrictions, which could benefit the commonwealth.
“We’re the third largest exporter to Cuba now in the United States,” said Todd Haymore, Virginia’s Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry.
Two years ago, exports of soybeans, poultry, pork and apples brought in $65 million.
“This is going to present more opportunities for our growers,” Haymore added. “In Virginia, the largest private sector in the state is agriculture. With the restrictions being lowered today, we believe we’ll have more opportunity to grow business to Cuba.”
New opportunities are what young generation Cuban Americans hope to take back to their home country.
“I want to try to open a travel agency or something like that,” said Valenzuela.