U.S. flag to be raised over the U.S. Embassy in Havana for the first time in over 50 years

Posted: 14-Aug-15 13:13

A unique moment in history will take place today in Havana, as John Kerry travels to the island to raise the American flag over the US Embassy in Cuban soil, for the first time in half a century. This event marks the final diplomatic step in the enormous progress both nations have made in normalising their diplomatic bonds.

U.S. flag to be raised over the U.S. Embassy in Havana for the first time in over 50 years

The American flag will fly today in front of the recently re-opened U.S. Embassy in Havana. John Kerry, Secretary of State, will be arriving in Havana in just a few moments to raise the Star Spangled Banner in an official ceremony held by the Cuban capital’s iconic seawall.

Diplomatic bonds were officially restored on 20th July, when the Cuban flag was raised in Washington and the island-nation’s government officially opened their Embassy in the U.S. Likewise, the former U.S. Interests Section in Havana has since been fully functioning as an embassy despite the fact that the flag-raising ceremony was delayed until today to give John Kerry the official honour. Nonetheless, this event marks a historical milestone for both countries that are slowly leaving behind obsolete Cold War policies and establishing the foundations of a harmonious bilateral relation.

Remarkable event after half a century of hostility

Staying for fewer than 12 hours to preside the ceremony, Kerry will be the highest-ranking U.S official to visit Cuba since 1959, and the first Secretary of State to do so in 70 years. He will be accompanied by some members of Congress and three elderly former Marines who were responsible for lowering the U.S. flag 54 years ago. The 78-year-old Jim Tracy, one of the retired Marines, felt honoured and enthusiastic about having this privilege:

"I'm going to love seeing that flag go back up!"

The Secretary of State clarified that the flag-raising would be a fairly private event, a ‘government-to-government’ moment. Afterwards, in a private reunion, he would meet with various Cuban officials, the Head of the Catholic Church in the island and a group of dissidents opposed to the current Cuban government. Responding to critics about not inviting dissidents to the official ceremony he responded that it was better to avoid tension in such a delicate moment:

"The message is (…) that we believe our engaging in direct diplomatic relations with the Cuban government being there, being able to interact with the people of Cuba, will in fact, help the people of Cuba."

How will re-opening the Embassies help?

From 1961, year in which the Eisenhower administration severed diplomatic ties with the Cuban government, to 1977, the US embassy was protected by Swiss guards but remained unused. In the late 1970’s this building began functioning again but this time as an Interests Section Office staffed with 51 U.S. diplomats.

Now that the Embassy is finally officially re-opened with full pomp and flair, American staff is enthusiastic about how it will largely contribute to better relations and easier communication between the governments and the people. For instance, an ambassador in Havana will now have direct and regular, high-level contact with Cuban officials, ending the need for bilateral meetings to be so tricky to organise. Moreover, American diplomats who are working in the island will now be able to leave Havana without Cuban government permission, which was until now, a mandatory requirement.

Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who has been in charge of the Special Interests Section for the past year, has been acting as Charge d’Affairs until an official ambassador is appointed and announced by the U.S. He declared declared during an interview with CNN;

"I believe it's a country in transition, there are [Cuban] officials that say that,"

"It's up to the Cuban people to determine what their country will look like. I do believe that with greater contact and information and the American message of opportunity and democracy can be delivered in a voice that will be very hard to silence."

President Obama’s possible future visit

After stating he had not ruled out a visit to the island in the future, President Obama would become the first American President, while in office, to set foot in Cuba since Calvin Coolidge, who travelled there in January 1928. The positive working relationships that have been established between Cuban and American diplomats to coordinate John Kerry’s stay, would prove very beneficial in case President Obama decided to go.

Although many Republican opponents have criticised the re-establishment of diplomatic ties with a government they deem repressive, Mr. Obama sustains that the rapprochement between the two countries would in the long run be more beneficial to the Cuban people than the long-standing policy of isolation. He famously declared:

"When the United States shuttered its embassy in 1961, I don’t think anyone expected it would be half a century until it was reopened,"

The U.S. President remains optimistic about the re-opening of embassy as one more step towards a brighter future. He added:

" This is not merely symbolic. With this change, we will be able to substantially increase our contact with the Cuban people. We will have more personnel at our embassy, and our diplomats will have the opportunity to engage more broadly across the island."


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