US must hand Guantanamo Bay back to Cuba, says foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez after reopening embassy in Washington DC

Much still stands in the way of a fully fledged friendship between the two countries, not least the US embargo on the island

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The Independent US

Pomp gave way to prickly politics as Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, ceremoniously reopened his country’s embassy in Washington DC after a gap of 54 years – and then promptly told guests that the United States must show his country respect by handing back Guantanamo Bay.

While the reciprocal re-establishment of embassies in Washington and in Havana marked the formal resumption of diplomatic ties between the countries – an achievement likely to be at the centre of the foreign policy legacy of President Barack Obama – reminders abounded that much still stands in the way of a fully fledged friendship between them, not least the US embargo on the island.

As the Cuban flag was run up outside the fine limestone mansion that will once more serve as Havana’s foothold in Washington to the Cuban national anthem, onlookers chanted conflicting messages of support and opposition  to the diplomatic thaw. “Cuba si, embargo no!” rang out against angrier cries of “Cuba si, Fidel no”. One protestor, his shirt doused in fake blood, was arrested after charging the gates.

Mr Rodriguez, the first Cuban foreign minister to come to Washington since President Dwight Eisenhower broke off ties with Havana in 1961, meanwhile admonished some 500 dignitaries inside the mansion, including other ambassador and members of Congress, that restoring relations was not enough.

“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 Guantanamo, and respect for the sovereignty of Cuba,” he said. He later met with Secretary of State, John Kerry, at the State Department.

In Havana, the US Embassy was also reopened for business with no outward sign of change. Embassy staff flashed new badges and business cards, and the website, Twitter feed and Facebook page of the mission changed.

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Bruno Rodriguez is the first Cuban foreign minister to come to Washington since President Dwight Eisenhower (Getty)

Mr Kerry will preside over the raising of the American flag outside the building – a boxy cement edifice on the waterfront that hitherto has been the US interest section – when he visits the island on 14 August. No US Secretary of State has formally visited Cuba for 70 years, officials said.

With Republicans in control of both sides of Congress, there is little chance of a lifting of the full embargo for now.  The US side has shown no interest in giving up Guantanamo Bay.

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