By Arun Kumar
Washington, July 20 (IANS) In a historic step steeped in symbolism, Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington on Monday by raising the original Cuban flag that flew here before the two nations broke diplomatic ties 54 years ago.
Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, visiting the US capital for the first time in his life, presided over the ceremony marking the restoration of diplomatic ties.
The blue, red and white-starred flag raised at a nearly 100-year-old neoclassical mansion that has housed the Cuban interests section since 1977 had been preserved in Havana since its lowering on January 3, 1961.
After the ceremony watched by about 500 people, including US lawmakers, diplomats and others, Rodriguez was set to meet Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department and later address a joint press conference.
The small US delegation was headed by Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson and included officials from the state, commerce and treasury departments.
The US in contrast took a more low-key approach quietly adding Cuba’s flag overnight to foreign flags that adorn the lobby of the State Department’s headquarters in Foggy Bottom.
The US Interests Section in Havana was also upgraded Monday to embassy without any ceremony, but the US flag will not fly at the mission until Kerry visits in August for a ceremonial flag-raising.
He will be the first secretary of state to visit the Caribbean island in 70 years.
“In accordance with President Barack Obama’s announcement on July 1, effective today the United States and Cuba have re-established diplomatic relations,” the newly opened US embassy said in a statement in Havana.
The US Interests Section officially became US Embassy Havana, and will continue its diplomatic operations from the embassy building on the Malecon under the leadership of Charge d’Affaires ad interim Jeffrey DeLaurentis,” it said.
“Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Cuba later this summer to celebrate the re-opening of US Embassy Havana and raise the US flag,” it added without giving any details.
Diplomatic relations were broken off in 1961 by President Dwight Eisenhower two years after Fidel Castro’s revolutionary coup – the same year that Obama, who took “a historic step forward” to “begin a new chapter with our neighbours in the Americas”, was born.
Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro first announced on December 17 last year that they would resume full diplomatic relations. But it was only on July 1 that the two leaders exchanged notes to formally do so on July 20.