Cuban Americans react to President Obama’s announcement

Posted at 12:14 AM, Dec 18, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-18 00:14:16-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. --Cuban Americans in West Michigan are reacting to President Barack Obama's announcement.

It's a moment Mirelis Roque said she's waited decades for.

"For the first time, a president is talking about the Cuban people on TV," Roque said.

She and her friend, Geiser Conde, watched as President Obama told the nation Wednesday about his plans to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and re-open an embassy in Havana.

Conde said he called his family in Cuba upon hearing the news.

"The first thing I asked them was if they saw the Obama announcement," Conde said. "They [said], 'yes.' I don't know how it was but they are exciting [sic] about it."

President Obama is expected to take several executive actions. They include: Reopening embassies, easing travel and economic restrictions, allowing Americans to use their credit and debit cards in Cuba and allowing them to return to the United States with Cuban goods, like their world-famous cigars.

However, the trade embargo against Cuba remains in place. President Obama would need the approval of Congress to lift that ban.

While the island nation is just 90 miles off the American coast, for Conde and Roque, traveling to see their loved ones isn't easy. While President Obama said things can't change over night, Roque told FOX 17 what she's hoping to see.

"Better choices to renew your passport because the only embassy in American is in Washington," Roque said. "It's too hard to do it."

Roque also said she'd like to see more flights become available to Cuba.

However, both Roque and Conde are cautioiusly optimistic about the expected changes.

"I think maybe in the future a lot of things can change," Roque said. "But, right now, it's only words."

Conde and Roque said the changes would only bring small perks for Cuban Americans, adding that there's a much bigger issue.

"The people in Cuba don't enjoy the benefits," Roque said.

Conde hopes that one day Cuba will be run by a democratically elected government.

"When I come in here, to this country, I see the freedom--I say that I have to fight for my people," Conde said. "We [get] an election over there, for the Cuban people, I want to be there. That's what I expect in three to four years. I hope we're going that way."