John Kerry urges ‘genuine democracy’ at U.S. flag ceremony in Cuba

Secretary of State John Kerry waves to guests and other dignitaries before the raising of the U.S. flag over the newly reopened embassy in Havana, Cuba. Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. Kerry traveled to the Cuban capital to raise the U.S. flag and formally reopen the long-closed U.S. Embassy. Cuba and U.S. officially restored diplomatic relations July 20, as part of efforts to normalize ties between the former Cold War foes. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais,Pool)

In Havana, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared a new era in relations as he celebrated restored diplomatic ties in Havana on Friday, but he also urged political change in Cuba, telling Cubans they should be free to choose their own leaders. Daniel Trotta and Lesley Wroughton report for Reuters:

The first U.S. secretary of state to visit the Caribbean island in 70 years, Kerry presided over a ceremony raising the U.S. flag over the newly reopened American embassy.

His comments drew a firm riposte from Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who defended his Communist government at a joint news conference and criticized the United States’ own record on rights. “We have profound differences on national security, human rights and political models,” Rodriguez said. [. . .] Rodriguez stressed there must be no U.S. interference in Cuba’s affairs.

The sunlit ceremony at the embassy overlooking the Malecon, the broad esplanade along Havana’s seafront, was a symbolic step in a path that opened last December when President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro announced they would seek to restore diplomatic ties, reopen embassies and work to normalize ties.

Speaking at a podium outside the embassy before U.S. Marines raised the American flag there for the first time in 54 years, Kerry made plain that despite the historic opening, Washington would continue to push for democratic reform.

“We remain convinced the people of Cuba would be best served by a genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders,” he said. In Cuba the Communist Party is the only legal political party, the media is tightly controlled, and political dissent is repressed.

“We will continue to urge the Cuban government to fulfill its obligations under U.N. and Inter-American human rights covenants – obligations shared by the United States and every other country in the Americas,” Kerry said.

His words were translated precisely into Spanish and broadcast live on Cuban state television.

At their news conference later, Rodriguez said Havana also had concern about human rights in the United States. “Cuba is not a place where there are acts of racial discrimination or police brutality that result in deaths; nor is it under Cuban jurisdiction the territory where people are tortured or held in a legal limbo,” he said. [. . .]

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