Cuba and US no longer ‘prisoners of history’

John Kerry witnesses US flag being raised at embassy in Havana after 54 years

US marines raise the US flag while watched over by secretary of state John Kerry at the US embassy in Havana. Photograph: Reuters

US marines raise the US flag while watched over by secretary of state John Kerry at the US embassy in Havana. Photograph: Reuters

 

The US and Cuba have stopped “being the prisoners of history”, John Kerry said yesterday, as he watched his country’s flag being raised at its embassy in Havana for the first time in more than five decades.

In a ceremony that laid to rest one of the last remnants of the cold war, Mr Kerry, who became the first US secretary of state to visit Cuba since 1945, called on the neighbouring countries to “push aside old barriers and pursue new possibilities”.

Striking a careful balance between openness to the country’s authoritarian regime and support for dissidents, Mr Kerry urged Cuba to pursue “genuine democracy” but said that “Cuba’s future is for Cubans to shape”.

The rich symbolism of yesterday’s ceremony at the embassy was the culmination of the decision taken in late December to normalise relations between two countries separated by only 90 miles of sea.

Suspended

“The United States has had 10 new presidents, and in a united Germany the Berlin Wall is a fading memory, freed from Soviet shackles,” he said.

Only last week, Mr Kerry had been in Hanoi to celebrate two decades of normalisation of relations between the US and Vietnam, despite a bitter war he himself fought in that had “inflicted indelible scars on body and mind”.

In a minutely choreographed event, the flag was delivered by the three US marines, now in their 70s, who had taken it down in 1961 when president Dwight Eisenhower announced he was breaking relations with Fidel Castro’s regime.

“We knew we were closing it up, but we had no idea as to all the particulars behind it,” Francis East, then a gunnery sergeant, told CNN about the day the flag came down.

“I really did not think this day was ever going to happen.”

Shared horizon

Richard Blanco

Opponents of the US opening to Cuba criticised the absence of dissidents in the audience.

“Their exclusion from this event has ensured it will be little more than a propaganda rally for the Castro regime,” said Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American senator running for the Republican presidential nomination.

Given the fierce passions that long surrounded Cuba in US politics, perhaps the most surprising aspect of the rapprochement has been how politically painless it has been.

An opinion poll last month by Pew said that the majority in favour of re-establishing diplomatic ties with Cuba had grown in the months since the policy was first announced. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015