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U.S., Cuba Reopen Embassies For First Time In 54 Years

Diana Nyad

After more than fifty years, the United States and Cuba once again have Embassies in their respective capitals:

HAVANA — After more than a half-century defined by mistrust and rancor, the United States officially reopened its six-story embassy in the Cuban capital on Monday, the culmination of many months of negotiations to overcome decades of historical enmity and to restore diplomatic relations between the two nations.

More than two years of effort went into restoring relations between Cubaand the United States, both public and private, yet most observers say they believe it will be many more years before mutual wariness fades.

A litany of questions have yet to be answered, including: Will the American trade embargo that has crippled Cuba’s economy be lifted, and if so, when? Will the Cuban government improve its human rights record and incorporate outsiders into the political spectrum? How much, and how fast, will the lives of ordinary Cubans, who earn $20 a month on average, improve?

But for now, the reopening of the embassy on the Malecón waterfront in Havana, previously used as an interests section, a limited diplomatic outpost, stands as the most concrete symbol yet of the thaw set in motion last year when President Obama ordered the full restoration of diplomatic ties between the countries.

“It is sort of like a wedding,” said James Williams, the president of an advocacy group, Engage Cuba, which has been lobbying for improved relations. “You’ve spent all this time planning your wedding day, and finally you’re getting to see someone walk down the aisle.”

“Now,” he added, “you have the rest of your life together.”

If Cubans are expecting bells and canapés to celebrate the nuptials, they will be sorely disappointed. The official celebration to inaugurate the American Embassy will not take place until later in the summer, when Secretary of State John Kerry plans to visit, to formally raise the flag and install the new signage.

In Washington, however, shouts of “Viva Cuba” rang out on Monday as Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, raised his country’s flag outside the newly reopened Cuban embassy.

In Havana, a line had already formed at 6 a.m. along the side of the American Embassy, a large building. Families clutched sheaths of paper as they awaited interviews and appointments with officials now operating under the auspices of an embassy.

Beyond the edge of the tidy line, hundreds more gathered in a small park awaiting their turn, and dozens more formed a separate line beyond that. For the first time in decades, American Embassy personnel were managing the order of entrants, taking names, calling names, answering questions.

It has been announced that Secretary Kerry will travel to Havana on August 14th for the formal flag raising ceremony at the new American Embassy, but there’s no word on whether he will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro or any other Cuban officials on this trip. As I’ve said before, the general direction of President Obama’s opening to Cuba is a policy initiative that is long overdue. Even leaving aside all of the other complicated issues between Washington and Havana, though, the fact that it has taken this long for something as simple as establishing diplomatic relations is an excellent demonstration of just how absurd Cuba policy has been in this country. Given the fact that the we have diplomatic relations with nations such as China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt, the argument that the state of human rights in Cuba was a legitimate reason not to have diplomatic relations is utterly foolish. Additionally, the fact Cuba is a mere 90 miles from the United States and that the only real justification for the trade and diplomacy embargo that ever existed, Cuba’s relationship with the Soviet Union, has not been relevant for more than two decades makes today’s events long overdue.

This is hardly the end of the matter, of course. The Obama Administration itself has acknowledged that it will take much more discussion to resolve other issues between the two countries, which range from everything to human rights issues and the status of several American criminals who fled to Cuba in the 1970s and 1980s to questions involving the property rights of Cuban citizens who fled to the United States after the Castro regime came to power. Additionally, many of the provisions of the trade embargo on Cuba cannot be repealed without Congressional authorization and, at least for now, Republicans on Capitol Hill are resisting any efforts to reexamine that embargo. In fact, with the exception of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and a few members of the House of Representatives, pretty much every Republican on Capitol Hill, and every Republican running for President has come out against the new policy. This Congressional opposition will also mean that the U.S. Embassy in Havana is unlikely to receive an Ambassador any time in the near future. Florida Senator Marco Rubio and others have already made clear that they would block the appointment of any Ambassador to Cuba regardless of who was named, so that post is likely to go unfilled until at least 2017, meaning that career diplomats assigned to Havana will have to take on the roles an Ambassador would normally fulfill. There have also been some threats by Republicans on the Hill to defund the Cuban Embassy entirely, but that’s not likely to succeed any more than previous efforts to defund specific Administration programs have succeeded.

It’s worth noting that the American public seems to largely support the Obama Administration’s initiative. A new CBS News Poll, for example, finds the 58% of Americans support the reestablishment of diplomatic relations while only 24% oppose it. Much larger majorities support opening economic relations between the two countries, with 81% of Americans, including 71% of Republicans, supporting allowing Americans to freely travel to Cuba. This suggests that Republicans may want to rethink their opposition to the initiative, although that’ s unlikely to happen until after the Florida Primary at the very least.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. stonetools says:

    Doug won’t admit this. But Obama is going to go down as a great foreign policy President.
    Ever since the 2014 elections freed him up from having to pussyfoot around and trying to compromise with Republicans, the man has been on fire. Instead of trying to reach a middle ground with Republicans on Cuban policy, he has just done the right thing and undone a stupid policy.
    Apparently, the public is fully on board with him, which means that Republicans are going to just mumble their opposition until the Florida primary ( and then abandon it thereafter). I suspect all Democrats will be fully on board with the new policy.

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  2. Ron Beasley says:

    The Cuban oligarchs who fled Cuba have been driving our policy towards Cuba for far too long. The original Cuban refugees are old or already dead and the 3rd generation Miami Cubans for the most part don’t share their politics or values. It was these oligarchs that we in part responsible for the revolution to begin with.

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  3. C. Clavin says:

    @stonetools:
    I certainly don’t think you have to qualify him as a Foreign Policy President.
    Yes…this Cuba policy hasn’t worked for over 50 years. But Presidents from both sides of the aisle have been trying to get health care reform for 50 years as well, and Obama got it done. And if you deal in facts, and not emotion, Obamacare is working well.
    The Obama Presidency is one of the most productive, surely in the modern era. There is plenty I don’t like about this Presidency; drone wars, secret trade deals, not putting big bankers (or Dick Cheney) in jail. However there is far more I like. This Cuba policy reform is just one more thing checked off.

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  4. @Ron Beasley:

    Well it’s certainly easier to go through life if you can just dismiss anyone who disagrees with you as an “oligarch”.

    Because obviously no one had any reason to flee Cuba during the revolution exccept for oligarchs. Nope, absolutely no repression any kind that normal people would want to escape from.

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  5. Mu says:

    So, will the Republicans immediately ask for a return of all Cuban immigrants back to where they came from?

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  6. michael reynolds says:

    Well, there you go: the communists have won. Sure they lost the USSR, Eastern Europe and China, but now they have at last defeated us. Our Cuban overlords will soon be dictating that all Americans must smoke cigars. Look! They’ve already gotten to me!

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  7. grumpy realist says:

    And we can expect that the Republicans are going to bitch about it for another 54 years….

    sigh.

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  8. Ron Beasley says:

    @Stormy Dragon: The initial flood of immigrants were made up primarily of wealthy business owners who were not only allowed to leave but encouraged to do so by the revolutionary government. I think this group does fit the definition of oligarchs. They were also the ones who became political powers in South Florida and became the drivers of the ridiculous and unsuccessful US foreign policy towards Cuba.

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  9. @Ron Beasley:

    I think this group does fit the definition of oligarchs.

    Of course you do. It makes it easier to demonize them all for political reasons.

    And even if the first wave were all oligarchs, they account for only 15,000 of the 1 million cuban exiles currently living in the US.

    They were also the ones who became political powers in South Florida and became the drivers of the ridiculous and unsuccessful US foreign policy towards Cuba.

    It’s possible to object to US Cuba policy without whitewashing the Castro regime.

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  10. Grewgills says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    How was he whitewashing the Castro regime? He simply pointed out some history. Abuses of Cuban oligarchs did make revolution much more likely. Those same wealthy people were the first out, the first to settle in South Florida, and were the leaders of the Cuban community in exile that drove our ridiculous Cuba policy. None of that makes the Castros or their regime good actors any more than Mao and the Chinese communists were good actors. That simply doesn’t follow.

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  11. @Grewgills:

    Because actual oligarchs formed a vary small portion of the Cuban exile group, and plenty of the non-oligarchs supported a policy of non-reproachment as well. He’s basically taking the equivalent of the “but-black-on-black-crime” response to Fergusson: pulling out a fact that may, in isolation, be technically true, but that is also largely irrelevant to understanding the full context of the situation, and then using this fact to dismiss the legitimate concerns of a large group on the basis of a small group of bad actors among them.

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  12. mantis says:

    Today was truly a Red Dawn. Someone gather Powers Boothe and a ragtag bunch of teenagers to save us.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. walt moffett says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Hmm the Cubans did report a working lung cancer vaccine a while back and have a shiny new cigarette factory.

    How long before the travel writers start scribbling about how American tourism has ruined the Cuban Experience?

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  14. george says:

    Not having an embassy in Cuba was one of the funniest things in politics – it was always good for a giggle.

    Given that we had an embassy in Soviet Moscow and Mao’s China, not having one in Cuba was trying to say that Cuba was more dangerous than either the USSR or China – that Cuba was directing the USSR rather than vice-versa.

    I find it hard to believe that even the GOP could say that with a straight face. It was about votes in Florida, nothing else.

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  15. stonetools says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    It’s possible to object to US Cuba policy without whitewashing the Castro regime.

    My eyesight is not what it once was, so you ‘ll need point out where Ron or anyone else whitewashed the Castro regime in this thread. Thanks in advance.

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  16. michael reynolds says:

    @walt moffett:

    I think we should go down with a suitcase full of dollars and start snapping up those vintage 1950’s cars.

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  17. grumpy realist says:

    Considering that the Mafia and the Rat Pack were on the verge of turning Cuba into their own little fiefdom off the coast of Florida selling casinos, drugs, and sex to the marks visiting from the mainland….

    It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows before Castro started stomping through the place. There was a REASON for the revolution.

    That’s why I’m suspicious of the entire “oh, poor us, Castro threw us out and confiscated our estates!” whining. How many of those were hand-in-glove with the casino/drugs/prostitution purveyors?

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  18. walt moffett says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Coils, points, feeler gauges, drum brakes, manual chokes, bias ply tires, carb rebuilts, ring and carbon jobs every 40K, no thanks. However one of those left over GAZ 3 cylinder diesel prime movers…

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  19. gVOR08 says:

    @michael reynolds: The car magazines don’t see much promise for a wave of vintage cars. After decades of scrounging and improvising, lord only knows what’s behind the badge on the hood.

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  20. michael reynolds says:

    @walt moffett: @gVOR08:

    And let that be a lesson to both of you: don’t take investment advice from me.

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  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    questions involving the property rights of Cuban citizens who fled to the United States after the Castro regime came to power.

    Hmmmmmm…. I wonder what the US would say if Cuba pressed the question involving the property rights of Native Americans?

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  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Nope, absolutely no repression any kind that normal people would want to escape from.

    And absolutely no repression of any kind that normal people would want to rebel against. Nope, nope, nothing to see here move along, move along.

    Really Stormy, listen to yourself.

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  23. C. Clavin says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Considering that the Mafia and the Rat Pack were on the verge of turning Cuba into their own little fiefdom off the coast of Florida selling casinos, drugs, and sex to the marks visiting from the mainland….It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows before Castro started stomping through the place.

    You mean the “free-market”???

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  24. ernieyeball says:

    And we can expect that the Republicans are going to bitch about it for another 54 years….

    Well at least they finally quit whining about the Panama Canal.
    Oh Damn. Now I reminded them about it…

    Despite the fact that the pullout of the United States is now complete (1999), there are still organizations (primarily conservative ones such as the John Birch Society) that urge the United States to declare the treaty null and void, saying that the Spanish text is different from the English text.

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  25. ernieyeball says:

    “Now,” he added, “you have the rest of your life together.”

    Please Jesus, anything but that!

    So now I’m praying for the end of time
    To hurry up and arrive
    ‘Cause if I gotta spend another minute with you
    I don’t think that I can really survive

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  26. @OzarkHillbilly:

    And absolutely no repression of any kind that normal people would want to rebel against.

    Ah but see, unlike Ron Beasly’s oligarch characterization, I never claimed that the only people opposing Batista were predominately criminals. But again, we get the leftist whitewash of Castro. Batista is bad, therefore Castro gets a pass for being just as bad.

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  27. Grewgills says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    Noting that what came before Castro set up the revolution he led isn’t whitewashing, it is historical fact. No one here is saying that Castro or his regime is/was good, just that our Cuba policy has made no sense for decades. Our policy was catering to a swing state base and that base was heavily influenced by and mostly led by the very same wealthy people that were at least partially responsible for the revolution. That the Cuban oligarchs were bad people no more excuses Castro than the Tsars excuse Stalin or the Shah excuses the Iranian revolutionaries. In each case the bad actions of one set up conditions for the next bad actor to take control. Neither the first nor the second bad actor is being excused or whitewashed in any of those examples.

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  28. Matt says:

    @michael reynolds: No kidding there are some seriously mint cars there.

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  29. stonetools says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Dude, I think you just want a straw man to beat-those starry eyed leftists who overlook the sins of the evil Castro regime, and who you want to correct. Try another site. Google “Castro defender” and beat your straw man over there.

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  30. anjin-san says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    the leftist whitewash of Castro

    Not tired of digging yet?

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  31. David M says:

    I think it was just bad luck that Castro ended up staying in power basically forever. Wikipedia has him as the longest serving political figure in the 20th century. First, he was a little lucky to end up President. Then the US embargo, Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, etc, all seem like the perfect storm of events to help Castro stay in power. I mean really, there’s probably a decent number of Latin American countries or Caribbean Islands that have had radically different system of government between the 1950s and today. (it’s not necessarily been the most stable region.) Who would have thought then that the Castro brothers would still be in power now?

    There were valid reasons the Cuban Revolution happened, and I don’t think most anyone involved realized the path the country was on. To me, the revolutionaries (in the 1950s) are more sympathetic than the Batista supporters.

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  32. DrDaveT says:

    @ernieyeball:

    saying that the Spanish text is different from the English text

    Well, sure. It’s in Spanish, for a start…

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  33. grumpy realist says:

    @DrDaveT: Yes, well, that’s the mentality of the John Birchers in fact.

    these are the same nitwits that scream about “godless furrin influences!” whenever anyone lets out a peep about international or foreign law, notwithstanding the fact that our entire legal system is based on English Common Law and the next historical candidate out there is the Civil Code of Napoleon. Where do they think our culture comes FROM?! Heck, most of our Declaration of Independence is swiped from Resistance Theory which was dreamed up by a bunch of European jurists trying to find a way to argue why the Catholic peasants should be able to legally revolt against a Protestant prince (or Protestant peasants should revolt against a Catholic prince.) And if you go back further, those same European jurists swiped most of THEIR ideas from Bartolus’s De Tyrannis.

    Feh. What a bunch of historical illiterates.

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  34. James P says:

    The next president can easily undo this.

    JFK broke diplomatic relations with Cuba. So top can President Trump/Walker/Cruz/Rubio.

    Congress has to end the embargo — good luck with that.

    Good luck confirming an ambassador.

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  35. stonetools says:

    The next President WILL not undo this.

    Latest poll:

    Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Americans say they approve of the U.S. re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, up 10 points since January. A similar majority (72%) favors the U.S. ending its trade embargo against Cuba, “which would allow U.S. companies to do business in Cuba and Cuban companies to do business in the U.S.”

    That poll says 59% of Republicans now favor ending the trade embargo.

    Those are better than same sex marriage approval numbers, which means that the Republicans are going to do exactly what they are doing with SSM- back away slowly and quietly from the anti opening position, and embrace the Cuban opening in a few years, when they hope everyone forgot they opposed it. Marco Rubio 2024: “I was always in favor of the USA renewing ties to my father’s homeland, from which he emigrated during the Batista dictatorship”.

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  36. george says:

    @James P:

    Just curious, do you have an explanation (other than votes in Florida) for why we had an embassy (and trade relations) with the Soviet Union, but not Cuba?

    I mean, other than the weird analysis that decided Cuba was much more powerful and dangerous than the USSR, and so we couldn’t afford to have relations with them?

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  37. DrDaveT says:

    @James P:

    Good luck confirming an ambassador.

    I was assuming it would be Soledad O’Brien…

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