Cuban Embassy Opens in Washington

Representatives from two countries celebrate the opening of the Cuban Embassy in D.C. (Nancy Shia/The Washington Informer)

By Barrington M. Salmon
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

The culmination of secret negotiations brokered by Pope Francis and Canada, a realization by a U.S. president that the status quo was unsustainable and the willingness of two mortal enemies to work through distrust led to change between Cuba and the United States.

In the months since President Barack Obama’s surprise December announcement that the U.S. and Cuba would end the Cold War and restore diplomatic relations after more than 50 years, both countries have edged towards greater cooperation. Obama said he expected the agreement to allow more contact between Americans with rank-and-file Cubans, to enhance bilateral trade and grant Cubans increased freedom of movement.

Graciela Cuervo — born in Cuba to Cuban parents but who’s lived in the U.S. since she was two — said normalization is long overdue.

“It’s about time. Though I believe the Cuban Revolution achieved important goals in terms of education and public health, it has failed miserably in many other aspects like basic, general freedoms and quality of life,” said Cuervo, owner of a business that offers translation services. “Housing is disastrous and the times I have gone back, I can’t but help thinking: ‘56 years of revolution for this?’ Educational and health reforms did not require such brutal repression to come about. In any case, Cuba has blamed the U.S.’ blockade for all its evils for the past 56 years.”

“Not to belittle the importance of it, but frankly most of Cuba’s demise has been more to do with its poor economic planning than the blockade. I think Cuba has been able to maintain its revolution essentially because its people have been indoctrinated into the ‘us vs. them’ mentality. That mentality leads to polarization and linear thinking. It prevents people from analyzing situations in all their depth and width.”

On a hot and muggy July 20 morning, a throng of diplomat, supporters, onlookers and passersby on 16th Street watched as three soldiers — resplendent in white tunics and blue striped pants — high-stepped out of the embassy to the flagpole.

They unfurled the Cuban flag and raised it accompanied by Cuba’s national anthem, El Himno de Bayamo. The trio of soldiers, standing ramrod straight, saluted until the last strains wafted off into the air. The solemn ceremony completed, cheers of “Viva Cuba!” and “Fidel! Fidel!” as chants of solidarity erupted. The red, white and blue flag blew softly under a cloudy blue sky to sustained applause.

The ceremony marked the symbolic end of hostilities between the U.S. and Cuba after 54 years. In 1959, Fidel Castro and a band of rebels toppled the U.S. — supported a Fulgencia Batista government and later established a Communist regime. The U.S. cut diplomatic ties in 1961.

Although U.S. officials opened the embassy in Havana on Monday, the State Department said it will host a flag-raising ceremony in Havana when Secretary of State John Kerry visits Cuba on Aug. 14.

Cuban President Raul Castro says he’s pleased both countries are resuming diplomatic ties. In a letter to Obama, Castro said Cuba is doing so because it is “encouraged by the reciprocal intention to develop respectful relations and cooperation between our people and governments.”

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