HAVANA: “I thought I would die before it would happen,” said Rena Perez, 80, on the eve of the official resumption of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba.
On Monday, for the first time since 1961, the Cuban red, white and blue flag will fly over Havana’s newly upgraded embassy in Washington, just a stone’s throw from the White House.
The US interests section in Havana will meanwhile be upgraded to a full embassy, a hugely symbolic moment.
Perez is better placed than many to assess what it means for Americans and Cubans on the streets.
She is a rare thing—an American who arrived in Cuba 56 years ago with her Cuban partner and has called the communist island home ever since.
Perez hopes renewed ties—frozen for half a century—could address Cuba’s housing crisis, but is also worried that a rush of development could spoil the “beautiful” country she now considers home.
“Cuba lacks 700,000 homes. Somebody will make money reconstructing Cuba,” she told AFP, admitting she was “happy… and worried,” about what the future might bring after the historic rapprochement.
“The US wants to make, and will make, a hell of a lot of money,” she added, skeptically.
While Perez sees economic opportunities for some, medical student Pasha Jackson, 32, hopes it will mean improved health care in Cuba.
Jackson, like Perez, is among the small community of American expats in Cuba.
And like Perez, she received the news of renewed ties with a dash of ambivalence.
“What will change with the opening of the embassy? I honestly don’t know. But I have hopes,” said Jackson, who was born in Oakland, California and has been in Cuba for six years.
She said both countries have a lot to learn from each other when it comes to providing adequate medical care.
“Being poor where I live, in Oakland, means being sick,” said Jackson, a student at the Latin American School of Medicine—popular among Americans in Havana.
“I would love a universal health model… I’m thinking about my community.”