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Obama win raises Cubans hopes for change
HAVANA (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's promise of change reached across the Florida Straits on Tuesday as Cubans said his victory over John McCain gave them hope for better relations with the United States and improvement in their own lives.
Obama's campaign vow to ease the 46-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and his willingness to consider dialogue with the Cuban government were a breath of fresh air after almost eight years of tough talk and hard-line policies from the Bush administration, Cubans said.
"I think with Obama we will have some improvement. We're going to breathe a little, because if the other (McCain) had won we would be in bad shape -- and not just the Cubans," said housewife Cristina Recio, 50.
"With Obama, there has to be a relaxing of the policy toward Cuba because he has at least promised to change things such as ending restrictions on trips to Cuba (by Americans) and that will be good for everyone," restaurant employee Diego Lopez, 41, said.
Communist Cuba and the United States are worlds apart politically and have been at odds since the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power, but only the Florida Straits, 90 miles across, separate the countries that were once closely allied.
Family ties between the two countries are strong, as an estimated 1 million Cubans have emigrated to the United States. Miami, with about 650,000 Cuban-Americans living in and around the city, is the Cuban-American community's heartland.
CASTRO PRAISED OBAMA
Many Cubans kept a close eye on the U.S. election and most viewed McCain as an extension of U.S. President George W. Bush, who toughened the embargo by limiting how much money their U.S.-based relatives could send home and how many times they could visit.
McCain said he would not ease the embargo and denigrated Obama for offering to speak to the Cuban government without pre-conditions.
"He (McCain) tried in his campaign to separate himself from Bush but he didn't fool anybody," said Lopez. "He is of the hard-line, a devotee of war."
"McCain is a carbon copy of Bush -- more of the same political verbal diarrhea that doesn't lead to anything for the two countries," said businessman Jose Hernandez, 38.
In a column published on Tuesday in state-run media, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro declared himself neutral in the race, but blasted away at McCain while mostly praising Obama.
Obama, Castro wrote, is "without doubt more intelligent, cultured and calm than his Republican adversary."
The 72-year-old McCain, the ailing 82-year-old said, is "old, bellicose, uncultured, not very intelligent and not healthy."
Cubans were wary of hoping that Obama's win could eventually bring an end to the U.S. embargo, which the Cuban government blames for many of its problems, but admitted they were ready for an end to 50 years of tense U.S.-Cuba relations.
"I'm not so idealistic as to think that the embargo will be lifted immediately," said Cuban dissident and writer Jorge Olivera. "But I expect better times as much for the United States as for Cuba."
"I don't want to die without seeing an end to this conflict that began when I was born," said Recio.
(Additional reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes and Nelson Acosta; editing by Patricia Zengerle)
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