There Is an American Flag Flying at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba for the First Time in Decades

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Photo: ADALBERTO ROQUE

On Friday morning, the same three Marines who took the American flag down from the U.S. Embassy in Havana 54 years ago raised the stars and stripes once again as "The Star-Spangled Banner" played and hundreds of people waving miniature Cuban and U.S. flags watched. 

“For more than half a century, U.S.-Cuba relations have been suspended in the amber of Cold War politics,” Secretary of State John Kerry said, capping off years of crazy diplomacy that will make an interesting page in the history books. “It’s time to unfurl our flags and let the world know we wish each other well.” Kerry is the first U.S. secretary of State to visit Cuba since 1945.

Seventy-eight-year-old James Tracy, one of those retired Marines, told the Jacksonville Daily News in January that he expected he’d get to put the flag back up one day. “We’re going to talk over getting back to Cuba and putting a flag back up together. It won’t be the first flag that goes up, but it will be a flag.”

Richard Blanco, the poet who read at Obama’s second inauguration, recited a poem he had written for the event, titled "Matters of the Sea." "The sea doesn’t matter," it begins. "What matters is this — that we all belong to the sea between us." Blanca’s family left Cuba shorty before he was born. 

The embassy in Cuba was reopened last month, but the flag-raising ceremony was saved for a moment when Kerry could attend. Later on Friday, another flag will be raised at the residence of the future ambassador to Cuba — and Kerry will have the chance to meet with many Cuban artists, business owners, and diplomats, and political dissidents who were not invited to the official ceremony. Cuba’s dismal human-rights record is something that Kerry has frequently mentioned as something the country will have to improve now that the two countries are friendly. And as he acknowledged at the ceremony this morning, neither country has "any illusions about how difficult our new relationship will be.”

Kerry will only be in Cuba for 12 hours, but he said that he plans to walk around Old Havana at least once during his stay. Senator Jeff Flake was the only Republican among the eight members of Congress in Kerry’s delegation; Republicans — especially those running for president — have been very critical of the renewed diplomatic relationship. 

The trade embargo between Cuba and the U.S. has not yet been lifted; Congress is the only part of government that has the power to do so. Hillary Clinton said in a speech in Florida last month that she thought the “embargo needs to go, once and for all.” 

They want to buy our goods, read our books, surf our Web, and learn from our people,” she said, echoing Obama’s earlier calls for the same policy change. “They want to bring their country into the 21st century. That is the road toward democracy and dignity. We should walk it together.” One Republican representative sought to propose the “Cuba Trade Act of 2015” last month, but Speaker of the House John Boehner has said he wants to see progress from Cuba before making any legislative moves.