Raising of Old Glory in Havana expected to help heal old wounds
On Friday, the American flag will once again fly over the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, the most potent symbol of the shift in relations between two countries that throughout the Cold War bristled with open hostility toward one another.
Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Havana for fewer than 12 hours to officiate the reopening of the embassy that was closed in 1961 when the Eisenhower administration severed diplomatic ties with the government of then 34-year-old Fidel Castro.
Kerry will be the highest-ranking US official to visit Cuba since Castro’s 1959 revolution and the first secretary of state to visit the island in more than 70 years.
“This is a very big deal, we are very much looking forward to it,” said Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who heads the U.S. Embassy in Havana, in an exclusive interview with CNN. “This is obviously a unique environment. We have to make sure we have enough cars, enough staff to be able to make the movements we need to, even with a short visit. It’s all hands on deck.”
Crowds are expected to surround the United States’ seaside diplomatic mission when Kerry unveils the new U.S. Embassy sign and a Marine guard raises the flag.
Since July 20, when diplomatic relations were officially restored, U.S. diplomats have been racing to prepare for what they call the “S” — or secretary visit.
That same day, Cubans officials officially reopened their embassy in Washington and raised their standard.
‘There’s been a lot of hard work’
U.S. diplomats in Havana on July 20 marked the occasion in private ceremonies exchanging American flags and hugs with each other and some of the embassy’s 300 Cuban employees.
Some diplomats finishing their tour that week after years in Cuba left the island having seen historic change but not the raising of the U.S. flag.
“I would love to see the entire ceremony but we are Foreign Service officers and at some point you have to go,” said Conrad Tribble, the then-deputy chief of mssion, whose three-year tour in Cuba happened to be ending the next day. “There’s been a lot of hard work that went into this but it’s the right thing to do and to wake up on a historic day is actually pretty cool.”
From 1961 until 1977, the embassy was protected by the Swiss but remained unused, collecting dust as monument to a tortured relationship between Cuba and the United States.
Then the embassy reopened as an Interests Section, staffed with 51 U.S. diplomats but officially part of the Swiss mission to Havana.
As they prepared to transition from an Interests Section to embassy, U.S. diplomats needed to order everything from new uniforms to employee badges to license plates and a sign to go over the front door of the embassy.
Reopened embassies focus on diplomacy, not subterfuge.