The Cuban flag was raised Monday outside the country’s diplomatic mission in Washington in a 30-second ceremony that symbolized the restoration of U.S.-Cuban ties after more than five decades.
Chants of “Viva Fidel! Viva Raul!” competed with calls for democracy, human rights and shouts of “Cuba, si! No Fidel!”
The moment was emotional for the Cubans who watched, interspersed with throngs of international media and protest groups.
Cubans and Cuban Americans said they wept for the promise the moment held – an opening, perhaps, toward greater freedoms and economic opportunity on the island. Others said their tears were for the political prisoners the Castro regime still holds, and for the ordinary Cubans whose dreams are crushed under Communism.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez led a delegation of 36 Cuban officials and members of Cuba’s cultural world at the ceremony marking the conversion of its interests section in Washington to a full-fledged embassy.
Speaking at the embassy, Rodriguez hailed the new era in diplomatic relations but said they were just the beginning.
Only if the United States ends the economic embargo on the island, returns the Guantanamo military base and respects Cuba’s sovereignty “will the historic event we are witnessing today make any sense,” he said.
“Today marks an opportunity to begin working to establish new bilateral relations unlike anything that has existed in the past,” he added.
The event is the fruit of 18 months of secret negotiations to restore ties and came around a quarter century after the old Soviet bloc began to unravel and most of the rest of the world experienced rapprochement.
Many in the crowd at the ceremony had worked for decades to lift the U.S. embargo against Cuba and they talked of not wanting to miss the “moment” when the normalization process began.
And then there were people in the middle, such as Tiare Trelles, 27 and three months pregnant, who said she’s been in the United States for just a year. She said she escaped Cuba via Mexico and was granted asylum. She choked up when describing the mixed feelings she had in watching the Cuban flag go up in Washington.
She said she was thinking of her family back in Havana and the hardships that will continue despite the warmer relations with the United States. But she was also thinking of her unborn baby, who will be an American citizen, and said she wants her child to grow up in a new era of cooperation and exchange.
“I will give my baby everything Cuban – the food, the dances, the culture, all the good parts,” Trelles said. “I want him or her to know what good people we are, and I want Americans to know that, too. This is an opening, a good opportunity for both countries.”
Whitefield reports for The Miami Herald.