After ceremonial flag raising, real talk of diplomacy begins in Cuba
BY BRADLEY KLAPPER AND MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN, ASSOCIATED PRESS August
15, 2015 at 12:56 PM EDT
HAVANA — A jubilant flag-raising at the reopened U.S. Embassy in Havana
is giving way to serious talk about the road ahead in improving
relations between the United States and Cuba.
Capping off a Friday in Havana that began with the Stars and Stripes
being hoisted outside the embassy, Secretary of State John Kerry met
with Cuban dissidents in the evening and said the island will not see an
end to the despised U.S. trade embargo if Cuba’s single-party government
does not make progress on human rights.
Flag flies over U.S. Embassy in Cuba – now what?
Reporting from Cuba, a place frozen in time yet full of potential
Cuban and U.S. negotiators are to meet in Havana in early September to
begin talks on normalization of the relationship between the two
countries, which includes topics ranging from maritime security to the
embargo to human rights, Kerry told reporters.
He said negotiations will follow three tracks. The first will encompass
areas in which rapid progress is expected, such as cooperation on naval
matters, climate change and the environment. The second will tackle more
complex topics like the establishment of direct airline flights and U.S.
telecommunications deals with Cuba. The last will take on the toughest
problems, including the embargo, human rights and each country’s desire
to have fugitives returned by the other.
While the three tracks will proceed simultaneously, Kerry said, Cuban
leaders should not expect to see progress on the embargo without
improvements in civil liberties in Cuba, which does not allow
independent media, political parties other than the ruling communist
party or direct election of anything but low-level municipal posts.
“There is no way Congress will lift the embargo if we are not making
progress on issues of conscience,” he said.
Kerry began the day with a nationally broadcast call for democratic
change on the island, saying that “we remain convinced the people of
Cuba would be best served by a genuine democracy, where people are free
to choose their leaders, express their ideas, practice their faith.”
Hundreds of Cubans mixed with American tourists outside the former U.S.
Interests Section, newly rechristened with a sign announcing “Embassy of
the United States of America.” They cheered as Kerry spoke, the United
States Army Brass Quintet played “The Star-Spangled Banner” and U.S.
Marines raised the flag outside the building, which overlooks the famous
Malecon seaside promenade.
Addressing reporters with Kerry after the ceremony, Foreign Minister
Bruno Rodriguez responded by indignantly opening his remarks with
complaints of U.S. human rights transgressions – from police shootings
of black men to mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S.
naval base on Cuba that the government says must be returned.
“Cuba isn’t a place where there’s racial discrimination, police
brutality or deaths resulting from those problems,” Rodriguez said. “The
territory where torture occurs and people are held in legal limbo isn’t
under Cuban jurisdiction.”
Many Cubans disagree with that assessment, including Afro-Cubans who say
discrimination is still rampant despite the revolution’s egalitarian
ideals. Human rights groups say regular, short-term arrests and beatings
of the government’s critics seek to intimidate dissent.
President Barack Obama also called for change in Cuba when he announced
the new U.S. policy of engagement in December, but his words were less
pointed than Kerry’s on Friday.
Cuba formally reopened its Washington embassy last month. The U.S.
raised its flag in Havana then, too, though saving the formal ceremony
for Kerry’s visit. Three Marines who took part in lowering the U.S. flag
when the embassy was closed in 1961 handed over the new flag to Marines
who raised it on Friday.
Kerry was the first secretary of state to visit Cuba since 1945, and his
speech was remarkable for its bluntness and the national spotlight in
which it came.
Many Cubans lauded Kerry’s call for reform, including greater access to
technology on an island with one of the world’s lowest rates of Internet
penetration. They paired their praise with calls for the United States
to lift the 53-year-old trade embargo and allow easier travel between
the two countries.
“More democracy, elections, we hope for that to come with this
diplomatic opening,” said Julio Garcia, a mechanic.
Like Obama, Kerry said the longtime U.S. strategy of trying to isolate
Cuba and provoke regime change by choking off trade and fomenting
grass-roots agitation had failed.
“It would be equally unrealistic to expect normalizing relations to have
a transformative impact in the short term,” he said. “After all, Cuba’s
future is for Cubans to shape.”
Kerry briefly walked Old Havana’s historic Plaza de San Francisco with
City Historian Eusebio Leal, stopping to look in shops and greet
residents and store owners before attending an afternoon flag-raising at
the home of the embassy’s chief of mission.
While there, he addressed a group of diplomats, Cuban-Americans and
advocates of warming relations with Cuba. The event also was attended by
dissidents including Jose Daniel Ferrer, Miriam Leiva and Yoani Sanchez,
who tweeted a selfie of with Kerry and a photo of the secretary of state
meeting privately with a group of dissidents.
The dissidents were not invited to the embassy ceremony to avoid
tensions with Cuban officials who typically boycott events attended by
the country’s small political opposition.
Source: After ceremonial flag raising, real talk of diplomacy begins in