After 55 years, President Barack Obama has ended the cold war between the United States and Cuba. Today is the opening of the U.S. embassy. The American flag will be run up the flagpole. In December, Obama — the 11th president of the United States since the communist dictator Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959 — announced the restoration of diplomatic relations with the island, and since that moment his administration has been facing attacks from Republicans and staunch anti-communist Cuban emigrants. The opponents are pointing out that the United States has capitulated in the fight with the dictatorship of the Castro brothers and sold the Cubans, who still live in the country of tyranny.
The climax of the radical American shift toward Cuba will be the moment when Secretary of State John Kerry runs the U.S. flag up the flagpole in front of the embassy in Havana. The American government has already been criticized because dissidents were not invited to the ceremony; the communist dictatorship considers them “servants” and “mercenaries” of imperialism.
Among the most vehement opponents are Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. “This is a new low for President Obama and a slap in the face by this administration to Cuba's courageous democracy activists; Cuban dissidents are the legitimate representatives of the Cuban people,” stated Rubio.
But Secretary of State Kerry is keeping his cool. On the same day in the afternoon, he is meeting a delegation of Cuban dissidents separately, in the quarters of the commercial attaché.
“Rather than have people sitting in a chair, at a ceremony that is fundamentally government-to-government, with very limited space, I will meet with them and actually have an opportunity to talk to them, and exchange views,” he said before his departure for Havana to the “El Nuevo Herald” journal from Miami, which represents the radical voice of the anti-communist Cubans.
The leaders of the opposition invited to meet with Kerry include, among others, Berta Soler and Myriam Leiva from the Ladies in White association; the leader of the Patriotic Union (the biggest opposition party), José Daniel Ferrer; the leader of the Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission, Elizardo Sanchez; Antonio Rodiles; and Manuel Cuesta Morua.
Kerry is denying the accusation that the U.S. government withdrew its support to the opposition and stopped the process of re-enacting democracy and civil liberties on the island. “I will sit down with my counterpart when I’m there on Friday,” Kerry said. “We will talk very directly about a sort of road map toward real, full normalization. Ultimately, that will include the lifting of the embargo, which we support, but it also will include Cuba moving forward on various things that make a difference … (like) the ability of people to engage in a democratic process, to elect people, to have their own choices.”
The majority of the Cuban opposition approves of the restoration of relations with the U.S. and lifting the trade embargo (imposed in 1961), but wants America to keep on stigmatizing the dictatorship, defending prosecuted dissidents, and advocating human rights. The invited dissidents will probably participate in the meeting with Kerry, although they are probably going to express different opinions about U.S. politics.
“We understand that the U.S. government has to act carefully because the Castro regime is dictating the conditions,” José Daniel Ferrer told the journalists in Havana. “We will present to Kerry the sad reality — how human rights are trampled in Cuba. He already knows that, but there is never enough talk about what is happening on the island, how people are arrested and prosecuted for political reasons.”*
“The right thing to do would be to invite us and hear us out despite the fact that we don’t agree with the new U.S. policy,” Antonio Rodiles, opponent of normalization, told the Associated Press.
Prominent intellectual Dagoberta Valdes responds to the critics in the first independent Internet journal, started a year ago by a famous dissident, Yoani Sanchez: “It is the time of the Cubans, the time of civil sovereignty. A long road to normality is being opened. The Cubans should stop expecting people from the outside to do what they must do themselves.”*
Among those who support restoring normal relations with communist Cuba are the majority of the island’s inhabitants, most of the numerous and influential Cuban immigrants in the U.S., and a majority of the Americans. More than 70 percent of US citizens approve of lifting the trade embargo and commercial sanctions. On the streets of Havana, people from all age groups wear scarves, shirts, dresses and trousers with the American flag pattern.
Two weeks ago, former secretary of state and potential Democratic candidate for president Hillary Clinton addressed the U.S. Congress in Miami — inhabited by more than 1.5 million Cuban people, the biggest number in the U.S., including the most ardent opponents of the regime — about abandoning the embargo.
“The Cuban embargo needs to go once and for all,” Clinton said to applause. “We can't wait any longer for a failed policy to bear fruit. We have to now support change on an island where it's desperately needed.”
“This is a different Miami than it was 10 years ago. I’m not sure she could have come here and given this speech then,” suggests Frank Mora, from Florida International University’s Latin American and Caribbean Center in Miami.
More and more Democrats and Republicans in Congress are supporting lifting the embargo, but they still constitute a minority. Barack Obama has already abandoned many restrictions in relations with Cuba, such as allowing thousands of Americans to travel to the island.
*Editor’s note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.