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Grievances persist despite new era in U.S.-Cuba ties

Matthew Lee
Associated Press

Washington — The Cuban national flag fluttered in the Washington sun Monday as the U.S. and Cuba formally ended more than a half-century of estrangement, formally re-establishing relations severed at the height of the Cold War. But the symbolism of an embassy ceremony could not conceal deep conflicts between the nations.

In the sweltering July heat and humidity of America’s capital, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez presided over the flag-raising ceremony just hours after an agreement to restore diplomatic ties broken in 1961 took effect at the stroke of midnight. He later met with Secretary of State John Kerry, becoming the first Cuban foreign minister to set foot in the State Department since 1958.

Kerry announced that he would make a reciprocal visit to Cuba to dedicate the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Aug. 14. He spoke of a need to move beyond the enmity that was spawned as President John F. Kennedy grappled with Fidel Castro’s revolution and Soviet expansionism and that hardened over the 54 years that followed.

Despite pledges of goodwill and mutual respect, ghosts of past animosity hung over the events.

At the reopening of the Cuban embassy and again at a joint news conference with Kerry, Rodriguez repeated demands for the U.S. to end its 53-year embargo, return the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, stop efforts to change or reform Cuba’s communist government and pay compensation for damage done to the island and its people over the past five decades.

On a more conciliatory note, Rodriguez thanked President Barack Obama for his conclusion that U.S. policy toward Cuba was faulty, his steps to ease sanctions thus far and his calls for Congress to repeal the embargo.

Rodriguez noted that there are “profound differences” between the U.S. and Cuban governments but stressed that “we strongly believe that we can both cooperate and coexist in a civilized way based on due respect for these differences.”

Kerry said America wants to work with Cuba to improve conditions there. But he also acknowledged persistent differences over human rights, democracy and reparations and flatly rejected the suggestion that Guantanamo would be returned to Cuba anytime soon.