Tuesday February 19, 2019
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Heavy symbolism: Cuba’s reopened embassy in US to use original Cuban flag that was taken down in 1961

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Havana/Washington:  Cuban government is preparing to reopen its embassy in Washington on Monday with the original Cuban flag that was taken down in 1961, when the two nations cut off ties.

In a move heavy with symbolism, the flag to be raised during the inauguration ceremony is the one that was lowered on January 3, 1961, when the Cuban diplomatic mission in the US closed, reported Xinhua.

The national standard was brought back to Cuba and preserved by historian Eusebio Leal Spengler. The scholar will be among the 30 Cuban citizens invited to the embassy opening ceremony on Monday.

Cuba and the US will reopen their respective embassies as part of their recent agreement to restore diplomatic ties.

The agreement placed the two countries on the path toward the normalization of relations, and during the process the the two sides have to use political wisdom so as to find solutions to problems that have accumulated in the last 50-plus years, Cuban President Raul Castro said Wednesday in a speech to legislators. 

Cuba’s historic flag will again fly atop the nearly 100-year-old neoclassical mansion in the Adams Morgan district of Washington that has housed Cuba’s Interests Section, basically a pared-down embassy then President Fidel Castro and his US counterpart Jimmy Carter agreed to establishing in the late 1970s in lieu of embassies.

The mansion was built in 1916 during the government of then Cuban President Mario Garcia Menocal (1913-21) to serve as the Legation of the Republic of Cuba, a type of diplomatic mission headed by a lower ranking representative than an ambassador.

The first Cuban diplomat who headed the legation was Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Quesada, son of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, known as the “Father of the Cuban Homeland”.

Cespedes Quesada hired local architectural firm MacNeil and MacNeil to construct the French-style mansion described by the National Register of Historic Places in the US as “one of the most imposing and enigmatic residences” in the US capital.

The three-story limestone building features an impressive facade with two towers, and an inner marble staircase topped by a cupola with beautiful stained glass.

On the main floor, six side doors leading to offices each display the shield of one of the six original provinces of Cuba: Pinar del Rio, Havana, Matanzas, Santa Clara, Camaguey and Oriente.

Since 2011, the top floor houses an intimate bar, accessible by invitation only, which bears the name of the US author Ernest Hemingway, who lived in Cuba.

The legation was turned into an embassy in 1923, during the administration of President Alfredo Zayas (1921-25), and closed briefly in 1952, following a coup that temporarily ousted Fulgencio Batista (1940-44, 1952-59).

It continued to serve as a diplomatic mission until January 1961, when Washington decided to sever ties with Cuba after revolutionary Fidel Castro toppled Batista and came to power.

The mansion did not escape Cold War upheaval. In June 1978 a Cuban right-wing terrorist group, CORU, threw an explosive at the site. The worst attack took place a year later when a similar group, Omega 7, detonated a bomb at the rear of the building.

After US President Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced on December 17, 2014 that they would work to restore diplomatic relations, the house underwent a rapid renovation, which included placing a flagpole to hoist the island’s flag. (IANS)

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US Military Planes Deliver Aid to Venezuela-Colombia Border

The aid will be delivered to Cucuta, Colombia, where other food and medical supplies are being held.

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FILE - Demonstrators who are against the Venezuelan government chant outside of the Organization of American States during the special meeting of the Permanent Council, in Washington, April 3, 2017, to consider the recent events in Venezuela. VOA

More than 200 tons of US humanitarian aid intended for Venezuela is scheduled to begin arriving just across the border in Colombia Saturday, delivered by US military cargo planes.

The aid will be delivered to Cucuta, Colombia, where other food and medical supplies are being held.

The aid comes at the request of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to ease shortages of food and other essentials in economically troubled Venezuela.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has said the aid is part of Washington’s political maneuvering to get him out of office, and he has blocked off a bridge needed to bring the supplies into Venezuela.

The United States said Maduro’s election was unfair and illegitimate, and U.S. officials and scores of other nations have recognized his rival, Guaido, as the country’s interim leader.

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Sacks containing humanitarian aid are pictured at a warehouse near the Tienditas cross-border bridge between Colombia and Venezuela in Cucuta, Colombia, Feb. 14, 2019. VOA

Adding pressure

On Friday, Washington added to the political pressure on Maduro by sanctioning the head of Venezuela’s oil company as well as top intelligence officials.

Earlier Friday, Guiado’s representatives collected aid pledges from many nations at a meeting of the Organization of American States in Washington, where 25 countries promised more than $100 million in humanitarian aid to Venezuela.

“We came to ask for the solidarity of the governments of the world,” said Lester Toledo, coordinator for international help for Venezuela. “We appreciate the diplomatic gestures. We appreciate the letters and the recognition of President Guaidó. But we ask for help, to make the humanitarian aid a reality. That all donations can let us purchase medical supplies that we really need.”

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If the aid does arrive in Venezuela, organizations like the Red Cross will help distribute the supplies with “neutral and independent” conditions, Mario Villarroel, president of Venezuela’s Red Cross, said. Pixabay

Distributing the aid

U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States Carlos Trujillo said Guaidó has a plan.

“I believe that President Guaidó has done everything possible to make Maduro accept the humanitarian aid. Maduro has no argument, the person sitting in power doesn’t let the humanitarian aid reach his people who are dying of hunger,” Trujillo said.

Guaido said the aid will be brought into Venezuela Feb. 23.

Maduro, however, said the aid will not be brought into his nation, and he blames U.S. economic sanctions for Venezuela’s problems.

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“They’re putting pressure on Venezuela’s banks, which are in charge of purchasing and bringing the food and supplies. The White House is pressuring so that none of our bank accounts work. They have frozen billions of dollars that could otherwise buy food and medicine,” he claimed.

If the aid does arrive in Venezuela, organizations like the Red Cross will help distribute the supplies with “neutral and independent” conditions, Mario Villarroel, president of Venezuela’s Red Cross, said.

“We have the necessary experience, we know it is a very complex issue, but we will do our best to coordinate the distribution and organization of this humanitarian aid,” he said. (VOA)