Cubans spice up life in Lithuanian Embassy neighbourhood in Washington, DC

Happy Cubans in front of their newly opened embassy Photo Ludo Segers

This was yet another milestone in re-establishing relations between the USA and the island nation. At 10:30 AM, a large flag was raised atop a pole and with that, the Cuban Embassy in the US capital was officially opened. The event drew large interest from the media, demonstrators (mainly pro), merrymakers and diplomats and officials.

Alli McCracken, national coordinator with Code Pink, was visibly pleased that the USA re-established relations with Cuba, an island located less than 100 miles (160km) off the coast of Florida. Code Pink advocates engagement as a foreign policy tool. Holding a large pink sign that said “Salsa Yes, Embargo No”, Ms. McCracken said: “We are happy to see the USA finally rolling out an engagement policy with Cuba and hopefully more countries around the world.” She pointed out that in spite of all the talk, there is still a travel and trade embargo. The American Congress can only lift these measures.

A few isolated voices opposed the opening of the embassy citing poor human rights record of the Castro government. One man threw some red paint on himself, drawing attention to blood spilled during the 54 years of Castro’s rule. He was quickly arrested and carried away to make room for diplomatic visitors.

The departing Lithuanian Ambassador to the USA, Žygimantas Pavilionis, posted on his Facebook page “From now on, the Communist Cuban Embassy will be located between two of the oldest embassies in Washington – our Embassy of Freedom and the Polish Embassy.”

The Cuban foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, raised the flag and welcomed a large number of guests. These guests had to endure temperatures of close to 30 degrees in the overcrowded new diplomatic premises. Clearly, the Cubans have still to learn how to entertain such visitors in style. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez praised Raoul Castro’s work in the last years and the efforts to normalize relations with the USA in spite of all the obstacles and difficulties. He expressed hope for closer economic ties between his country and the USA.

Later the Cuban foreign minister met with Secretary of State John Kerry. Secretary Kerry said during a press conference at the State Department, “We are determined to live as good neighbours on the basis of mutual respect, and we want all of our citizens – in the US and in Cuba – to look into the future with hope.” He added, “Today we begin to repair what was damaged and to open what has been closed for many years.”

Josh Earnest, the US president’s spokesman, said during the daily press conference at the White House: “We will see a change in policy and values… the kinds of values that this president and that previous presidents have aggressively advocated all around the world. Values for respect for the basic human rights that we hold dear in this country – freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, freedom of the press.”

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