U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Cuba today to attend the flag-raising ceremony at the American Embassy in Havana, making him the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Cuba since the Franklin Roosevelt administration. Though brief, Secretary Kerry’s visit reflects the complexities involved in opening a new chapter of diplomatic engagement with the Cuban government, as the Obama administration works to balance its commitment to working with the Cuban government while also supporting anti-Castro dissidents.
Though anti-Castro dissidents were not invited to the ceremony at the U.S. Embassy, Kerry was scheduled to meet with dissidents and other human rights activists at a second flag-raising ceremony scheduled for later today, a decision that received harsh criticism from Senate Republicans, among them Presidential Candidate Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). Rubio, himself the son of Cuban immigrants, criticized the Obama administration’s decision not to invite Cuban dissidents to the flag-raising ceremony in a speech this morning, "As a symbol of just how backward this policy shift has turned out to be,” further stating that, "Cuba's dissidents have fought for decades for the very Democratic principles President Obama claims to be advancing through these concessions. Their exclusion from this event has ensured it will be little more than a propaganda rally for the Castro regime."
Despite the recent openings of each country’s embassies in Washington and Havana, the full normalization of ties between the United States and Cuba will be impossible as long as the trade embargo remains in tact. While President Obama has eased certain travel and business restrictions, only Congress can lift the 53-year-old embargo, something that is unlikely to happen with Republicans controlling both chambers through the end of his time in office. In the short term, President Obama is expected to continue to use executive authority to open new opportunities for travel, trade, and investment, a move that foreign policy experts believe could neutralize opposition in Congress and make it impossible for the next president, in the event that a Republican is elected, to reverse any progress made between the two countries.