By Daniel Garcia Marco and Isaac Risco
HAVANA TIMES — As the clock struck midnight on Monday morning the United States and Cuba resumed diplomatic relations after more than 54 years of rupture.
The reopening of their embassies today is another step in the rapprochement between the two countries announced on 17 December last year by presidents Castro and Obama.
At 0:01 a.m. (5:01 GMT) the buildings that had housed both countries Interests Section in Havana and Washington D.C. since 1977 became formal embassies.
The most symbolic event of the day will be held at 10:30 am (ET) at the Cuban embassy in Washington, when the Cuban flag will be hoisted and a new sign identifying the embassy presented.
Some 500 guests are invited to the ceremony to be headed by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. An evening party celebrating the event has also been announced by the peace group Code Pink in front of the newly opened embassy.
The United States will be represented by Roberta Jacobson, who heads the Latin American desk at the State Department and who for the last six months has been the US government representative in bilateral negotiations.
Foreign Minister Rodriguez will meet later in the day Washington with his US counterpart, John Kerry.
In Havana there are no plans today for any formal act of reopening the embassy. The US flag will be officially hoisted when Kerry visits the island in the near future.
For the moment there will be no ambassadors. Jeffrey DeLaurentis, currently head of the US Interests Section in Havana, becomes the chargé d’affaires, as is Jose Ramon Cabañas for Cuba. Both countries should appoint ambassadors later.
A Cuban flag will be placed in the lobby of the headquarters of the State Department with that of other countries with which the United States has relations.
In announcing the reopening of the embassies on July 1, US President Obama called it “a historic step forward in normalizing relations with the government of Cuba and its people, and to begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas.”
The first step was actually taken on 17 December last year, when both countries made the historic announcement that they would resume relations, after 18 months of secret negotiations.
This was followed by six months of talks and an unprecedented meeting of the two presidents in April in Panama during the Summit of the Americas.
However the rapprochement does not end on Monday. Both sides have indicated beforehand that the full normalization of relations will be a “long and difficult” path.
“Nobody expects Cuba to change overnight,” said Obama, who believes that the opening of embassies will “support democracy and human rights” on the island.
Meanwhile Raul Castro reiterated last week that in order to have “normal relations,” Washington must lift the embargo it imposed on Cuba in the 1960’s. The younger brother of Fidel Castro also demanded the return of the territory housing the Guantanamo naval base, another of the long-standing claims by Cuba.