His comments drew a firm riposte from Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who defended Cuba at a news conference with Kerry and criticized the United States’ own record on rights, referring to racial strife and police brutality in America.
Underlining the sticking points still complicating relations between the two countries, Fidel Castro said in an essay published in Cuban state media Thursday – his 89th birthday – that the United States owes Cuba “many millions of dollars” because of the US trade embargo on the island.
The three Marines who took down the American flag at the U.S. embassy in 1961 were on hand in Havana once again today, witnessing three much younger Marines raise the flag there for the first time in 54 years, marking the historic reopening of the U.S. embassy in Cuba.
In his remarks, Kerry said despite restoration of diplomatic ties, leaders in Havana and the Cuban people should also know that the US always remain a champion of Democratic principles and reforms.
“It’s a historic day for the two peoples”, Dinora Garcia, 57, told dpa.
Rodriguez stressed the two governments have distinct positions on various issues, including national sovereignty, democracy, human rights and the interpretation of historical events.
“I was a student then, and I could still remember the taut faces of our leaders, the grim maps showing the movements of opposing ships, the approaching deadline, and that peculiar word: ‘quarantine, ‘” Kerry said, describing his memories of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
While Cuba has increased its highly limited Internet access since December. 17 in a measure U.S. officials partially attribute to the warming with Washington, ordinary Cubans are growing increasingly impatient for concrete results from the new relationship.
Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco said he hopes the poem he read Friday at the reopened U.S. embassy in Havana will serve as a catalyst to an emotional reconciliation. The American flag: red, which and blue with its stars and stripes, flying in front of the building that holds the U.S. embassy in Havana.
The embassy had been opened since late July.
Kerry plans to meet with Cuban dissidents at an event in Havana later in the day after the flag-raising ceremony.
Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s head negotiator in the ongoing talks with the United States, was the highest-ranking Cuban official at the ceremony, and Kerry was not scheduled to meet with Raul Castro or his ailing older brother, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.
“I’m gonna love seeing that flag go back up”, said 78-year-old Jim Tracy in a video posted on the State Department website. Cuban dissidents weren’t invited to the morning ceremony at the embassy, but will attend a later reception and a second flag raising at the chief of mission’s residence. It says relations will be fully restored only once it is lifted. “In the last month, the repression has been increasing against the opposition and against human rights activists”.