Lithuania and Cuba soon to be diplomatic neighbours in Washington

Lithuanian Embassy (left ) and Cuban Mission in Washington   Photo Ludo Segers

Lithuanian Ambassador Žygimantas Pavilionis used to host every year a traditional Cuban pig roast event in the Lithuanian Embassy. These ‘Freedom’ events where always well attended by Cuban dissidents and members of Congress that opposed relations with Cuba based on the island nation’s poor human rights record. Still today, a large banner states that the Lithuanian Embassy is the Embassy of Freedom. The Lithuanian Embassy has been located in the same location in Washington for more than 90 years uninterrupted, even during the Soviet occupation.

On Wednesday morning, President Obama made an announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House that the USA and Cuba are re-establishing diplomatic relations. Later this month Secretary John Kerry will fly to Havana to raise the American Flag over the American Embassy once again. That day the somewhat mysterious Cuban neighbours of the Lithuanian Embassy in Washington will also raise their flag and it will be yet another step in normalising relations between the USA and Cuba.

President Obama sees normalizing relations as a historic step forward and the beginning a new chapter with his Caribbean neighbours, just 90 miles south of Miami. Mr. Obama said during the press conference, “diplomats will have the ability to engage more broadly across the island, including the Cuban government, civil society, and ordinary Cubans who are reaching for a better life.” On the subject of human right and values, he stated, ”we will not hesitate to speak out when we see actions that contradict those values. ”

Last December the President announced that the two countries had taken steps to normalize their relationship and teams on both sides moved quickly forward to re-establish ties severed more than half a century ago. Mr. Obama met with President Raul Castro earlier this year in Panama. On Tuesday, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil visiting the US Capital expressed strong regional support for the initiative during a meeting with President Obama. Flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, the President said today that he has, “called on Congress to take steps to lift the embargo that prevents Americans from travelling or doing business in Cuba.” More than 60 American companies, mainly in media and telecommunications have been operating in Havana for decades now as they were excluded by the embargo. The President is betting on open relations between the two countries to improve life for ordinary Cubans.

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to the press in Vienna and called it a “new era in US diplomacy.” He applauded President Obama for making a personal, fundamental decision to change a policy that “didn’t work and that had been in place not working for far too long” and “that leadership can be effective and can make a difference.” John Kerry praised Swiss government for their role providing the Mission on 16th Street in Washington.

That Mission located next door to Lithuanian Embassy, will soon become officially the Cuban Embassy in the USA. Yet another relic of the Cold War will be relegated to the history books.

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