The Cuban embassy on Monday officially opened in Washington, D.C., exciting the many who support restoring diplomatic relations with the Caribbean nation for the first time in 54 years.
But another raised flag in the U.S. capitol should not signify the end of the American effort to reestablish official ties with the country, Cuban officials and human rights activists said.
Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez, who visited the U.S. capital for the first time on Monday for the flag-raising ceremony, said the U.S. must now lift its comprehensive trade embargo against the Caribbean nation and return the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay to the Cuban people.
"The historic events we are living today will only make sense with the removal of the economic, commercial and financial blockade, which causes so much deprivation and damage to our people, the return of occupied territory in Guantánamo, and respect for the sovereignty of Cuba," Rodriguez said.
For its part, the peace activist group CodePink on Monday is hosting a party outside of the Cuban embassy during its opening ceremony, both to celebrate the normalizing of relations—announced in December by U.S. President Barack Obama—and to call attention to the important steps that must follow.
"[D]espite this encouraging act of diplomacy, more work needs to be done, including lifting the travel ban and the embargo, and returning the Guantánamo Naval Base to the Cuban people," the organization said in a statement.
"Congress should ignore the few representatives who are opposed to normalization, and immediately pass the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act to allow Americans to travel to Cuba just as they are allowed to travel anywhere else in the world. This should be followed by the passage of the bill to lift the embargo, finally putting to rest the Helms Burton Act that codified the failed American policy of isolation and hostilities," CodePink continued.
The U.S. broke off relations with Cuba in 1961 following two years of crumbling diplomacy in the wake of the Cuban Revolution, which saw the overthrowing of the U.S.-backed authoritarian government of President Fulgencio Batista.
Netfa Freeman, an organizer with the Campaign for a Just Policy Towards Cuba for the Institute for Policy Studies, wrote in an op-ed published at Common Dreams that Obama's announcement in December recycled much of the same language that has been used by previous U.S. officials to justify ignoring Cuba's right to self-governance.
One need only listen closely to the announcement made by U.S. President Barack Obama — which was couched in language about “promoting change” on the island — to realize that while the strategy of undermining Cuba’s sovereign right to national self-determination has changed, the goal remains the same: regime change.
While the Obama administration insists that it’s just changing a U.S. policy that was “not working,” it remains an essentially disrespectful position against Cuba.
Better relations between Washington and Havana are a good thing, but they have to come from a place of respect. Both the Cuban and the American people have to see past the hypocritical rhetoric of the U.S. government to realistically determine their best interests in this new and unprecedented rapprochement.
CodePink's co-founder, Medea Benjamin, cautioned that the "opening [of] the embassies in Havana and Washington is a great and historic step, but everything that President Obama has done can be undone by the next president. Congress must now step up and pass the needed legislation to finally put an end to the antiquated policies towards Cuba that have failed for 54 years."
Those ideas were also discussed in an interview with Democracy Now! on Monday. Benjamin and actor and activist Danny Glover reiterated the need to lift the sanctions.
"Viva la Cuba," Glover said. "It is an important day for the Cuban revolution, it is an important day for the Cuban people, an important day for the American people, and for the world as well.... But it's just the beginning, because the embargo is still in place."
Responding to a growing concern over granting U.S. corporations free rein to establish businesses and trade in Cuba, Benjamin noted that the decision to enter into those relationships would be "up to the Cubans."
"We can be very critical of the companies that are going to Cuba... but Cuba's had 50 years to be worried about this," Benjamin said. "I think we should trust that they're going to make the decisions that they feel are best for them, and I think we can do things like support the co-ops, support the very small businesses, do things that kind of shape the economy that our friends in Cuba would like to see."
In addition to the economic climate, Benjamin spoke briefly about the growing call for the U.S. to close Guantánamo Bay and return the land it sits on to Cuba. CodePink will travel to the U.S. military prison in November to stage actions on the ground of the naval base.