Kerry vis­its Cuba as flag raised over US Em­bassy in Ha­vana


The Stars and Stripes rose Fri­day over the newly opened U.S. Em­bassy for the first time in 54 years, mak­ing a sym­bol­i­cally charged vic­tory lap for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s new pol­icy of en­gage­ment with Cuba.

Some wak­ing as early as 6 a.m., hun­dreds of Cubans gath­ered out­side the em­bassy for what they uni­ver­sally called a his­toric day. Cuban TV car­ried the event live, broad­cast­ing flat­ter­ing bi­o­graph­i­cal facts about Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry and in­ter­views with Cubans who praised de­tente with the U.S. as a nec­es­sary and pos­i­tive step for their coun­try.

Cuban dis­si­dents were not in­vited to the em­bassy cer­e­mony, avoid­ing ten­sions with Cuban of­fi­cials who typ­i­cally boy­cott events at­tend- ed by the coun­try’s small po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion. The State Depart­ment said it had lim­ited space at what it called a gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment event, and in­vited dis­si­dents to a sep­a­rate af­ter­noon flag-rais­ing at the home of the em­bassy’s chief of mis­sion.

Gi­ant Cuban flags hung from the bal­conies of nearby apart­ment build­ings and peo­ple gath­ered at win­dows with a view of the em­bassy.

“I wouldn’t want to miss it,” Mar­cos Ro­driguez, 28, said as he waited out­side the em­bassy. He said he and thou­sands of other on the is­land were hop­ing the open­ing with the U.S. will bring “so­cial and eco­nomic ben­e­fits for all Cubans.”

High-rank­ing Cuban of­fi­cials, U. S. busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives and Cuban-Amer­i­cans who pushed for warm­ing with Cuba gath­ered in­side the for­mer U.S. In­ter­ests Sec­tion, newly em­bla­zoned with the letters “Em­bassy of the United States of Amer­ica.”

Cuban- Amer­i­can poet Richard Blanco, who read a poem at Obama’s sec­ond in­au­gu­ra­tion, was to read a new work be­fore three Marines who low­ered the flag at the em­bassy’s clos­ing in 1961 re­turn to raise the Stars and Stripes again.

Kerry was then sched­uled to meet with Cuba’s for­eign min­is­ter, the coun­try’s Ro­man Catholic arch­bishop and, sep­a­rately, a hand­picked group of dis­si­dents.

Among those gath­er­ing in front of the U.S. Em­bassy in Ha­vana were the driv­ers of three 1950sera Chevro­lets parked out­side the build­ing.

Julio Alvarez, head of the cus­tom cab com­pany that op­er­ates them, said the State Depart­ment had in­vited him to send them with­out say­ing why, but he hoped that Kerry

will take a ride in one.

Next Phase of De­tente

Soon af­ter Kerry heads home Fri­day evening, the Cuban and U.S. diplo­mats who ne­go­ti­ated the em­bassy re­open­ing will launch full­time into the next phase of de­tente: ex­pand­ing eco­nomic ties be­tween the two na­tions with mea­sures like re-es­tab­lish­ing di­rect flights and mail ser­vice.

The Amer­i­cans also want to re­solve bil­lions of dol­lars in half­cen­tury-old Amer­i­can claims over prop­erty con­fis­cated af­ter the Cuban revo­lu­tion. Cuba has its own claims, as noted in a news­pa­per col­umn by Fidel Cas­tro on Thurs­day say­ing the U.S. owes the is­land “nu­mer­ous mil­lions of dol­lars” for dam­ages caused by the em­bargo.

“We have diplo­matic re­la­tions; now we can get to the real work,” said Wayne Smith, a re­tired U.S. diplo­mat who wit­nessed the clos­ing of the U.S. Em­bassy in 1961, served in Cuba un­der Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter and re­turned this week to at­tend Fri­day’s cer­e­mony. Obama and Raul Cas­tro an­nounced on Dec. 17 that they would reestab­lish diplo­matic ties 54 years af­ter the flag was taken down from the em­bassy over­look­ing Ha­vana’s sea­side boule­vard, the Male­con.

Obama also said he would be mov­ing to em­power the Cuban peo­ple by loos­en­ing the U.S. trade em­bargo on Cuba through a se­ries of ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions that make it eas­ier for Amer­i­can cit­i­zens to travel to the is­land and trade with its grow­ing class of pri­vate busi­ness own­ers.

Eight months later, Ha­vana has re­peat­edly de­manded a com­plete lift­ing of the em­bargo. It has not re­sponded to Obama’s ac­tions with mea­sures that would al­low or­di­nary Cubans to ben­e­fit from them, such as al­low­ing low-cost im­ports and ex­ports by Cuban en­trepreneurs look­ing to do busi­ness with the U.S.

“I think we’re end­ing one phase and en­ter­ing another,” said Robert Muse, a U.S. lawyer spe­cial­iz­ing in Cuba. “The hand­shakes, the fra­ter­nal re­gards, the rais­ing of the flags, that’ll end on Aug. 14. Then I think it’s very par­tic­u­lar con­ver­sa­tions be­gin.”


U.S. Marines raise the U.S. flag over the newly re­opened em­bassy in Ha­vana, Cuba. Fri­day, Aug. 14.

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