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    Default Re: Cuba and US to "normalize" relations


    Cuba Refuses U.S. Demands For Greater Freedom On Island During Tense Negotiations

    January 26, 2015

    The start of talks on repairing 50 years of broken relations appears to have left President Raul Castro's government focused on winning additional concessions without giving in to U.S. demands for greater freedoms, despite the seeming benefits that warmer ties could have for the country's struggling economy.

    Following the highest-level open talks in three decades between the two nations, Cuban officials remained firm in rejecting significant reforms pushed by the United States as part of President Barack Obama's surprise move to re-establish ties and rebuild economic relations with the Communist-led country.

    "One can't think that in order to improve and normalize relations with the U.S., Cuba has to give up the principles it believes in," Cuba's top diplomat for U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, told The Associated Press after the end of the talks. "Changes in Cuba aren't negotiable."

    It's not clear if Cuba's tough stance is part of normal negotiation tactics or a hardened position that could prevent the talks from moving forward.

    The Obama administration has dedicated significant political capital to rapprochement, but closer ties with the economic giant to the north also could have major importance for Cuba, which saw growth slow sharply in 2014 and is watching with concern as falling oil prices slam Venezuela, which has been a vital source of economic support.

    In a wide-ranging interview, Vidal said that before deciding whether to allow greater economic ties with the U.S., Cuba was seeking more answers about Obama's dramatic of loosening the half-century trade embargo.

    Measures put into effect this month range from permitting large-scale sales of telecommunications equipment to allowing U.S. banks to open accounts in Cuba, but Vidal said officials on the island want to know if Cuba can buy such gear on credit and whether it is now free to use dollars for transactions around the world, not just those newly permitted with U.S. institutions. Until now, at least, U.S. law and policy has banned most foreign dealings with Cuba.

    "I could make an endless list of questions and this is going to require a series of clarifications in order to really know where we are and what possibilities are going to open up," Vidal said.

    Obama also launched a review of Cuba's inclusion on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and Vidal said "it will be difficult to conceive of the reestablishment of relations" while Cuba remains on that list, which imposes financial and other restrictions.

    Vidal also said full normalization will be impossible until Congress lifts the many elements of the trade embargo that aren't affected by Obama's executive action — a step seen as unlikely with a Republican-dominated Congress. Among key prohibitions that remain is a ban on routine tourism to Cuba.

    Even a relatively simple measure such as granting U.S. diplomats freedom of movement around Cuba, she said, is tied to reduced U.S. support of dissidents, whom Cuba says are breaking the law by acting to undermine the government of behalf of U.S. interests.

    "It's associated with a change in behavior in the diplomatic missions as such and of the diplomatic officials, who must conduct themselves as our officials in Washington do, with total respect for the laws of that country," Vidal said.

    She also said Cuba has not softened its refusal to turn over U.S. fugitives granted asylum in Cuba. The warming of relations has spawned new demands in the U.S. for the State Department to seek the return of fugitives including Joanne Chesimard, a Black Liberation Army member now known as Assata Shakur, who fled to Cuba after she was convicted in 1977 of killing a New Jersey state trooper.

    Vidal said the two nations' extradition treaty "had a very clear clause saying that the agreement didn't apply to people who could be tied to crimes of a political nature."

    But the opening already has led to some changes, at least in the short-term: Cuba significantly relaxed its near-total control of public information during the talks in Havana, allowing the live broadcast of news conferences in which foreign reporters questioned Vidal about sensitive topics including human rights. Cuban television even broadcast part of a news conference with Vidal's counterpart, Roberta Jacobson, to foreign reporters, state media and independent Cuban reporters who are considered members of the opposition.

    Cubans said they were taken aback by the flow of information but wanted to know much more about what the new relationship with the U.S. means.

    "We've seen so much, really so much more than what we're used to, about very sensitive topics in our country," said Diego Ferrer, a 68-year-old retired state worker.

    Jesus Rivero, also 68 and retired from government work, sat on a park bench in Old Havana reading a report in the official Communist Party newspaper, Granma, about Jacobson's press conference.

    "It's good that Granma reports the press conference in the residence of the head of the Interests Section," Rivero said. "But I think they should explain much more so that the whole population really understands what's going on."

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    Default Re: Cuba and US to "normalize" relations

    Obama Says He Would Act Fast To Take Cuba Off Terrorism List



    President Barack Obama said Tuesday he would act fast to take Cuba off the list of terrorism-sponsoring countries once he gets a State Department recommendation.

    "As soon as I get a recommendation, I'll be in a position to act on it," Obama said in an interview with National Public Radio.

    In a March interview with Reuters Obama had said he hoped to have an embassy open in Cuba by the time of the April 10-11 Summit of the Americas later this week. There Obama will meet with Cuban president Raul Castro. Cuba has made it clear that it will not move on certain negotiations until it is removed from the list.

    Cuba had been added to the list of terrorism sponsors in 1982 when it was aiding Marxist insurgencies. Since then the country has been aiding a peace process with Colombia's left-wing FARC guerrillas.

    Obama said in the NPR interview the U.S. hopes to be in a position to have an embassy in Cuba and have more regular contacts and consultations on different issues. "What I'm saying is, I'm going to be taking a very close look at what the State Department recommends," Obama said.

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    Default Re: Cuba and US to "normalize" relations

    And ignoring what Congress says. Ignoring what the people of America say. Ignoring Patriots. Ignoring Republicans. Ignoring Conservatives. Ignoring Libertarians.

    You go ahead and do what the Leftist assholes say, Obama. Keep thinking you're going to have any kind of a "legacy" other than what you have now.
    Libertatem Prius!


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    Default Re: Cuba and US to "normalize" relations

    Obama set for key Castro meeting in Panama
    By Vanessa Buschschluter BBC News, Panama City

    51 minutes ago
    From the section US & Canada

    President Obama is in Panama, where he is expect to formally meet Cuba's Raul Castro for the first time

    Delegations of 35 nations from North, Central and South America are gathering in Panama for what is being billed as a "historic" Summit of the Americas.

    Not only will it be Cuba's first, it is also the first time former foes Barack Obama and Raul Castro will meet since a recent thaw in relations.

    The two shook hands once before, at Nelson Mandela's funeral in 2013.

    But their encounter in Panama is the moment all the photographers gathered here are waiting for.

    The length and warmth of their handshake is set to be pored over by analysts for clues as to how their relationship is progressing since the surprise announcement on 17 December that they would seek to re-establish diplomatic ties.
    'On the margins'

    The White House has been playing coy, saying that while there are no plans for any formal one-to-one meetings between the two presidents, there may well be an opportunity to "meet on the margins".

    This is in keeping with the secrecy which surrounded the talks that led up to the December announcement.

    It is something which seems to have worked well for the two sides and which they appear reluctant to let go of just yet.
    The US and Cuban leaders shook hands during Nelson Mandela's funeral in 2013

    Hopes that they would have reopened their embassies by the time of the summit have already been dashed.

    But one of the main hurdles on the road to re-establishing full diplomatic ties is tantalisingly close to being lifted.

    The State Department has recommended Cuba be removed from the US list of countries which sponsor terrorism.

    President Obama said on Thursday that all he was waiting for now was a recommendation from his advisers, leaving many expecting an announcement at the summit.
    Fly in the ointment

    But for all the warm glow around the the newly rekindled relationship between the two old foes, there is also nervousness about another meeting - between President Obama and his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolas Maduro.

    There have been tensions between the two countries for years but relations reached a new low last month.

    On 9 March, President Obama signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Venezuelan officials suspected by the US of committing human rights abuses.

    The order stated that the situation in Venezuela constituted "an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States".

    The wording caused outrage not just in Venezuela, which regularly accuses the US of interference and of fomenting coups against President Maduro, but also in other Latin American nations.

    Venezuela's left-wing allies predictably denounced it, but there was also concern among members of regional group Unasur and countries which would not automatically jump to Mr Maduro's defence.

    And more than 10 million people followed Mr Maduro's call to sign a document demanding its repeal.
    Ten million people have signed a petition - carried here by President Maduro (right) and Bolivia's Evo Morales - against the US order saying Venezuela posed a threat to US security

    In the run-up to the summit, US officials have been trying to play down the significance of the order's wording, calling it "completely pro forma" and assuring Venezuela that "the US does not believe that Venezuela poses a threat to national security".

    But Mr Maduro, who is himself not one to mince his words, is unlikely to pass up the opportunity to vent his anger on such grand a stage.

    Just as with the handshake between Mr Obama and Mr Castro, the photographers will be at the ready.
    Libertatem Prius!


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    Default Re: Cuba and US to "normalize" relations

    Barack Obama and Raul Castro meet, launch new era of U.S.-Cuba ties

    By Kevin Liptak and Jim Acosta, CNN
    Updated 1:47 AM ET, Sun April 12, 2015


    Panama City, Panama (CNN)Ending a decades-long standstill in U.S.-Cuba relations, President Barack Obama met for an hour Saturday with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro, the first time the two nations' top leaders have sat down for substantive talks in more than 50 years.

    The meeting in a small conference room on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas came as the two countries work to end the Cold War enmity that had led to a total freeze of diplomatic ties. And while both leaders proclaimed progress had been made, a key stumbling block -- Cuba's place on the U.S. list of countries that sponsor terror -- remained unresolved.

    "This is obviously an historic meeting," Obama said at the beginning of his session with Castro, claiming that decades of strain had done little to benefit either Cubans or citizens of the United States.

    "It was time for us to try something new," he said. ‎"We are now in a position to move on a path toward the future."

    Castro, who earlier in the day said he trusted Obama, acknowledged there would be difficult stumbling blocks as his nation works to repair ties with the United States. But he said those differences could be surmounted.

    Raul Castro: 'We need to be patient'


    President Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban leader Raul Castro on Friday in Panama City, Panama.
    EXPAND IMAGE


    "We are willing to discuss everything, but we need to be patient, very patient," Castro said. "We might disagree on something today on which we could agree tomorrow."
    Speaking to reporters after his session with Castro, Obama said the meeting was "candid and fruitful" and could prove to be a "turning point" in his push to defrost ties with Cuba.

    But he said he hadn't yet decided whether to remove Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terror, an outcome that had previously been expected during the summit. The State Department provided Obama with a review of the terror status this week.

    "I want to make sure I have a chance to read it, study it before we announce publicly what the policy outcome is going to be," Obama said. "But in terms of the overall direction of Cuba policy, I think there is a strong majority both in the United States and in Cuba that says our ability to engage, to open up commerce and travel and people to people exchanges is ultimately going to be good for Cuban people."

    On Friday night, Obama and Castro greeted each other courteously amid an explosion of camera flashes, shaking hands before dining at the inaugural session of the conference. The two sat at the same table but not directly next to one another.

    Before Obama arrived in Panama on Wednesday, he spoke with Castro by phone, laying the groundwork for what will become a new era of relations between the neighboring countries.

    No interest in old battles

    "The Cold War has been over for a long time," Obama said during opening remarks at the summit Saturday. "I'm not interested in having battles, frankly, that began before I was born."

    That exhortation, however, seemed to be lost on Castro himself, who expanded what was meant to be a six-minute speech into a 50-minute address lecturing leaders on Cuba's revolution and giving a litany of perceived grievances to Cuba over the past 50 years.

    But he distinguished Obama from past American presidents, saying he respected Obama's move toward reconciliation.

    "In my opinion, President Obama in an honest man," Castro said through an interpreter. "I admire him, and I think his behavior has a lot to do with his humble background."

    A U.S. administration official said Castro's long list of grievances was expected, despite the move toward diplomatic ties.

    "(What's) unique and new is what he said about the president," the official said of Castro's praise for Obama.

    Ending a half century of strife


    Summit of the Americas 8 photos

    EXPAND GALLERY

    Obama announced in December that he was seeking to renew diplomatic relations with Cuba after half a century of strife, including eventually opening embassies in Washington and Havana.

    Obama set to test engagement doctrine with Cuba in Panama

    His meeting with Castro on Saturday isn't being billed as a formal bilateral session, but Obama's aides are still characterizing the event as the highest-level engagement with the Cuban government since then-Vice President Richard Nixon met with Fidel Castro in 1959.

    "We're in new territory here," Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, said Friday. "The reason we're here is because the President strongly believes that an approach that was focused entirely on isolation, focused entirely on seeking to cut off the Cuban people from the United States of America had failed."

    Some skeptics in the United States

    The overtures to Cuba have not been universally popular in the United States; some lawmakers were irate that Obama was seeking to engage what they regard as a corrupt government.

    "A recommendation to remove Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism would represent another significant misstep in a misguided policy," Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat who used to the chair the Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a statement last week.

    In Latin America, however, Obama was receiving a warm welcome after announcing he was seeking to engage Havana in talks over reopening embassies and removing barriers to commerce and travel.

    9 things you wanted to ask about the Cuban embargo

    He noted to applause during a session Friday that this was the first summit with Cuba in attendance. And he's cast the decision to reopen the U.S. relationship with Cuba as beneficial to the entire hemisphere, which has also embraced his immigration executive action.

    But even as Obama landed in Panama, the longstanding gulfs between the two countries' governments were on display. Dissidents opposed to Castro's regime were violently accosted this week by supporters of the Cuban government, a scuffle the White House said was unacceptable.

    "As we move toward the process of normalization, we'll have our differences, government to government, with Cuba on many issues -- just as we differ at times with other nations within the Americas, just as we differ with our closest allies," Obama said at a meeting of civil society leaders Friday. "There's nothing wrong with that."

    "But I'm here to say that when we do speak out, we're going to do so because the United States of America does believe, and will always stand for, a certain set of universal values," he said.

    The long history between the U.S. and Cuba

    News conference brings out other topics

    Obama closed out his time in Panama with a news conference where he covered topics ranging from Hillary Clinton's expected presidential announcement to his framework deal with Iran on its nuclear program.

    The President had pointed criticism for Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. Earlier this week, McCain accused Secretary of State John Kerry of intentionally mischaracterizing what the sides had agreed to in the Iran nuclear deal.

    "John Kerry is delusional," McCain said on the Hugh Hewitt show, a conservative talk radio program, adding that the view from the Supreme Leader of Iran of the provisions agreed to "is probably right," rather than what the United States maintains are the agreed provisions.

    While discussing the Iran agreement Saturday, Obama brought up those remarks without being asked.

    "When I hear someone like Sen. McCain recently suggest that our secretary of state, John Kerry, who served in the United States Senate, (is) a Vietnam veteran, who's provided exemplary service to this nation, is somehow less trustworthy of the interpretation of what's in a political agreement than the Supreme Leader of Iran, that's an indication of the degree to which partisanship has crossed all boundaries," he said at the news conference.

    After the President's remarks, McCain tweeted "So Pres. Obama goes to #Panama, meets with Castro and attacks me - I'm sure Raul is pleased."

    As for his 2008 Democratic rival, Obama said, "If she decides to run, if she makes an announcement, she's going to have some strong messages to deliver," he said.

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    U.S. Embassy To Reopen In Havana On July 20, Obama Announces

    July 1, 2015

    It’s official.

    The U.S. and Cuba will open embassies in Havana and Washington, D.C. on July 20, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday at a Rose Garden press conference.

    The announcement marks a major step in ending hostilities between the longtime foes.

    Obama said that it was time to chart a new course in relations with Cuba, adding that having a hostile policy toward the island has failed to achieve the U.S.'s original goals of forcing democratic reforms.

    The president conceded that major differences remain in both governments' views on important issues, such as freedom of speech.

    "This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas," Obama said from the Rose Garden, where Vice President Joe Biden stood by his side. "When the United States shuttered our embassy in 1961, I don't think anyone expected that it would be more than half a
    century before it reopened."

    "After all, our nations are separated by only 90 miles and there are deep bonds of family and friendship between our people," he said. "But there have been very real, profound differences between our governments, and sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain way of doing things."

    Cuban officials, by way of the state-run newspaper, Granma, also noted some points of contention.

    "To achieve normalization [of diplomatic relations] it will be essential also that the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base is returned," said an article in Granma announcing the reopening of embassies, "that radio and television transmissions to Cuba that are in violation of international and harmful to our sovereignty policies are ceased, that programs aimed at promoting internal subversion and destabilization are stopped and that the Cuban people are compensated for the human and economic damage caused by the policies of the United States."

    The governments of the U.S. and Cuba have been negotiating the reestablishment of embassies since the Dec. 17, 2014, announcement that they would move to restore diplomatic ties.

    For Obama, ending Washington's half-century freeze with Cuba is seen as a major element of his foreign policy legacy. He has long touted the value of engagement and argued that the U.S. embargo on the communist island just 90 miles south of Florida has been ineffective.

    The president even indicated that he plans to visit the island someday.

    "We applaud this important step in bringing the U.S. and Cuba closer together and urge Congress to hasten the day when American travelers and companies have the freedom to engage with one of our nearest neighbors," said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a Washington-based organization that supports lifting the embargo. "Opening embassies in Washington and Havana is an important step toward the day when Americans can make their own decisions on where they travel, and our businesses can compete with the rest of the world."

    "We are making history by making it clear that America’s engagement isn’t a concession, it is a show of strength and the best way to promote our values and create opportunities for both Americans and the Cuban people."

    Since the late 1970s, the United States and Cuba have operated diplomatic missions called "interest sections" in each other's capitals. The missions are technically under the protection of Switzerland and do not enjoy the same status as full embassies.

    While the opening of embassies marks a major milestone in the thaw between the U.S. and Cuba, significant issues remain as the countries look to normalize relations. Among them talks on human rights, demands for compensation for confiscated American property in Havana, damages to Cuba from the embargo and the extradition of fugitives from the U.S. who are being sheltered in Havana.

    "The U.S. must secure their return before any embassies are opened," said Joe Connor, a New Jersey businessman whose father was killed by a bomb that is believed to have been set by William Morales, a U.S. fugitive who has taken refuge in Cuba. "There is a House resolution not to fund the embassy until these fugitives face justice."

    House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Republican, said that Obama has made a deal with a regime that refuses to change its oppressive ways.

    “The Obama administration is handing the Castros a lifetime dream of legitimacy without getting a thing for the Cuban people being oppressed by this brutal communist dictatorship,” Boehner said in a statement. “As I’ve said before, relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until Cubans enjoy freedom – and not one second sooner.”

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    Cuba Demands Return of Guantanamo, End of US TV Broadcasts in Return for Diplomacy

    July 1, 2015

    President Obama has announced the reopening of the American Embassy in Havana this morning, following rumors that the United States had agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations with the communist dictatorship this month as part of the White House’s “normalization” program to reintegrate the Cuban regime into polite international society.

    While President Obama described the embassy as “not merely symbolic” and a move representing the liberation of the American people from “the past” in a speech this morning, the Cuban government issued a statement refusing to reestablish full diplomatic relations with the United States until America gifted the territory of Guantánamo Bay to Cuba and ceased broadcasting radio and television news reports into the island, which constitute the only way many Cubans have of receiving trustworthy international news.

    “When the United States shuttered our embassy in 1961, I don’t think anybody expected it would be half a century before it reopened,” President Obama noted, arguing that “sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain way of doing things.” “We don’t have to be imprisoned by the past,” he continued, announcing that Secretary of State John Kerry would travel to Havana on July 20 to attend the hoisting of the American flag over the new embassy.

    While President Obama boasted of Americans’ privilege to not be “imprisoned by the past,” 84-year-old dictator Raúl Castro assured Cubans in his official statement on diplomatic relations with the United States that the Cuban people would remain in his shackles. Cuba “will continue bottled up in the process of realizing its economic and social model, to construct a prosperous and sustainable socialism, advance the nation’s development, and consolidate the achievements of the Revolution,” the statement reads.

    President Obama did not make any specific demands in his speech, noting only that the United States “will not hesitate to speak out against actions that contradict” American values, but placing emphasis on the claim that “Americans want to get to know their neighbors to the south,” and that members of Congress opposed to the appeasement of the Castro regime should “listen to the Cuban people” in voting for the lifting of America’s embargo on Cuba.

    Multiple Cuban political dissidents have condemned the White House’s moves to reestablish diplomatic relations with the Castro autocracy. “These agreements are considered by a vital segment of the Cuban resistance to be a betrayal of the aspiration for the freedom of the Cuban people. They are unacceptable for us,” said Jorge Luis García Pérez, known more popularly as Antúnez, who served a 17-year prison sentence for his pro-freedom and pro-capitalist political beliefs in Cuba, earlier this year.

    In testimony against President Obama’s overtures to Cuba before Congress earlier this year, Ladies in White leader Berta Soler noted, “Cuba continues to be a one-party government where fundamental freedoms that are an absolute right in American society constitute crimes against so-called state security.”

    On Sunday, the Ladies in White were banned from attending Catholic Mass in at least one church in Cuba while wearing white, following remarks by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the senior Catholic official on the island, that Cuba no longer holds political prisoners. The Ladies in White are all mothers, daughters, sisters, and cousins of political prisoners and, as such, their existence became immediately inconvenient for the Catholic Church.

    Where President Obama failed to make any specific demands on the Cuban government, the Castro regime made certain to demand the United States censor its journalistic broadcasts and yield American land to the Cuban government:

    To achieve the normalization of relations, it will also be indispensable that the illegally occupied territory at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base be returned; the radio and television broadcasts towards Cuba, which violate international norms and hurt our sovereignty, cease; and programs directed towards promoting subversion and internal destabilization end; and that the Cuban people be compensated for human and economic damage provoked by United States policies.

    President Obama has not yet publicly remarked on gifting the Castro dictatorship with the Guantánamo Bay base, though he has been a vocal supporter of shutting down detention operations there.

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    New Era In Ties Begins As Cuba Raises Flag At Embassy In US

    July 20, 2015

    Cuba's blue, red and white-starred flag was hoisted Monday at the country's embassy in Washington, signaling the start of a new post-Cold War era in U.S.-Cuba relations.

    In sweltering heat and humidity, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez presided over the flag-raising ceremony hours after full diplomatic relations with the United States were restored at the stroke of midnight when an agreement to resume normal ties took effect. Earlier, without ceremony, the Cuban flag was added in the lobby of the State Department alongside those of other countries with which the U.S. has diplomatic ties. U.S. and Cuban diplomats in Washington and Havana also noted the upgrade in social media posts.

    Several hundred people gathered on the street outside the embassy, cheering as the Cuban national anthem was played and three Cuban soldiers in dress uniforms stood at the base of the flagpole and raised the flag.

    But there were also signs of the sore points that continue in the U.S.-Cuba relationship. In remarks inside the embassy Rodriguez cited Cuban independence leader Jose Marti, who he noted had paid tribute to America's values but also warned of its "excess craving for domination." Cuba was able to survive the past 50 years only because of the "wise leadership of Fidel Castro, the historic leader of the Cuban revolution whose ideas we'll always revere," Rodriguez said.

    He also slammed the U.S. for continuing to hold on to Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. naval base in Cuba where the American military prison continues to hold terror suspects. Rodriguez said Guantanamo was a "nefarious consequence" of U.S. attempts to dominate the hemisphere.

    "Only the lifting of the economic and commercial and financial blockade which has caused so much harm and suffering to our people, the return of occupied territory at Guantanamo and the respect for Cuban sovereignty will lend some meaning to this historic event to which we bear witness today," Rodriguez said, repeating demands the Cuban leaders have made throughout the normalization process.

    On a more conciliatory note, Rodriguez thanked President Barack Obama for taking steps to ease sanctions thus far and calling on Congress to repeal the economic embargo.

    In Havana, meanwhile, a carnival atmosphere reigned around the new U.S. Embassy overlooking Havana's Malecon seaside promenade. By midmorning, the Cuban government had pulled back several of the eight or so security guards who had stood watch.

    A pair of officers stood on each corner around the building, smiling and wishing "buenos dias" to passers-by instead of casting stony glares. Curious Cubans clustered around the forest of flagpoles at the front of the embassy, snapping photos as U.S. tourists posed for selfies in front of the building.

    In Washington, some 500 guests, including a 30-member delegation of diplomatic, cultural and other leaders from the Caribbean nation, attended the Cuban ceremony at the stately 16th Street mansion that has been operating as an interests section under the auspices of the Swiss Embassy. The U.S. was represented by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, who led U.S. negotiators in six months of talks leading to the July 1 announcement, and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana who will now become charge d'affaires.

    Outside the building, the activist group Code Pink held pink umbrellas that spelled out "Amigos." There were several protesters, including one whose shirt was covered in red paint who was removed from the scene by police.

    Rodriguez met in Washington with Secretary of State John Kerry, who will travel to Havana Aug. 14 to preside over a flag-raising ceremony there. Rodriguez was the first Cuban foreign minister to set foot in the State Department since 1958.

    The United States and Cuba severed diplomatic relations in 1961 and since the 1970s have been represented in each other's capitals by limited-service interests sections. Their conversion to embassies tolled a knell for policy approaches spawned and hardened over the five decades since President John F. Kennedy first tangled with youthful revolutionary Fidel Castro over Soviet expansion in the Americas.

    Shortly after midnight, the Cuban Interests Section in Washington switched its Twitter account to say "embassy." In Havana, the U.S. Interests Section uploaded a new profile pictures to its Facebook and Twitter accounts that said US EMBASSY HAVANA. And, Conrad Tribble, the deputy chief of mission for the United States in Havana, tweeted: "Just made first phone call to State Dept. Ops Center from United States Embassy Havana ever. It didn't exist in Jan 1961."

    Though normalization has taken center stage in the U.S.-Cuba relationship, there remains a deep ideological gulf between the nations and many issues still to resolve. Among them, thorny disputes such as mutual claims for economic reparations, Havana's insistence on an end to the 53-year trade embargo and U.S. calls for Cuba to improve on human rights and democracy. Some U.S. lawmakers, including several prominent Republican presidential candidates, have vowed not to repeal the embargo and have pledged to roll back Obama's moves on Cuba.

    Members of Congress, both for and against rapprochement with Cuba, were quick to react.

    "If we only had embassies in countries whose governments we agree with, we would have to close half of our current embassies, said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, a supporter. However, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democratic opponent, said that "the real goal is a flag raising where the Cuban people are free, have their human rights respected and where we do not accept dictatorial conditions on our embassy and its people."

    Obama has sought engagement with communist Cuba since he first took office and has progressively loosened restrictions on travel and remittances to the island.

    His efforts were frustrated for years by Cuba's imprisonment of U.S. Agency for International Development contractor Alan Gross on espionage charges. But months of secret negotiations led in December to Gross' release, along with a number of political prisoners in Cuba and the remaining members of a Cuban spy ring jailed in the United States. On Dec. 17, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced they would resume full diplomatic relations.

    Declaring the hostile, longstanding policy a failure, Obama said work would begin apace on normalization. The U.S. removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism in late May. On July 1, issues of American diplomats' access to ordinary Cubans were resolved and the July 20 date was set for the restoration of full relations.

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