The Stars and Stripes rose yesterday over the newly reopened US Embassy in Cuba for the first time in 54 years, making a symbolically charged victory lap for the Obama administration’s new policy of engagement with the country.
Hundreds of Cubans gathered outside the embassy for what they universally called a historic day.
Cuban TV carried the event live, broadcasting flattering biographical facts about secretary of state John Kerry and interviews with Cubans who praised detente with the US as a necessary and positive step for their country.
Cuban dissidents were not invited to the embassy ceremony, avoiding tensions with Cuban officials who typically boycott events attended by the country’s small political opposition.
The state department said it had limited space at what it called a government-to-government event, and invited dissidents to a separate afternoon flag-raising at the home of the embassy’s chief of mission.
Giant Cuban flags hung from the balconies of nearby apartment buildings and people gathered at windows with a view of the embassy.
“I wouldn’t want to miss it,” Marcos Rodriguez, 28, said as he waited outside the embassy.
He said he and thousands of others on the island were hoping the opening with the US will bring “social and economic benefits for all Cubans.”
High-ranking Cuban officials, US business executives and Cuban-Americans who pushed for rebuilding relations with Cuba gathered inside the former US Interests Section, newly emblazoned with the letters “Embassy of the United States of America.”
Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco, who read a poem at US president Barach Obama’s second inauguration, was to read a new work before three marines who lowered the flag at the embassy’s closing in 1961 return to raise the Stars and Stripes again.
Mr Kerry was then to meet with Cuba’s foreign minister, the country’s Roman Catholic archbishop and, separately, a hand-picked group of dissidents.
Among those gathering in front of the US Embassy in Havana were the drivers of three 1950s-era Chevrolets parked outside the building.
Julio Alvarez, head of the custom cab company that operates them, said the state department had invited him to send them without saying why, but he hoped that Mr Kerry would go for a drive in one.
Soon after Mr Kerry headed home last night, the Cuban and US diplomats who negotiated the embassy reopening were to launch full-time into expanding economic ties between the two nations.
The Americans also want to resolve billions of dollars in half-century-old claims over property confiscated after the Cuban revolution. Cuba has its own claims, as noted in a newspaper column by Fidel Castro saying the US owes the island “numerous millions of dollars” for damages caused by the embargo.