Raul's reforms, as small as they are, stir hope in Cuba

HAVANA — Buses are running, household goods are flying off store shelves, and Cubans are giddily comparing their latest cell phone features.

After decades of stagnation in a communist country with an average salary of $17 a month, around here that's cause for celebration.

''It's logical,'' said Julio, a Havana nurse. "If one president prohibited drinking this glass of water and the second president comes and lets you have it, well, of course, you are going to think the new president is better.''

The changes unfurled by new leader Raúl Castro are hardly profound structural economic reforms needed to reverse decades of economic failure. But they've stirred a new sense of hope in a nation with its first new president in 49 years and a population eager for Castro to lift millions from poverty and improve their lives.

Conversations with dozens of people throughout Cuba's capital show that even if progress comes in the form of cellular phones most people cannot afford, Cubans will take it.

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