A classic American car drives by a billboard showing Fidel Castro, right, and "The Cuban Five" in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014.
HAVANA, Cuba — While the rest of the world followed the news about Cuba online or on their smartphones, people in Cuba found out about the prisoner swap and the historic reset of diplomatic relations with the U.S. somewhat differently.
As a foreign journalist, I am allowed a dial-up connection. But that's a luxury only available to a few people, including some doctors, university professors, government officials and the like.
The rest of the country lives without access to the Internet.
And so no one knew what was coming until suddenly, at noon, normal television programming was interrupted. There on the screen was Raul Castro.
[Happening Now] Raul Castro announces talks to restore full diplomatic relations with the US http://t.co/Rve1Lp0EXfpic.twitter.com/6huHokikMK— euronews (@euronews) December 17, 2014
The Cuban president was sitting in what looked like a TV set from the 1980s, with wood panels and black-and-white photographs hanging on the wall. The photos behind him showed Castro with family; others above his desk were portraits of Cuban independence heroes.
In a very low-tech broadcast, Raul read from a prepared statement with little emotion but a touch of revolutionary ardor.
"Today, despite the difficulties, we have embarked on the task of updating our economic model in order to build a prosperous and sustainable Socialism," he said. "As a result of a dialogue at the highest level, which included a phone conversation I had yesterday with President Obama, we have been able to make headway in the solution of some topics of mutual interest for both nations."
I have lived in Cuba for two-and-a-half years and, in my recollection, it was the first time the president ever addressed the nation on live TV.
Moments later, he reached the point in his remarks about releasing the remaining three of the so-called Cuban Five — hailed as heroes in Havana, derided as treasonous spies in Miami — and my neighborhood erupted in cheers. Downtown, in old Havana, church bells began to chime.
Raul Castro speaking on TV in #Cuba. Audible cheers from my neighbours when he announced return of remaining three of Los Cinco.— Stephen Wicary (@wicary) December 17, 2014
After the speech was over, I talked to several Cubans who expressed cautious hope for the future. But there were no major scenes of jubilation in Havana.
"It's not a totally unexpected surprise," Kenia Correa, 41, told me. "But it's certainly good news — some of the best we've had in many, many years."
The embargo is still in place and Cubans know that their everyday lives won't change in the weeks and months to come. The American spring breakers are still a long way off.
And the street parties haven't started just yet.
Stephen Wicary was an editor with The Globe and Mail in Toronto and Ottawa for 11 years before moving to Havana in the summer of 2012.
Tags: ALAN GROSS, CUBA, CUBAN FIVE, FIDEL CASTRO, RAUL CASTRO, US & World, WORLD