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    Obama victory leaves Cubans relieved, hopeful

    Obama victory leaves Cubans relieved, hopeful

    Wed Nov 7, 2012 3:35am EST

    * Cubans feared Romney would toughen U.S. policy

    * Obama lifted restrictions on remittances, to Cuba

    * U.S.-Cuba relations slightly improved under Obama

    By Jeff Franks

    HAVANA, Nov 7 (Reuters) – Cubans breathed a collective sigh of relief on

    Wednesday over U.S. President Barack Obama's re-election victory and

    expressed hope he might still bring a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba

    that many expected after he won his first term in 2008.

    They generally supported him over Republican candidate Mitt Romney

    because they feared Romney would be the second coming of President

    George W. Bush, who toughened the longstanding U.S. trade embargo and

    hardened relations with the Cuban government during his time in the

    White House.

    "Bush made it really hard for us economically and even to see family who

    live in the United States. If Romney had won most of the people here

    would have been really sad," said Havana domestic worker Violeta

    Gutierrez as she washed dishes in her employer's kitchen.

    Obama's 2008 victory raised hopes that the U.S. trade embargo against

    Cuba, imposed in 1962 with the intent of toppling the island's communist

    government, would finally be lifted and U.S.-Cuba relations, hostile

    since the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro, would improve.

    The embargo is still in place and relations have improved only slightly,

    but in 2009 Obama lifted Bush-era restrictions on remittances and Cuban

    American visits to the country 90 miles (145 km) from Florida, both

    heartily welcomed by Cubans.

    The flow of remittances has risen to an estimated $2 billion, a huge

    help to Cubans who earn on average $19 a month, and 300,000 to 400,000

    Cuban Americans have been pouring into the island annually, bringing

    their families a steady flow of consumer goods, and hard

    to find in Cuba.

    They have helped Cuba's budding self-employed sector by bringing items

    for Cubans to sell, although stiff new import duties imposed by the

    government threaten the influx of goods.


    "The money people receive from their family has changed their lives. It

    helps them eat better, dress, buy soap for a bath, everything thanks to

    that money," said Gutierrez, who gets money occasionally from family

    members in Miami.

    Romney had threatened to roll back Obama's changes if he won the

    presidency and was supported by Cuban American lawmakers who say the

    easing of restrictions had only helped the Cuban government, led by

    President , younger brother of now retired Fidel Castro.

    "The Cuban American extremists favor policies that hurt the Cuban people

    and give the Cuban government excuses for their failures," said

    dissident Miriam Leiva at an election night function at the U.S.

    Interests Section in Havana, which the United States has instead of an

    embassy because the two countries have no official diplomatic relations.

    A straw vote by those in attendance, among them Cuban dissidents and

    diplomats from the United States and other countries, went to Obama 64-19.

    Obama also renewed U.S.-Cuba talks on immigration and postal issues, but

    the mild rapprochement ended when Cuba American Alan and

    sentenced him to 15 years in prison for setting up networks on

    the island.

    Washington insisted he was only trying to improve Internet access for

    Cuban Jewish groups, but he was working for a U.S. program that promotes

    political change on the island, which the Cuban government views as


    Despite the setbacks, handicrafts vendor Rene Castillo said four more

    years of Obama still held the promise of hope for better days between

    the two ideological foes.

    "Obama is the hope that more things change between Cuba and the United

    States. Not even under (President Bill) Clinton, who also did his part

    in favor of better ties, was there so much interaction as there is with

    Obama," he said.

    "Now it's needed that he fill himself with courage and lift the embargo,

    but here everyone knows he can't do it alone," said Castillo.

    Cuban officials have expressed less optimism about Obama, saying before

    the election they expected no major changes in U.S. policy no matter who

    won because Obama and Romney shared the goal of toppling Cuban

    communism, but with different tactics.

    Obama "proposes to liquidate the Cuban Revolution, but with softness,"

    Cuban National Assembly President told Venezuelan

    television network Telesur in a recent interview.