The scene in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood following President Barack Obama's decision to remove Cuba from the U.S.' list of state sponsors of terrorism was remarkably unremarkable.
In a move that's been expected since December, Obama today announced his intention to remove Cuba from the terrorism list, based on the State Department's finding that Havana has not offered material support to terrorists in the previous six months. The announcement sparked some outcry from the usual cast of Republicans, but caused hardly a stir in the Cuban neighborhood known for causing stirs.
In Little Havana, nobody celebrated and nobody wailed. Instead, old men continued to throw dominos and exchange indistinguishable cigar-stained grunts, gift shop attendants mindlessly refolded picked-over "Papi Cuba" t-shirts, and low-buttoned waitresses flirted over the bar counter with men wearing dark sunglasses.
In fact, getting any reaction to Obama's announcement meant first interrupting people to tell them what had even happened. No one was huddled around the radio listening expectantly to the news, and certainly no one was rabble-rousing.
"Eh? They took Cuba off the list, eh? Bueno. Que Viva Fidel. Que Viva Obama. What more do you want to hear from me?" grunted 74-year-old Juan José Herrera, with the deflated air of a man who's been losing at cards for 30 years.
"They're off the terrorist list? OK. But all countries are terrorists because they all bomb and kill people," said José Guevara, without looking up from his hand of dominoes to know who he was even talking to. "But this is a free country, so you can say that here."
The sun-drained fatigue among the old men of Domino Park — a place that's heard more than its fair share of angry shouting matches over the years — seems to reflect a general dulling of passions amid the tidal shift in public opinion on Cuba and its relationship with the U.S. No one has necessarily changed his or her mind about the Castro brothers, but many Miami Cubans seem to be in a mental state that's somewhere between guardedly hopeful or wearily resigned to the idea that no amount of fussing on the streets of Little Havana is going to make a difference.
"I have a lot of opinions about this, but that doesn't matter — this whole thing is out of everyone's hands now," said Jackie Llaguna, a 50-year-old Cuba gift shop attendant. "This thing is already heading down the road without any breaks, and our opinions about what's happening —whether good or bad —don't matter anymore."
Others are more positive, but wonder why it took so long for change to happen.
"This is good for Cuba, which has never been a terrorist state," said waitress Barbara Herrera, who arrived in the U.S. two years ago. "But why did it take so long for this to happen? Lots of of people have lost their lives at sea already."
Most Cubans, however, hope the benefits of the change happening on their native island will eventually trickle down to the people who need it most — the family members they left behind.
"Unfortunately, it's the Cuban government that will probably benefit the most from all this, even though I want to think it will help the people of Cuba. I still have my family and friends there, but it seems that most change benefits only a small class of people," said errr… Julio…ummm… Perez, a man who, despite living in the U.S. for five years, still doesn't feel comfortable enough to use his real name.