U.S., Cuba mark new era
Cuba’s blue, red and whitestarred flag was hoisted Monday at the country’s embassy in Washington, signalling the start of a new post-Cold War era in U.S.Cuba relations.
In sweltering heat and humidity, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez presided over the flagraising ceremony hours after full diplomatic relations with the United States were restored at the stroke of midnight when an agreement to resume normal ties took effect. Earlier, without ceremony, the Cuban flag was added in the lobby of the State Department alongside those of other countries with which the U.S. has diplomatic ties. U.S. and Cuban diplomats in Washington and Havana also noted the upgrade in social media posts.
Several hundred people gathered on the street outside the embassy, cheering as the Cuban national anthem was played and three Cuban soldiers in dress uniforms stood at the base of the flagpole and raised the flag.
But there were also signs of the sore points that continue in the U.S.-Cuba relationship. In remarks inside the embassy Rodriguez cited Cuban independence leader Jose Marti, who he noted had paid tribute to America’s values but also warned of its “excess craving for domina- tion.” Cuba was able to survive the past 50 years only because of the “wise leadership of Fidel Castro, the historic leader of the Cuban revolution whose ideas we’ll always revere,” Rodriguez said.
He also slammed the U.S. for continuing to hold on to Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. naval base in Cuba where the American military prison continues to hold terror suspects. Rodriguez said Guantanamo was a “nefarious consequence” of U.S. attempts to dominate the hemisphere.
“Only the lifting of the economic and commercial and financial blockade which has caused so much harm and suffering to our people, the return of oc- cupied territory at Guantanamo and the respect for Cuban sovereignty will lend some meaning to this historic event to which we bear witness today,” Rodriguez said, repeating demands the Cuban leaders have made throughout the normalization process.
On a more conciliatory note, Rodriguez thanked President Barack Obama for taking steps to ease sanctions thus far and calling on Congress to repeal the economic embargo.
In Havana, meanwhile, a carnival atmosphere reigned around the new U.S. Embassy overlooking Havana’s Malecon seaside promenade. By midmorning, the Cuban government had pulled back several of the eight or so security guards who had stood watch.
A pair of officers stood on each corner around the building, smiling and wishing “buenos dias” to passers-by instead of casting stony glares. Curious Cubans clustered around the forest of flagpoles at the front of the embassy, snapping photos as U.S. tourists posed for selfies in front of the building.
The United States and Cuba severed diplomatic relations in 1961 and since the 1970s have been represented in each other’s capitals by limited-service interests sections.
Edwardo Clark, a Cuban-American, holds an American flag and a Cuban flag as he celebrates outside the new Cuban embassy in Washington Monday.