Cuban embassy opens in Washington but important issues remain unresolved
Chants of ‘Viva Cuba socialista’ and ‘Cuba libre’ fill the streets
outside the Cuban embassy as foreign minister calls for end to embargo
and Guantánamo prison
Paul Lewis in Washington
Monday 20 July 2015 22.02 BST Last modified on Tuesday 21 July 2015
Cuba’s blue, red and white-starred flag has been raised above the
country’s newly inaugurated embassy in Washington, heralding the formal
restoration of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba .
The establishment of embassies in both Washington and Havana, for the
first time in 54 years, marked the symbolic end to one of the last
vestiges of the cold war. After more than half a century of diplomatic
animosity, the world’s capitalist superpower is once again on formal
speaking terms with the small, communist state to the south.
Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, flew to Washington to preside
over the flag-raising ceremony on Monday and met with his US
counterpart, John Kerry. It was the first time a Cuban foreign minister
was hosted by a secretary of state in Washington since 1958.
Appearing side by side at a State Department press conference, both
diplomats expressed hope that a reset between the US and Cuba would lead
to significant improvements in relations between the two countries.
Some changes are already afoot, after travel restrictions and limits on
remittances to Cuba were eased. In May, President Barack Obama removed
Cuba from Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
But Kerry and Rodríguez both acknowledged that the rapprochement falls
short of full diplomatic normalisation, and spoke at length about the
hurdles that still divide both sides.
“This milestone does not signify an end to the many differences that
still separate our governments,” Kerry said. “But it does reflect the
reality that the cold war ended long ago and that the interests of both
countries are better served by engagement than by estrangement.” He
added: “Nothing is more futile than trying to live in the past.”
Rodríguez was more forceful in his remarks, stating that future progress
would be contingent upon the end of the long-running trade embargo that
has for decades suffocated the Cuban economy and the return of
Guantánamo Bay, the US naval facility used to detain terror suspects on
the Caribbean island.
“I emphasised that the total lifting of the blockade, the return of the
illegally occupied territory of Guantánamo, as well as full respect for
Cuban sovereignty and compensation to our people for human and economic
damages, are crucial to be able to move toward the normalisation of
relations,” Rodríguez said of his meeting with Kerry.
Obama has called for an end to the trade embargo and also wants to close
Guantánamo Bay’s detention facility, but the White House’s ability to
implement change in either area is limited. Both require the backing of
the US Congress, which is controlled by Republicans opposed to the thaw
in relations with Cuba.
Kerry spoke in general terms about Washington’s concerns over human
rights in Cuba, but his remarks, occasionally delivered in Spanish, were
more conciliatory than Rodríguez’s. Kerry said Obama “could not have
been more clear” about his desire to see the end of the embargo, and
suggested that goal would be achieved in the years ahead.
The secretary was less clear about the future of Guantánamo Bay. “There
is no discussion or intention on our part, at this moment, to alter the
existing lease treaty or other arrangements with respect to the naval
station,” he said. “We understand Cuba has strong feelings about it.”
The strength of Cuban passions was on display earlier in the day, during
the opening ceremony for the Cuban embassy, which had all the bustle of
a gathering in downtown Havana. Dozens of people, including journalists,
lawmakers and diplomats, were locked outside the gates in searing heat
amid large crowds.
Inside, guests sipped cocktails while their Cuban hosts played an
unexpected rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.
The flag was raised shortly after 10.30am by three Cuban soldiers
dressed in white dress uniforms. There were shouts of “Viva Cuba
socialista!” and, in a denunciation of the embargo – commonly referred
to as a blockade in Havana – chants of “Cuba sí – bloqueo no.”
The Cuban embassy is housed in the same 98-year-old mansion that served
as the country’s diplomatic mission before relations were severed in
1961. The building has, since 1971, been Cuba’s interests section, a
diplomatic outpost run as an annex of Switzerland’s traditionally
The US also operated an interests section in Havana, supervised by the
Swiss, which was upgraded to full embassy status on Monday, although the
change occurred with much less fanfare.
There were was no visible evidence of the change in status at the
six-storey building in Havana, with diplomatic Facebook and Twitter
pages offering the only clue as to the shift in identity.
Conrad Tribble, the deputy chief of mission for the US in Havana,
tweeted: “Just made first phone call to State Dept Ops Center from
United States Embassy Havana ever. It didn’t exist in Jan 1961.”
— Conrad Tribble (@conradtribble)
July 20, 2015
Just made first phone call to State Dept. Ops Center from United States
Embassy Havana ever. It didn’t exist in Jan 1961.
The US embassy will be officially inaugurated with a similar ceremony in
August, when Kerry travels to Cuba – the first US secretary of state to
visit the Caribbean island in more than 70 years.
The visit will complete a major foreign policy achievement for Obama,
who made dialogue with America’s adversaries such as Cuba and Iran a
campaign pledge during his first election in 2008,
The president was born on the same year – 1961 – that diplomatic
relations between Cuba and the US were severed by then president Dwight
Eisenhower in the wake of Fidel Castro’s revolutionary insurrection.
Obama has long pushed for the rapprochement with the Caribbean island
and was the driving force behind months of secret talks with Havana
that, with the support of Pope Francis, paved the way for the resumption
of diplomatic relations.
Source: Cuban embassy opens in Washington but important issues remain
unresolved | World news | The Guardian –