United States/Cuba: Cuban embassy opens in Washington

Democracy Now! July 20, 2015 -- Report from the opening of Cuba's new embassy. Transcript available HERE.

By Robert Craven and Olivia Marple

July 20, 2015 -- COHA, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Amid cheers of “Cuba sí, bloqueo no” (Cuba yes, embargo no), hundreds gathered on Washington, DC’s busy 16th Street to bear witness to the symbolic close to one of the more misguided chapters of US foreign policy. Trumpeting fanfare sounded as Cuban honour guard soldiers raised their country’s flag above what is now Cuba’s embassy in the United States.

Cuba's foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla presided over the flag raising and was accompanied by a large US delegation led by assistant secretary of state Roberta Jacobson.[1]

“It’s a new beginning, it’s a new opportunity for the people of Cuba,” said Karla Ramos, one of the spectators, in an interview with COHA, mirroring the sentiments of many others there to celebrate this momentous occasion 54 years in the making.

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Karla Ramos holds a poster reading “Cuba = Sí, Bloqueo = No.”

Ramos, who is from El Salvador, added that this new relationship between the Cold War rivals is not significant just for the Cuban people, “but also for the people of the United States and for us, the Latin American countries, [so] we all can be one continent united”.

Despite the jubilation of the event, there was still a shadow cast by the remnants of the US embargo. Michael Beer, a demonstrator for CodePink, a grassroots organisation supporting peace and human rights initiatives, emphasised the remaining roadblocks in an interview with COHA when saying that this event “brings a mixture of happiness, but we need more”.[2]

“We need to rapidly reconcile here,” Beer said. In order for this to come to fruition, Congress must decide to remove the legal labyrinth that still prohibits completely normalised relations. Further impediments include travel restrictions and Guantanamo Bay. “We have to give Guantanamo Bay back to the Cuban people,” Beer opined.

The embassy opening is the most recent step in a series of initiatives lead by President Obama, following his December 17 announcement to reestablish formal ties. In the diplomatic spirit of the day, the US embassy in Cuba opened in Havana shortly after. Secretary of State John Kerry plans to visit the island later this summer to officially inaugurate the new US embassy.[3]

Though there was undeniably an atmosphere of change, not everyone present was supportive of renewed relations with the Castro regime. Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, a Cuban writer who left the island, was a protester advocating for multi-party representative democracy in Cuba.

As the flag rose, Pardo Lazo interrupted a marked silence by yelling out, “¡Cuba sin Castro!” (“Cuba without Castro”). His sentiments reflect a diminishing but vocal undertone of opposition to the new foreign policy.

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Pink umbrellas carried by CodePink demonstrators, spelling out “Cuba Sí.”

While some champions of normalisation stress that the United States can have an impact on Cuban politics, there is much that the United States can learn from Cuba. The country maintains an exceedingly advanced health-care system, free education and boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Ramos agreed that Americans should focus on “what Cuba has done for Cubans and for the rest of the world”.

Parading several fuchsia parasols with one letter per umbrella, together spelling out “Cuba sí”, CodePink’s demonstrators helped to symbolize a future unity between the two states. Certainly, the opening of the embassy and the reinstatement of diplomatic relations brings Cuba and the United States one step closer.

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The new Cuban embassy. Photo by Rob Craven.

[Robert Craven and Olivia Marple are research associates at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.]

[1] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/cuban-us-embassy-reopens-in-havana/article25589381/

[2] www.codepink.org/about

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/21/world/americas/cuba-us-embassy-diplomatic-relations.html?_r=0