By Beatriz Juez (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES – When charter flight WQ801 took off from the Baltimore-Washington International Airport early on Wednesday in the faces of the travelers was a mixture of tiredness and excitement as they head to attend a historic moment: the official reopening of the new US embassy in Cuba on Friday.
After routine safety instructions, William Hauf, president of Island Travel & Tours travel agency, which organized the charter flight, took the microphone and addressed the passengers, most of them journalists, State Department staff and guests traveling to Havana for the ceremony.
“I congratulate everyone. This is a historic moment for all of us to be able to support John Kerry, the highest ranking official to be Cuba in 54 years. It’s amazing,” Hauf said at 34,000 feet. The entrepreneur particularly noted the presence in the aircraft of Wayne Smith, a key witness in the troubled relationship between the United States and Cuba over the last half century.
Smith, who is currently director of the Cuba project of the Center for International Policy, closes a circle with this trip to Havana, not only personal but professional. This former Marine from Texas worked in the US embassy in Havana when bilateral relations were severed on January 3, 1961, two years after the triumph of the revolution led by Fidel Castro.
“It was emotional, it was painful,” he told dpa in the departure lounge. “We knew we had tensions. We had conflicts of interest with the Cuban government. It was no surprise. We knew that the break was coming, “recalls the 83-year-old Smith.
However the embassy staff had no idea at the time that the disruption would be so long.
“I remember the day we broke relations and they put us on a bus and took us to the ferry. Everyone talked about how long it would take us to be back [as an embassy] in Cuba. The general opinion was that it would be five or six years … but in the end it took over 50 years,” explained Smith who headed the Cuban Interests Section in the same building during part of the Carter administration.