Marking the end of half a century of diplomatic rupture, American Secretary of State John Kerry presided over the raising of the American flag at the United States Embassy in Havana, Cuba on Friday.
“I feel at home here because it is truly a memorable occasion,” said Kerry during the ceremony which took place on the premises located on the Havana Malecón facing the Caribbean. “It’s time to unfurl our flags, raise them up and let the world know that we wish each other well.”
Facing a crowd of guests on the Embassy’s courtyard, Kerry quoted Cuban poet and political philosopher José Martí, stating that “Everything that divides men… is a sin against humanity.”
Friday’s ceremony took place 54 years after President Dwight Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations with the island nation. The rupture would be followed by a crippling trade and travel embargo which to this day remains active.
The two countries formally re-established relations on July 20, following a two year long series of talks between officials on both sides in secret. Friday’s ceremony also marks the first time a U.S. Secretary of State sets foot on Cuban soil since 1945 when Edward R. Stettinius Jr. visited.
Kerry would remark that both nations “have begun to move down that path without any illusions about how difficult [the] new relationship will be.”
“But we are each confident in our intentions, in the contacts we have made, and the friendships we have begun to forge,” he added.
Present at the event were delegations with government representatives on both sides. The Embassy, which has now been re-occupied by American administrative staff for a month, had been under the care and custody of Swiss officials since it was vacated in January 1961.
Also, among those present were Larry Morris, Mike East and Jim Tracy, the soldiers responsible for security at the Embassy in 1961. Following a four month stationing at the Embassy, the three Marines had been occupied with the vacating of the premises on January 4 that year, including the burning of sensitive documents, when they were asked to lower the American flag for its last time until Friday’s ceremony.
Kerry alluded to the three men’s promise to return to the island one day and hoist the flag once again at the Embassy.
“Promise made, promise kept,” he finalized.
The ceremony finally concluded amidst cheers with three active service Marines – who had previously saluted their three old-guard predecessors – raising the flag.
Secretary Kerry is expected to meet with political dissidents as well as Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who has been credited by U.S. officials for being instrumental in re-starting bilateral talks. Kerry also expressed during an interview with Telemundo on Wednesday that he hopes to engage in “personal diplomacy”, approaching people on the streets of Havana, listening to what they may have to say.