After more than 50 years, the United States State Department raised the American flag on Friday at the newly reopened U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba. Hundreds of Cubans gathered outside the embassy for the historic ceremony, which followed a similar flag-raising ceremony outside the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., last month. The dual events represent the latest steps in the changing relationship between the two nations since President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced an end to the diplomatic freeze in December.
American officials brought back three U.S. Marines who were responsible for lowering the flag in 1961 when the U.S. government cut off ties with Cuba during the peak of the Cold War. A wave of Americans were in attendance, including members of Congress, businessmen and women and academics who have lobbied for the changes. The American building was only redesignated as a U.S. Embassy last month. Before that, it served as the U.S. Interests Section since 1977. In that form, it was the focus of decades of anti-American protests, with Cubans once erecting 138 flagpoles to block the view of the building.
Friday morning’s ceremony wasn’t without controversy. Cuba dissidents were not on hand for the flag raising. As a compromise, dissidents and other Cubans were invited to the residence of the U.S. mission’s chief later in the day. Secretary of State addressed the attendees during the ceremony. “We are gathered here because our leaders made a courageous decision to stop being prisoners of history,” “My friends, it doesn’t take a GPS to realize that the road of mutual isolation and estrangement that the United States and Cuba were traveling is not the right one and that the time has come for us to move in a more promising direction,” Kerry said. “In the United States, that means recognizing that U.S. policy is not the anvil on which Cuba’s future will be forged.”
Disputes still exist between the two countries in regards to economic reparations including: Cuba’s call for an end to the 53-year-old trade embargo and American calls for Cuba to improve on democracy. “We are all aware that, notwithstanding President Obama’s new policy, the overall U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba remains in place and can only be lifted by Congressional action — a step we strongly favor,” Kerry said.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio blasted the White House administration’s attempt to thaw relations with Cuba saying, “The deal with Cuba threatens America’s moral standing in our hemisphere and around the world, it brings legitimacy to a state sponsor of terror, and further empowers an ally of China and Russia that sits just 90 miles from our shore.” President Barack Obama has eased some travel and business restrictions, but only Congress can lift the 53-year-old embargo, something that is unlikely to happen with Republicans controlling both chambers through the end of his term. Senior administration officials said they are examining what more the President can do to support the Cuban people and Cuban entrepreneurs but said he would be cautious about going too far, too fast.