Cuba-U.S. détente: Now comes the 'managing expectations' part

The CBC's Adrienne Arsenault is in Cuba, where expectations are soaring ahead of this week's historic normalization talks between Havana and Washington.

Neighbours 'know their place' regarding domestic problems: Cuban author ahead of talks starting Wednesday

Cuba's new rapprochement with the United States means big changes for the small island, and the region 1:54

The Americans couldn't be clearer about what they really want out of the historic normalization talks with Cuba this week.

They want a new Cuba. Make that a friendly and free Cuba with new leaders who have new ambitions.

Too much? Of course.

But those expectations are no more outlandish than the desire of the woman in line at a vegetable stall in Havana the other day.

Ahead of the talks that begin Wednesday, political commentator Rafael Hernández says he watched her look at the food disparagingly and shake her head in frustration.

"When the Americans come," she scolded the storekeeper, "you will have to lower those criminally high prices."

If only the world worked like that.

This is Hernández's big worry about this moment: that expectations are off the charts from all sides. He maintains his expectations are far more muted and more in line with reality.

Rafael Hernández, Cuban political commentator and author, has tempered expectations of the more open relationship between his country and the United States. (CBC)

"My measure of success is that both sides want to build something and this is a first step in very long way … the embargo, the hostility, is not as important as the legacy of mistrust," he said. "So if both sides can take a step forward in that surpassing this legacy of mistrust that would be a success."

But he shakes his head at what he maintains is a fundamental misunderstanding Americans have about Cuba and Cubans, that just because the path is cleared to talk, doesn't mean the Americans will gain a say in the future of this country.

Sitting on his porch, in the warm glow of the winter sun, he is searching for a way to explain what he means. This is a man who is good with his analogies, and he finds one in the open doors of his home. He has a ground-floor apartment in a three-floor building.

Neighbours come and go. But, he says, they also ultimately know their place, especially when it comes to changes happening in someone else's home.

Americans would love to open up the country's stagnant telecommunications industry, which would be undoubtedly welcomed by many Cubans. (CBC )

"If my neighbours stop annoying us, that will help us to change, but we need to change here. It is us. It is entirely 100 per cent Cuban domestic problems. We can talk with the neighbour about these problems, but … "

But the changes are Cuba's to make.

And yes, the smiling young woman in the T-shirt this day that reads "I need free Wi-Fi" would probably love what the Americans say they want to do here: Open up the telecommunications industry, modernize the communications infrastructure.

Fix the situation of Cuba having one of the lowest rates of internet penetration in the world, hovering around five per cent.

But just offering to build it doesn't mean the Cuban government will embrace that change. They have to want it to make it so.

The CBC's Adrienne Arsenault is in Cuba this week, as historic normalization talks get underway between Havana and Washington.

On mobile? Follow Adrienne Arseanault's tweets here.

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