Kerry Travels to Cuba to Raise the US Flag in Havana

The US Embassy in Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — A new milestone in the historic rapprochement between two old enemies takes place this Friday when US Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Cuba to officially reopen the US embassy after more than half a century, report Beatriz Juez and Isaac Risco for dpa news.

The United States flag will officially wave in Havana, but the headquarters of the US embassy is actually an old acquaintance for Cubans.

Fidel Castro once called the gray concrete building a “nest of spies.” It has witnessed some of the most critical moments of conflict between the two governments. The seven-story block located in the middle of the emblematic Malecón seawall, for decades symbolized the “imperialist enemy”, when its status was only as the US Interests Section.

With his visit, part of the diplomatic thaw began almost eight months ago, Kerry will also become the first head of US diplomacy to visit Cuba in 70 years.

The last secretary of state to make the trip was Edward Reilley Stettinius in March 1945, under the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.

The two countries formally resumed diplomatic relations on July 20th. On that day the Cuban flag was hoisted on the island’s embassy in Washington, in a ceremony attended by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who also visited the US State Department.

Almost a month later, Kerry plans to do the same in the garden outside the US embassy building in Havana. The facility also housed the former US embassy until relations were broken off in 1961. As of 1977 it served as the US Interests Section until returning to its former status just over three weeks ago.

Kerry will remain on the island only a few hours, returning home on the same day. The agenda released by the Cubans includes a meeting with his counterpart Bruno Rodriguez and a subsequent press conference.

“It’s basically a protocol visit, which corresponds to what the foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez did here in Washington,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue “think tank”.

Sh Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez and Secretary of State John Kerry during a press conference in Washington on July 20, 2015.  Photo: Ismael Francisoco, cubadebate.cu

Shifter believes the chief diplomat of the Obama administration must maintain a diplomatic balance during his visit, advocating the defense of human rights and political freedoms but without offending his hosts.

“It’s not an official visit to meet all Cuban sectors, but obviously he wants to send a message that with the presence of an embassy in Havana, the United States will maintain its policy of having an open dooor to all sectors, including dissidents, “Shifter told the dpa news agency.

Tomas Bilbao, executive director of the Cuba Study Group, a lobby group formed by Cuban-Americans who advocate the end of the US embargo against the island, believes that it is important that Kerry “has the opportunity to know the views of the civil society in Cuba.”

“I wouldn’t limit it to a specific group of people, but instead civil society in general: artists, youth, entrepreneurs, chefs,” Bilbao told dpa.

The US side has not informed of possible meetings of Kerry with opposition activists in Cuba, as some other officials carried out during visits in past months, including Roberta Jacobson, who led the diplomatic negotiations with the government of Raul Castro.

Some sectors of Cuban dissidents oppose Obama’s policy toward the island, calling the new approach a “betrayal” of the Cuban opposition, traditionally supported by Washington.

“I do not think there will be a change, probably a new dimension in the relationship between the United States and Cuban civil society,” said dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua, who supports Obama’s policy.

“I am among those who believe that the process of normalization (of relations) is positive for Cuba. That it helps all sectors,” the activist told dpa. During the Summit of the Americas held in April in Panama, Cuesta Morua was received by Obama before his historic meeting with Raul Castro.

“So far we have not been invited to a meeting with Kerry,” said Cuesta Morua on a possible encounter with the US Secretary of State in Havana.

Although the former Cuban and US Interests Sections in Havana and Washington were converted to embassies since July, both delegations are still awaiting the appointment of ambassadors.

In the US, the Republican opposition has threatened to block the appointment of a future ambassador to Havana. The Senate, dominated by Republicans, must confirm the appointment and that could take months. The lack of confirmation, however, would have no practical impact on the everyday functioning of the embassy.

The struggle over Cuba policy also threatens to move to the 2016 US presidential election campaign. Two of the candidates in the Republican primaries are of Cuban origin: Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, while Jeb Bush was governor of Florida, a Cuban exile stronghold.

Rubio, who often makes Cuba the center of his campaigning, has said he will oppose the appointment of a future US ambassador in Havana until the government of Raul Castro makes a series of political reforms and progress is made on the island in the area of human rights.


21 thoughts on “Kerry Travels to Cuba to Raise the US Flag in Havana

  • August 13, 2015 at 4:25 pm
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    As an elected US Senator and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Marco Rubio has a constitutional right and responsibility to act in this matter. The US President appoints ambassadors while the US Senate has responsibility to review the appointment and confirm it or reject it. That’s in the US Constitution.

    John G,

    I will defer to the Cuban people and allow them to define “Libertad” as they see fit. You can read Jose Marti for a good primer on the principles of Cuban liberty.

    Senator Rubio was elected by Floridians who understood his clear position on Cuba and the Castros. The people will soon have a chance to express their opinion on Rubio, as he is now running for the Republican nomination for President.

    Polls on the question of US policy toward Cuba change dramatically depending on how the questions are asked. The polls which show support for Obama’s policy were conducted by organizations in favour of lifting the embargo & avoided mentioning Cuba’s atrocious human rights record. When other pollsters included information about human rights abuses in Cuba, then the poll results show people do not support Obama’s policy.

    That’s the problem with your inane idea of running a government through popularity polls: the people running the polls can get any answer they want.

  • August 13, 2015 at 4:03 pm
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    Hate to break it to you John but interment news also relies on advertising. How do you think news sites, including your favorite pet sites, are able to pay for everything? That include the actual website, hosting fees, staff salaries, marketing, SEO and SEM, etc.

    Nothing is free in this world John. Whether Cubas crapy health care or “free” education (read subsidized), the money to pay for it has to come from somewhere.

    You really are ” out there” aren’t you John

  • August 13, 2015 at 2:49 pm
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    How do you know for a fact what a MAJORITY of Cubans support? Did I miss a free and open democratic election somewhere? The freedom to assemble and speak freely is ALWAYS a good idea. The “existential threat” accusation is overblown. The reasonable limitations on the location or timing of a protest for public safety reasons is very different than not allowing the protest to take place at all out of fear. I don’t agree with Rubio on anything other than his policies regarding US relations with Cuba.

  • August 13, 2015 at 12:23 pm
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    Just an addendum Griffin for any who do not comprehend liberty:
    liberty: the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority
    Oxford English Dictionary.
    Clearly any body who has been to Cuba will comprehend that liberty is impossible under the Castro family regime which exerts total power and control – with supporting mechanisms like the CDR.

  • August 13, 2015 at 12:14 pm
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    Expect a rant from Goodrich!

  • August 13, 2015 at 10:55 am
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    Are these Rubio’s ideas or yours ?
    universal access to the internet is a better alternative to privately owned media which must depend on advertising to exist.
    Advertising always adversely affects the freedom of the media to speak to specific truths that its sponsors would rather not have out there.
    The U.S. media is controlled by a handful of very large corporations and as a result the truth is not to be found on information dealing with democracy.
    Free speech and freedom of assembly ?
    Good idea once the existential threat posed by U.S.G. hostilities has passed.
    I can remember living in Boston at a time when one of the parties held their convention . Protesters were not allowed within something like a half mile from Boston Gardens and the police put up a fenced-in area far away from the event and which was the only place the protesters were allowed to demonstrate.
    So freedom of assembly gets severely limited in the United States as well when the establishment, the status quo might be seriously tested. and this in a country under no threat from the outside.
    All governments that have totalitarian control fear freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
    Cuba, you might want to notice, is NOT the puppet of the United States.
    and the Cubans overwhelmingly prefer not to have phony U.S. “freedoms” imposed upon them by the empire.
    You and Rubio will eventually have to give up your imperialist hopes for imposing such upon Cuba.
    Or…. risk looking ( even more ) foolish as the last two to cling to the failed attempt to overthrow what a huge majority of Cubans and the world now support.

  • August 13, 2015 at 6:44 am
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    Kind of like what native americans and indigenous people the world over are saying happened to them. Oh wait, this concerns the wealthy; a different matter altogether.

  • August 12, 2015 at 9:57 pm
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    Legalizing independent media. Allow Cubans free speech and assembly to name three.

  • August 12, 2015 at 9:54 pm
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    I could not agree more.

  • August 12, 2015 at 9:48 pm
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    …and Senator Brian Schatz’s office couldn’t get me an invitation. Junior Senators, Geez!

  • August 12, 2015 at 4:22 pm
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    Manuel Cuesta Morua was mentioned. I believe one day he could make a fine president of Cuba.

  • August 12, 2015 at 3:26 pm
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    Define “liberty” as you understand it and how IMPOSITION of U.S./imperial standards on the Cuban people is a good thing.
    The minuscule opposition in Cuba, many on the U.S. payroll, are not either numerous enough, nor do they represent any serious faults of the Cuban government to give them any weight in the normalization .
    The opening of the embassy is moving toward the future.
    The Ladies In White et al are relics of the past.
    If you want to meet with Kerry , you gotta be trendy.
    and things aren’t trending the way of the Cuban opposition.
    But it’s not all bad for them.
    Now they can pick up their paychecks in Havana .

  • August 12, 2015 at 3:18 pm
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    Fidel retired from doing such things about eight years ago .
    In his day, Fidel was up into the wee hours of the night doing interviews and answering questions for hours on end .
    He had 20 hour work days .
    There was no reporter from any media outlet who could ever ruffle his intellectual feathers, prove wrong any fact in his answers.
    I don’t think it’s an event important enough for Raul to have to attend.
    It’s just the first of many small steps toward normalization and Raul can go celebrate at the U.S. embassy when and if that normalization happens and………… if he lives that long……. given the Congressional intransigence on ending hostilities.
    Rubio is living in the past, like all good imperialists should do.

  • August 12, 2015 at 3:09 pm
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    As a U.S. Senator serving as a representative of his electorate in the republic that is the United States, Rubio is CONSTITUTIONALLY obliged to carry out the wishes of the majority of those who elected him.
    In the State of Florida , where I live, the majority now supports normalization of relations with Cuba.
    Rubio is voting against the wishes of the majority of the people he is supposed to be representing which is undemocratic.
    That said , it IS the way the oligarchic( government by and for the wealthy) U.S. system works.
    You should know that democracy comes from the Greek and literally transliterated means “rule of the people” which in a representative democracy (republic) translates into majority rule .

  • August 12, 2015 at 2:59 pm
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    “…… until the government of Raul Castro makes a series of political reforms .”
    Circles,
    Any idea as to what specifically Rubio means by “political reforms”

  • August 12, 2015 at 2:17 pm
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    Just back from 89th research to Cuba – the economy is improvieir are major drought problems in eastern Cuba.

  • August 12, 2015 at 2:04 pm
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    The Castros stole the homes and monies of 100’s of thousands of Cubans. If he stole my home, my nation, my resources I would also oppose any accommodation to his dictatorship.

  • August 12, 2015 at 2:02 pm
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    As a US Senator, Mr. Rbio has the right to oppose any ambassador nomination with his vote. Democracy in practice.

  • August 12, 2015 at 12:46 pm
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    Since when does that Rubio set the agenda for the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba. He is against the whole idea and is threatening to block the nomination of any U.S. Ambassador to Cuba.

  • August 12, 2015 at 11:10 am
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    I don’t remember any news regarding Cuban Foreign Minister Rodriguez holding a press conference after his ceremony in DC. A press release was distributed but I don’t remember an open Q&A. Kerry has scheduled a press conference after the flag-raising ceremony which will very likely include answering questions. Why don’t the Castros submit themselves to fielding questions from independent foreign media. What are they afraid of?

  • August 12, 2015 at 8:49 am
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    Senator Rubio has called on John Kerry to meet with Cuban dissidents when he visits Havana,

    “Over the past eight months since President Obama announced his new Cuba policy, a steady stream of administration officials and members of Congress visited Cuba with few of them bothering to meet with Cuban democracy and human rights leaders and none demanding to meet with political prisoners,” Rubio wrote. “Not surprisingly, the regime has responded with an unprecedented wave of repression and political arrests.”

    Rubio specifically named six Cuban activists whom Kerry should meet:

    Antonio Rodiles, head of Estado de SATS.

    Berta Soler, head of the Ladies in White.

    Jorge Garcia Perez “Antunez,” former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and human rights activist.

    Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, a U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.

    Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, labor leader and independent journalist.

    Guillermo Farinas, recipient of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

    There are many others deserving of Kerry’s time and attention, but meeting with these six would send a clearer message about on which side the United States stands in the struggle for Cuban liberty.

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