John Kerry flies to Cuba for new policy victory lap
Washington's top diplomat is coming to Havana on Friday to raise the Stars and Stripes over the newly opened US Embassy, making a symbolically charged victory lap for the Obama administration's new policy of engagement with Cuba.
Havana: Washington's top diplomat is coming to Havana on Friday to raise the Stars and Stripes over the newly opened US Embassy, making a symbolically charged victory lap for the Obama administration's new policy of engagement with Cuba.
Ordinary Cubans will cheer, US business executives will network and Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Cuba's foreign minister, the country's Roman Catholic archbishop and a hand-picked group of dissidents. Then the hard part begins.
Soon after Kerry heads home this evening, the Cuban and US diplomats who negotiated the embassy reopening will launch full-time into the next phase of detente: expanding economic ties between the two nations with measures like direct flights and mail service.
The Americans also want to resolve billions of dollars in half-century-old American claims over property confiscated after the Cuban revolution. Cuba has its own claims, as noted in a newspaper column by Fidel Castro on Thursday saying the US owes the island "numerous millions of dollars" for damages caused by the embargo.
"We have diplomatic relations; now we can get to the real work," said Wayne Smith, a retired US diplomat who witnessed the closing of the US Embassy in 1961, served in Cuba under President Jimmy Carter and returned this week to attend Friday's ceremony.
Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced on December 17 that they would re-establish diplomatic ties 54 years after the flag was taken down from the embassy overlooking Havana's seaside boulevard, the Malecon.
Obama also said he would be moving to empower the Cuban people by loosening the US trade embargo on Cuba through a series of executive actions that make it easier for American citizens to travel to Cuba and trade with the island's growing class of private business owners.
Eight months later, Cuba has repeatedly demanded a complete lifting of the embargo. It has not responded to Obama's actions with measures that would allow ordinary Cubans to benefit from them, such as allowing low-cost imports and exports by Cuban entrepreneurs looking to do business with the US.
"I think we're ending one phase and entering another," said Robert Muse, a US Lawyer specialising in Cuba. "The handshakes, the fraternal regards, the raising of the flags, that'll end on Aug. 14. Then I think it's very particular conversations begin."
While Cuba has increased its highly limited Internet access since December 17 in a measure US officials partially attribute to the warming with Washington, ordinary Cubans are growing increasingly impatient for concrete results from the new relationship.