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American flag raised in Cuba


American flag raised in Cuba

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HAVANA – United States 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.

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

“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 a country where 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 fulfil its obligations under United Nations and Inter-American human rights covenants – obligations shared by the United States and every other country in the Americas,” Kerry said, his words accurately translated into Spanish and broadcast live on Cuban state television.

His comments drew a firm riposte from Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who defended his Communist government at a joint news conference and criticised the United States’ own record on rights, referring to racial strife and police brutality in America.

Speaking later with reporters, Kerry said the U.S. Congress was unlikely to ever lift a punishing economic embargo on Cuba unless the Communist government improved its human rights record.

“There is no way congress is going to vote to lift the embargo if they’re not moving with respect to issues of conscience,” Kerry said.

Cuba fiercely rejects such conditions.

Josefina Vidal, the Cuban foreign ministry director of U.S. affairs and lead negotiator in talks on restoring diplomatic relations, told Reuters in an interview that Cuba’s internal affairs were not negotiable and Cuba would never seek to placate those who have been trying to undermine the government from the United States.

“We are not going to make a decision to try to please or respond to people who don’t want our well-being,” Vidal said in an interview. “Cuba will never do anything, nor will it move its position one millimetre to try to respond.” (Reuters)