HAVANA - The restoration of diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States unleashed expectations Thursday of even more momentous changes on an island that often seems frozen in a past of classic cars and crumbling Art Deco buildings.
On the first full day after the surprise announcement, many Cubans expressed hope that it will mean greater access to jobs and the creature comforts taken for granted elsewhere, and lift a struggling socialist economy where staples such as meat, cooking oil, and toilet paper are often hard to come by.
That yearning, however, was tempered with anxiety. Some fear a cultural onslaught, or that crime and drugs will become common along with visitors from the United States. There is also concern that the country will become just another Caribbean destination.
"There are things that shouldn't get lost, that have gone very well here even though Cubans complain," said Nayda Martinez, 52, a chemical engineer in Havana.
"I don't want the system, the country or the regime, whatever you want to call it, to change," Martinez said. "What the people want is to live better."
That mix of optimism and concern was a common refrain Thursday among Cubans trying to digest the implications of such a seismic shift between the two Cold War rivals after more than half a century of bad blood.
Trade with the U.S. will help the country develop, said homemaker Maria Betancourt, 55, but she worried it would bring another kind of isolation.
"I wouldn't want to lose that uniquely Cuban solidarity, or for this to become a more consumerist or individualist society," she said.
Cuba is a place of contrasts. It matches the most developed nations in education and health indicators such as infant mortality. It has one of the lowest crime rates in the Western Hemisphere and some of the best-preserved habitat in the Caribbean, in part because of the lack of development.
But the majority of islanders still work government jobs that pay just $20 a month on average. Internet access is scarce, slow, and expensive. Nearly all media are controlled by the state. The Communist Party is the only sanctioned political party. Complaining about a pothole is OK, but openly protesting the government can still land you in jail.