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Stars and Stripes Raised Over Cuba Embassy

For the first time in over five decades, the United States flag was flown over the newly opened US Embassy in Cuba. For the Obama administration’s new policy of engagement with Cuba, many people view this as a symbolic gesture of victory.

Literally hundreds of Cubans gathered outside the Embassy early this morning to personally witness this historic day. In addition, the event was broadcast live via Cuban television. Secretary of State John Kerry received many flattering comments and by many Cubans in attendance, praised for his part in the positive step forward.

This month, two Tampa delegations will be heading to Cuba — one organized by the Tampa chamber and the other, a 63-person cultural mission, composed mostly of Cuban Americans with ties to Ybor City where VicenteMartínez Ybor opened the first cigar factory in 1886.

To avoid potential tension with Cuban officials that usually boycott such events, dissidents were not invited to the flag-raising. However, according to the State Department, not being invited had more to do with limited space. In addition, with this being considered a government-to-government event, officials felt it would be easier and more appropriate to host an additional flag-raising ceremony at the Embassy’s chief of mission’s home.

From windows of nearby apartment buildings, people could be seen watching the event unfold. There were also huge Cuban flags draped from balconies. As stated by one Cuban, this was an event he did not want to miss. He and others hope that this is the first step in bridging the gap with Cuba and America, something that will bring economic and social benefits to both countries, especially Cubans.

Gathering inside the former US Interests Section with a sign that reads, “Embassy of the United States”, were US business executives, high-ranking Cuban officials, and Cuban-Americans, all eager for Cuba and America to warm to one another.

In attendance was Richard Blanco, a Cuban-American who read a poem at the second inauguration of Obama. He was also at the Embassy in 1961. At that time, Blanco was scheduled to read a piece of his new work but before he had the opportunity, three US Marines lowered the flag, thus closing the Embassy. For him, seeing the flag raised was extremely sentimental.

After meeting with Cuba’s Foreign Minister, along with Cuba’s Roman Catholic archbishop and a small number of selected dissidents, Kerry will travel home sometime in the evening. Shortly after his departure, US and Cuban diplomats who were heavily involved with negotiations for getting the Embassy reopened, plan to launch into the next phase and work on resolution full-time.

Some of the initial goals include expanding economic ties to include the re-establishment of direct mail service and airline flights. Although reopening the Embassy is a huge step in the right direction, challenges remain. Just this week after turning 89, Fidel Castro insisted that the United States owes millions of dollars to Cuba. The 50-year-old debate over confiscated property following the Cuban revolution is also something the US wants to resolve.

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