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If you've ever strolled Havana's broken sidewalks, sucked in fumes from a Lada long overdue for the scrap heap or seen locals getting rations at a neighbourhood libreta store, a part of you probably dies at the thought of it all being overrun by Starbucks and American tourists.

Beyond the island resorts frequented by Canadians, the real Cuba is full of contradictions – a land of deprivation stuck in a time warp, with glimpses of the abundance and 21st century possibilities that a few connected or inventive Cubans already enjoy but almost all aspire to attain. Were it not for the brutality with which the Castros have enforced their dictatorship, the idealistic slogans on sun-faded billboards might seem like romantic notions worth pursuing.

That the same billboards could one day be advertising iPhones or Internet providers might kill the poet in you. But that's a small price to pay if it means a better life for average Cubans.

The poets still have plenty of time to indulge themselves. Like all of President Barack Obama's recent headline-grabbing moves, from his climate pact with China to his executive order on immigration, there is much less than meets the eye in his announcement that the United States will re-establish diplomatic relations with Communist Cuba. That does not mean it wasn't a bold move, just that its practical implications are for now quite limited, perhaps even short-lived.

Mr. Obama promises to open an embassy in Havana, but Congress is unlikely to provide him with the money to run it or approve an ambassador. Nor can Mr. Obama lift the 51-year-old embargo on U.S. trade with Cuba without congressional approval – and there little possibility of that happening before he leaves office. There will be no rush of Americans to the beaches of Varadero or Cienfuegos or island invasion by U.S. retail chains.

For now, the biggest change is an increase in the amount of cash Cuban-Americans can send to relatives on the island. The cap on remittances will rise to $2,000 (U.S.) every three months, from $500. This will provide a major boost to the Cuban economy – and the Castros.

A Washington Post editorial called Mr. Obama's move "an undeserved bailout" for the regime of 83-year-old President Raul Castro, who officially took over from the older and frailer Fidel Castro in 2008. It will "provide Havana with a fresh source of desperately needed hard currency and eliminate U.S. leverage for political reforms."

So why reward the Castros, who have denied Cubans basic freedoms, executed countless dissidents and still imprison political opponents on a whim?

The short answer is: Why China and Vietnam and not Cuba? The United States deals with plenty of undemocratic regimes with horrendous human-rights records, so there is no longer a good reason to single out Cuba, beyond sheer obstinacy. It's not like the embargo has been a success in snuffing out totalitarianism.

With a Republican-controlled Congress preventing him from leaving a further legislative legacy, Mr. Obama also intends to spend the rest of his term making bold-sounding but partial reforms that, if carried to fruition by his successor, will still have his name on them.

Besides, the Castros aren't immortal, even if they're doing their best to look that way. Any U.S. president must prepare for a post-Castro Cuba. Mr. Obama has just gotten some of the preliminaries out the way. Better to act now than to allow China and Russia, whose leaders both visited the island this year, to get any cozier with Havana.

Most important, Mr. Obama has also thrown a curveball at Republicans. They are beholden to fiercely anti-Castro older Cuban-Americans in Florida. But younger Cuban-Americans and non-Cuban Hispanics, for whom the Castros are geriatric paper tigers, now account for the majority of Florida's Latinos.

Former Florida governor and likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said Mr. Obama's move will benefit "the heinous Castro brothers, who have oppressed the Cuban people." But while such talk may still be needed to win a GOP nomination, it is clearly out of touch with public opinion.

Hillary Clinton knew that when, on leaving the State Department in 2012, she conveniently left behind a memo urging Mr. Obama to work to lift the embargo. If 2016 yields a Bush-Clinton matchup, Mr. Obama may just have tipped Florida's critical scales for his former Democratic rival.