Grievances persist despite start of new era in US-Cuba ties

July 21, 2015 4:38 am
 

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. Photo/AP

The Cuban national flag fluttered in the Washington sun as the U.S.
and formally ended more than a half-century of estrangement,
formally re-establishing relations severed at the height of the Cold
War. But the symbolism of an embassy ceremony could not conceal deep,
lingering conflicts between the nations.
In the sweltering July
heat and humidity of America’s capital, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno
Rodriguez presided over the flag-raising ceremony just hours after an
agreement to restore diplomatic ties broken in 1961 took effect at the
stroke of midnight. He later met with Secretary of State John Kerry,
becoming the first Cuban foreign minister to set foot in the State
Department since 1958.
Kerry announced that he would make a
reciprocal visit to Cuba to dedicate the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Aug.
14. He spoke of a need to move beyond the enmity that was spawned as
President John F. Kennedy grappled with Fidel Castro’s revolution and
Soviet expansionism and that hardened over the 54 years that followed.

Despite pledges of goodwill and mutual respect, ghosts of past animosity hung over the events.
At
the reopening of the Cuban embassy and again at a joint conference
with Kerry, Rodriguez repeated demands for the U.S. to end its 53-year
embargo, return the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, stop efforts to
change or reform Cuba’s communist government and pay compensation for
damage done to the island and its people over the past five decades.
“I
emphasized that the total lifting of the blockade, the return of
illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo 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,” Rodriguez said as Kerry stood beside him.
On a more
conciliatory note, Rodriguez thanked President Barack Obama for his
conclusion that U.S. policy toward Cuba was faulty, his steps to ease
sanctions thus far and his calls for Congress to repeal the embargo.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and US Secretary of State John Kerry. Photo/AP
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and Secretary of State John Kerry. Photo/AP
Rodriguez noted that there are “profound differences”
between the U.S. and Cuban governments but stressed that “we strongly
believe that we can both cooperate and coexist in a civilised way based
on due respect for these differences.”
Kerry, speaking briefly in
Spanish, said America wants to work with Cuba to improve conditions
there. But he also acknowledged persistent differences over human
rights, democracy and reparations and flatly rejected the suggestion
that Guantanamo would be returned to Cuba anytime soon.
“We
celebrate this day – July 20 – as a time to start repairing what has
been broken and opening what for too long has been closed,” Kerry said.
He
added, though: “This milestone does not signify an end to the many
differences that still separate our governments. 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.”
Kerry
compared the conflicting sentiments with the normalisation of U.S. ties
with Vietnam 20 years ago. In both cases, he said, “passions ran deep
and run deep to this day.”
Some U.S. lawmakers, including several
prominent Republican presidential candidates, have vowed not to repeal
the embargo and have pledged to roll back Obama’s moves on Cuba.
New
Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democratic opponent, said, “There may be a
flag raising over the embassy of a dictatorship, but the real goal is a
flag raising where the Cuban people are free, have their human rights
respected and where we do not accept dictatorial conditions on our
embassy and its people.”
At embassy, several hundred people
gathered on the street outside, cheering as the Cuban national anthem
was played and three Cuban soldiers in dress uniforms raised the flag.
At
his 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 domination.” 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.
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.
Obama has sought
engagement with Cuba since he first took office and has progressively
loosened restrictions on travel and remittances to the island.
His
efforts were frustrated for years by Cuba’s imprisonment of U.S. Agency
for International Development contractor Alan Gross on espionage
charges. But months of secret negotiations led in December to Gross’
release, along with a number of political prisoners in Cuba and the
remaining members of a Cuban spy ring jailed in the . On
Dec. 17, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced they would
resume full diplomatic relations.
The U.S. removed Cuba from its
list of state sponsors of terrorism in late May. On July 1, issues of
American diplomats’ access to ordinary Cubans were resolved and the July
20 date was set for the restoration of full relations.
“This is
yet another demonstration that we don’t have to be imprisoned by the
past,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement about
Monday’s events.

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