Posts Tagged Havana

American Flag Raised Over Embassy in Cuba

The U.S. flag flies at the U.S. embassy in HavanaSecretary of State John Kerry went to Cuba on Friday and raised the American flag above the U.S. Embassy for the first time in 54 years.

“Thank you for joining us at this truly historic moment as we prepare to raise the flag … symbolizing the restoration of diplomatic relations after 54 years,” Kerry said at the ceremony, addressing the crowd in both English and Spanish.

Kerry’s visit marks the symbolic end of one of the last vestiges of the Cold War. But signs of mistrust linger, and beyond the pomp and circumstance lies a long road back from more than half a century of diplomatic animosity.

On Thursday, Cuban state media put out an article in the name of Fidel Castro, writing on the occasion of his 89th birthday, in which he made no reference to the historic resumption of U.S.-Cuba relations but instead waxed on about the damage the American embargo has caused Cuba and the anniversary of the United States dropping an atomic bomb on Japan.

The rhetoric from the leader of the Cuban revolution, and the face of anti-U.S. resistance, is not unexpected. But it underscores the long-standing tensions at play as Washington and Havana work to thaw the decadeslong chill in relations.

Even Kerry’s brief visit reflects the complexities of opening a new chapter of engagement with the Cuban government.

He was accompanied by a number of U.S. lawmakers who had advocated normalizing diplomatic and economic relations with the island. Several Cuban-Americans also are part of the delegation.

But anti-Castro dissidents weren’t at the U.S. Embassy ceremony marking the restoration of ties. Kerry met with the dissidents and human rights activists at another flag-raising, this one closed to press at the residence of the U.S. chief of mission, along with a broad cross section of Cuban entrepreneurs, journalists and artists.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, blasted the decision in a foreign policy speech delivered in New York Friday morning.

“As a symbol of just how backward this policy shift has turned out to be, no Cuban dissidents have been invited to today’s official flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Havana,” Rubio said. “Cuba’s dissidents have fought for decades for the very Democratic principles President Obama claims to be advancing through these concessions. Their exclusion from this event has ensured it will be little more than a propaganda rally for the Castro regime.”

Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and also the son of Cuban immigrants, said it was “shameful” that Cuba could bar dissidents from the ceremony and said the U.S. flag should not fly in a country that does not value freedom.

“A flag representing freedom and liberty will rise today in a country ruled by a repressive regime that denies its people democracy and basic human rights. This is the embodiment of a wrongheaded policy that rewards the Castro regime’s brutality at the expense of the Cuban people’s right to freedom of expression and independence,” Menendez said in a statement.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called the opening of the embassy a “sad day” in an interview Friday with CNN en Espanol.

“It’s a sad day for me because we did not get anything, no freedom, the dissidents were not invited, not even a change in the regime, they have the economic control. The American flag up but no changes to the Cuban people, it’s a sad day for me,” Bush said, according to a CNN translation.

When Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez visited Washington to reopen the Cuban embassy, he underscored the differences that remain. Standing next to Kerry at the State Department last month, Rodriguez made clear the full normalization of ties between the United States and Cuba would be impossible as long as the blockade remains.

President Barack Obama has eased some travel and business restrictions, but only Congress can lift the 53-year-old embargo, something that is unlikely to happen with Republicans controlling both chambers through the end of his term.

Senior administration officials said they are examining what more the President can do to support the Cuban people and Cuban entrepreneurs but said he would be cautious about going too far, too fast.

The officials said that the President’s calculus in carving out certain sectors health, agriculture, telecom and information, was that they could be justified within the President’s executive authority as humanitarian in nature and opening Cuba to the outside world.

But Obama will not do an end run around Congress and gut the embargo, they said, something Republican lawmakers opposed to the new policy have accused him of.

“These are areas we think can help bring about improvements in the lives of average Cubans even if they bring some benefit to a government we disagree with,” one senior official said. “We are making exceptions to the embargo but still keeping the premise of it.

 

Advertisements

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Chavez names successor as cancer fight takes toll

Hugo Chávez, President since 1999.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s cancer relapse and his sudden announcement that he will undergo a fourth cancer-related surgery in Cuba have thrown the country’s future into question, and his designated political heir has begun trying to fill the void.Underlining the gravity of the situation, Vice President Nicolas Maduro broke into tears on Monday at a political rally hours after Chavez flew to Havana.

“Chavez has a nation, he has all of us, and he’ll have all of us forever in this battle,” said Maduro, who wiped away tears while speaking to supporters. “Even beyond this life, we’re going to be loyal to Hugo Chavez.”

Maduro called for the president’s supporters to rally behind his candidates in upcoming gubernatorial elections on Sunday, and he also inaugurated a new cable car system in a poor neighborhood. Maduro, who spoke passionately and wore the red of Chavez’s socialist movement, seems set to take on a larger role as the president’s chosen successor.

Chavez said for the first time on Saturday that if he suffers complications, Maduro should take over for him and should be elected president to continue his socialist movement.

Analysts say Maduro faces monumental challenges in trying to stand in for his mentor and hold together the president’s diverse “Chavismo” movement, while also coping with economic problems that are weighing on the government.

Maduro may inherit political power, “but he definitely can’t inherit the charisma” of Chavez, said Luis Vicente Leon, a pollster who heads the Venezuelan firm Datanalisis. He said that during his nearly 14 years in office Chavez has been the glue that has held together groups from radical leftists to moderates, as well as military factions.

Leon said it’s unclear if Maduro has what it takes to hold the movement together if Chavez dies. “Internal divisions could make the revolution unstable in the future,” Leon said.

Political analyst Vladimir Villegas, who has known Maduro since his adolescence, said the vice president’s experience years ago as a public transit union leader will probably help him in the difficult task of mediating between different groups of Chavez allies.

Maduro is considered to belong to a radical leftist wing of Chavez’s movement that is closely aligned with Cuba’s communist government. But Villegas said he thinks Maduro will know how to contain his radicalism for practical purposes.

“The priority will be the preservation of political stability, for which it will be necessary to begin negotiating with internal groups and even with the opposition,” said Villegas, who hosts a radio program. “This situation is going to force him to proceed with caution.”

Villegas also said that Maduro will need to “hold on to the trust if the Chavista base and to neutralize the fractions that are going to bet… on him not doing well.”

Before leaving for Havana early Monday, Chavez met with military commanders at the presidential palace and promoted his defense minister, Diego Molero, to the rank of admiral in chief. Chavez showed Molero and other military commanders a golden sword that once belonged to independence hero Simon Bolivar.

Holding the sword, Chavez told the officers that he fully trusts them. He also warned of potential conspiracies by enemies, both foreign and domestic.

“I’m totally sure that our homeland is safe,” Chavez told them. He urged them “not to give in to intrigue.”

Chavez announced that his cancer had reappeared and named Maduro as his chosen successor during a quick weekend visit to Caracas after spending 10 days in Cuba for treatment. He said he wanted to return to deliver his message to the nation, and his appearance after a prolonged absence allowed him to send a clear directive to his movement that it should follow Maduro if cancer cuts short his presidency.

Many in Venezuela have interpreted his message as indicating that he now faces long odds.

Video of his departure, played hours later on state television, showed Chavez raising a fist as he climbed the stairs alone. From top of the stairs, he waved and shouted “Long live our homeland!”

Also visible in the doorway of the plane were his eldest daughter, Rosa, and a grandson.

The 58-year-old president won re-election in October and is due to be sworn in for a new six-year term on Jan. 10. If Chavez were to die, the constitution says that new elections should be called and held within 30 days.

Chavez said on Saturday that if such new elections are held, Maduro should be elected president in his place.

In the meantime, Maduro is helping to lead a government with serious economic problems including a swelling budget deficit and a currency that has a rapid drop in black market trading.

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: