HAVANA, Cuba – U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to restore ties with Cuba may have given him a revered spot in the heart of many Cubans.
Crowds lined the roads here to catch a glimpse of the presidential motorcade: en route to a baseball game between U.S. and Cuban teams, thousands spilled into the streets and crowded onto balconies.
The American flag, once a sign of hostility, did fly beside the Cuban colors from the antennas of the vintage American automobiles that ferried visitors around the city. And an entrepreneur pitched a refrigerator magnet with Obama holding a cigar under his nose.
But they were still outnumbered by trinkets with images of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. And in a country accustomed to disappointment and ruled by the same family since 1959, there were few overt displays of support for the American president, even as he spent the better part of three days touring Havana’s sights, eating its food and urging its people to embrace democracy.
Cubans cheered his speech in the privacy of their homes – the government did not erect large screen monitors in public as with other events. “Who would have thought we’d see this,” said Jesus Magán as he watched at home. “I mean, we were trained to fight against the Americans!”
A poll conducted here secretly months after Obama’s December 2014 decision to normalize relations with Cuba found the president more popular than either Fidel Castro or his brother, Raul, who now serves as president.
Eighty percent of the Cubans polled said they had a “very positive” or “somewhat positive” opinion of Obama, while 17% had a “very negative” or “somewhat negative” impression.
That was in sharp contrast to the findings for Raul and Fidel Castro, both of whom who had higher negative than positive ratings in the March 2015 poll done by Miami-based Bendixen & Amandi International for Univision, Fusion and the Washington Post.