Cuba, US ties called first step

Updated: 2015-07-21 11:40

By Chen Weihua in Washington(China Daily USA)

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Cuba, US ties called first step

Supporters of US-Cuban diplomatic ties celebrate in the flag-raising ceremony on Monday at the new Cuban embassy in Washington. Photos by Chen Weihua / China Daily

Cuba, US ties called first step

The Cuban national flag is raised on Monday in a ceremony attended by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and a group of US officials.

Cuba, US ties called first step

Embassies open in Washington, Havana for first time since 1961

The United States and Cuba, two countries only 90 miles apart, officially restored diplomatic ties on Monday after a hiatus of 54 years, but many believe a full normalization of the relationship will not happen until the US lifts its economic and trade embargo on the island nation.

About 500 guests, including some 30 Cuban officials from Havana, attended an invitation-only flag-raising ceremony at the Cuban embassy in Washington on Monday morning, a historic moment recorded by some 200 journalists from across the street.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez presided over the ceremony, while US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson and Chief of US Interests Section in Havana Jeffrey DeLaurentis and several other US officials were present.

Early Monday morning, the US State Department added the Cuban national flag to its lobby, which displays the flags of all nations with diplomatic ties with the US.

US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Monday that he is going to Havana on August 14 for a comparable ceremony at the US embassy there. There was no ceremony for US flag-raising ceremony in the new US embassy on Monday.

In a joint press conference at the State Department Monday afternoon after their talk, Kerry and Rodriguez both applauded the restoration of diplomatic ties as beneficial to both countries and their peoples.

Delivering his speech both in English and Spanish, Kerry called Monday "a historic day, a day for removing barriers."

"This milestone does not signify an end to differences that still separate our governments, but it does reflect the reality that the Cold War ended long ago, and that the interests of both countries are better served by engagement than by estrangement," he said.

"And that we have begun a process of full normalization that is sure to take time but will also benefit people in both Cuba and the United States," he added.

Rodriguez, the first Cuban foreign minister to visit the US State Department since 1958, acknowledged that the two countries have profound differences, from human rights to international laws.

"But we strongly believe that we can both cooperate and coexist in a civilized way, based on the respect for these differences and the development of a constructive dialogue oriented to the wellbeing of our countries and peoples, and this continent, and the entire world," he said.

Also speaking in both English and Spanish, Rodriguez called the US to lift its blockade on Cuba, a term Cubans use for the economic and trade embargo imposed by the US in the early 1960s. The embargo has been condemned in the United Nations General Assembly every year for the past 23 years.

Both Obama and Kerry have described the embargo as a policy that has not worked and instead caused isolation of the US. While they have urged the Congress to lift the embargo, opposition in the Republican-controlled Congress has been strong, making any immediate prospect for a lift of the embargo unlikely.

Under the embargo, US citizens are not allowed by its government to travel to Cuba unless for academic purposes and visiting relatives.

Rodriguez said the Cuban people and government have recognized the efforts by Obama to lift the blockade and for his efforts to use executive power to influence the policy.

"Their scope is still limited, but these are steps taken in the right direction," he said.

The Cuban foreign minister also called on the US to return Guantanamo naval base, known to the world for its notorious detention center where people have been held without due process.

"I emphasize that the total lifting of the blockade, the return of the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo, as well as the full respect for Cuban sovereignty and the compensation to our people for human and economic damages are crucial to being able to move towards the normalization of relations," Rodriguez said.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on December 17 that the two countries would normalize their relationship. After more than six months of negotiations, the two governments exchanged diplomatic notes on July 1 to restore full relations on July 20.

Many pro-Cuba groups were among the cheering crowds outside the Cuban embassy on Monday morning, including members of the Code Pink, an anti-war movement organization.

Fred Mills, from the Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Committee, and other committee members were also celebrating Monday morning across the street from the Cuban embassy. He called the restoration of diplomatic ties an important first step.

"We'd like to see the end of the embargo, and like to see the closing of Guantanamo, and frankly we like to see further steps towards complete normalization of the relationship," he said.

Elizabeth Lowengard, of the US-based Party for Socialism and Liberation, described the reestablishing of diplomatic ties "a step in the right direction."