The world woke up on Wednesday to breaking news: After six months of negotiations, the governments of Cuba and the United States finally had reached an agreement, and that embassies would be opening soon in each country.
But while people from around the globe read, heard, commented, tweeted, shared, and liked the avalanche of posts that followed President Obama’s official announcement that 54 years of hostility were coming to an end, many Cubans spent most of the day not knowing about the big news. Many still haven't heard it.
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” the owner of a cafeteria not very far away from the U.S. Interests Section of Havana (where the embassy will be opened in just a couple of weeks), when I asked her around 2 p.m. if she had heard that the Americans will be opening their embassy in Havana on July 20.
How did one of the most important events in the recent history of the country go unnoticed by the general public? Shouldn’t it have spread like wildfire?
How did one of the most important events in the recent history of the country go unnoticed by the general public?
No. Because it's Cuba. Those of you who have visited will understand that particularly Cuban feeling of being stuck in the past: It's not just the abundance of American cars from before 1959 and an urban landscape that hasn’t changed much since the 1950’s, it's also the lack of internet availability and its impact on public communication.
The vast majority of Cubans continue to use traditional media outlets to stay current, but even in those cases, they depend on state-run printed newspapers, TV channels, and radio stations that often are in no hurry to break the news — especially when it comes to relevant events that need the approval of official media censors.
By the afternoon, those who had time to buy one of the two eight-page tabloids that are distributed nationally learned that the embassies were reopening. A few radio stations read out the press release. However, it was a workday, and it's not typical of most workplaces to have TVs or radios.
By Wednesday evening, the first expressions of joy and amazement started to appear.
After I spoke to the woman in the cafe (“Try to watch the news tonight!" I told her, walking away), I started asking random people in the street if they have heard about the embassies. Except for an old man sitting on his porch, nobody was aware of anything.
By Wednesday evening, the first expressions of joy and amazement started to appear on social media, from the privileged 5% or so who have access to the internet — mostly intellectuals, journalists, medical personnel, lawyers, and university students.
Thursday is a new day, and word-of-mouth is doing its work. My taxi driver has heard “that thing about the embassies.” News is speading offline, via alternative channels, and the reactions are almost universal: happiness — if for no other reason than because maybe the next time a big story breaks, Cubans will get to read it along with everyone else.