Cuban flag flies as US, Havana renew ties despite discord

Cuban flag flies as US, Havana renew ties despite discord

WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
Cuban flag flies as US, Havana renew ties despite discord

AP photo

The Cuban flag flew proudly over Havana’s newly restored embassy July 20 as the US and Cuba relaunched diplomatic ties but swiftly cautioned that sharp differences lingered after five decades of enmity.

Some seven months after President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro agreed to restore ties snapped in 1961 during the Cold War, Havana and Washington restored diplomatic relations and reopened full embassies in the two capitals.

But diplomats from the old adversaries said there were many difficulties to overcome towards fully normalizing ties.

“This milestone does not signify an end to the many differences that still separate our governments,” said US Secretary of State John Kerry, who announced he will visit Havana on August 14. He will be the first US top diplomat to visit the Cuban capital since 1945.

“But it does reflect the reality that the Cold War ended long ago, that the interests of both countries are better served by engagement than by estrangement,” Kerry insisted at a packed press conference.

He was speaking after welcoming Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who became the first top Cuban diplomat to set foot inside the State Department since 1958.

The differences were immediately laid bare when Rodriguez swiftly demanded an end to the US economic embargo on the communist-run Caribbean island and the return of territory used as a US military base in southern Guantanamo Bay.

“Totally lifting 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 be able to move towards the normalization of relations,” Rodriguez said.

Kerry said Obama’s administration wants to lift the economic embargo imposed in 1962, and that he hoped it would be lifted “at the appropriate time.” 

But he stressed that “at this time, there is no intention to alter the existing lease treaty” on Guantanamo Bay, also home to a notorious U.S. military prison which Obama has vowed to close.

In the morning, Rodriguez attended a ceremony at the Cuban embassy where a crowd of more than 500 people cheered and shouted “Fidel, Fidel” and “Viva Raul” as the distinctive flag with a white star on a red triangle and blue and white stripes was raised by an honor guard.