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Obama's SOTU Leaves Cuban Couple 'Cautiously Optimistic'

Cubans watched President Obama’s State of the Union, looking for any mention of their home country. Obama called on Congress to end the embargo.

HAVANA, Cuba — In homes all over Havana, people watched President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Tuesday night, looking for any mention of their home country. They weren't disappointed.

Rafael Hernandez, 79, a retired bank manager and his wife Maritza Corrales, 65, a historian and author, watched the speech via TeleSur, a Latin American cable news network, which carried the annual presidential address in its entirety for the first time.

Obama in December announced plans to begin normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba. In his sixth State of the Union speech on Tuesday night,Obama said, "In Cuba, we are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date. When what you're doing doesn't work for fifty years, it's time to try something new."

Obama called on Congress to begin taking the necessary steps to end a longstanding trade embargo with Cuba. Hernandez said that move is essential to fostering economic freedoms that will lead to political freedoms in Cuba. "Unless the embargo is done, we can not really trade with the U.S. and the Americans can not invest in Cuba,” he said.

Hernandez said Obama’s proposals were also politically smart and “will help the U.S. with relations all over Latin America, where Cuba is respected.”

Corrales has been waiting for better relations with the U.S. for decades. Unlike most Cubans, the historian travels to the U.S. often thanks to a special dispensation. She teaches seminars on the history of Judaism in Cuba around the world. She was encouraged by what she called Obama’s positive tone when referring to Cuba. “It’s a long history of distrust,” Corrales said. “We need to overcome all that. We need to be good neighbors.”

Critics here say the president’s ideas are just that, ideas, and may never become reality, but Corrales said she has hope.

“I think Cubans are always hopeful, very optimistic,” she said. “We always see the best side of things.”