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New Yorkers Light Up to Celebrate Eased Relations With Cuba

By Ben Fractenberg | December 17, 2014 5:14pm
 Cuban New Yorkers reacted positively to the news that the United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba after President Barack Obama's announcement Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. 
Cuban New Yorkers React to Obama's Announcement on Normalized Relations
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HELL'S KITCHEN — New Yorkers celebrated the historic news about President Obama’s announcement Wednesday of the United States normalizing relations with Cuba — lighting up cigars and looking forward to travel to the island nation.

Jeff Centeno, 40, the owner of NYC Fine Cigars in Hell’s Kitchen, said the embargo was only working to impoverish the Cuban people and not the politicians who could get whatever they wanted on the black market.

“It’s a great thing. The embargo has been hurting the people,” Centeno, whose mother is Cuban, told DNAinfo New York.

Centeno, who lit up a cigar after reading the news, added that it was the older generation of Cubans who were fighting against normalized relations with the island 90 miles off the Florida coast.

“They actually suffered," he said. "Everything was taken away from them.”

There are still travel restrictions in place, and New Yorkers should not expect to be able to purchase Cuban cigars or rum in stores any time soon. But those traveling back from the island will be able to bring back a limited supply of products. 

Travelers will be able to take back $400 in goods, with no more than $100 in combined alcohol and tobacco products.

People will be able to get a license to visit Cuba for reasons including family visits, educational activities, journalistic projects, religious activities and public performances, according to the White House

The U.S. will also open an embassy in Havana in the next few months, and allow for certain exports of American products and services to the island, including telecommunications and Internet services.

Aaron Valdez, 24, who is a first generation Cuban-American, heard the news after he arrived to his job at the historic Cuban restaurant Victor’s Café in the Theater District.

“I called my grandmother [in Miami]. She was not into things needing to be changed. She had to leave everything there.”

Valdez was more positive about the policy shift.

“It’s great,” he said, adding he hopes to visit Cuba for the first time after the holidays. “Hopefully people start getting to know more about Cuban culture.”

Cigar smoker Lorenzo Garment, 68, who works in Hell's Kitchen, said he was excited about the change. 

"I'd love to purchase anything from Cuba," he said after leaving NYC Fine Cigars on Ninth Avenue. "I'm glad to see some movement."