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WFP Statement on Re-opening of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, DC and the U.S. Embassy in Havana

Witnessing the Dawn of a New Era in U.S.-Cuba Relations

Witness for Peace applauds the opening of the Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C. and the U.S. embassy in Havana. After many decades standing in solidarity with the people of Cuba, Witness for Peace is excited to continue bearing witness to this new chapter in bilateral relations while continuing to call for just policies that respect Cuba’s national sovereignty and reflect the will and dreams of the Cuban people!

Since December 17th, Witness for Peace, with our partners at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center (MLKC) in Havana, have led nearly two-hundred U.S. Americans on educational, people-to-people programs to Cuba. With each delegation, we have experienced, embraced and witnessed history in the making.

On the afternoon of December 17, 2014, a group of Witness for Peace delegates sat with Cubans at MLKC in Havana, eyes fixed on the television before them. On the screen, Cuban President Raúl Castro was addressing the Cuban people about the renewed bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Cuban governments. A sense of excitement, joy, and astonishment flooded the room as President Castro explained that the two governments had agreed to begin the process of reestablishing diplomatic relations for the first time since 1961.

Simultaneously, U.S. President Barack Obama was giving an address of his own, outlining a whole set of changes to U.S. policy, including instructing the State Department to review Cuba’s inclusion on the list of states sponsors of terrorism.

Finally, on May 29th, the U.S. officially removed Cuba from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, 33 years after it was nonsensically added to the list. On that day, a Witness for Peace delegation representing 12 different U.S. states was visiting La Ciénaga de Zapata, the region where the Bay of Pigs invasion took place in April of 1961. They received the news in the small, historical town of Pálpite, where delegates and local villagers alike shared tears of joy in response.   

Last month, Witness for Peace hosted our first high school delegation to Cuba. Reverend Raúl Suárez, founder and director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, welcomed students from St. Mary’s High School in Berkeley, California and explained the importance of resuming diplomatic relations between Cuba and United States, particularly for young people in both countries.

The students also attended an official briefing at the U.S. Interests Section, and the U.S. Foreign Service officer noted that they were the last U.S. group to receive a briefing under the function of the U.S. Interests Section and before they re-opened their doors on July 20, 2015, as the U.S. Embassy in Havana. The U.S. closed its doors as an embassy and cut off all diplomatic relations 54-years ago. These young U.S. Americans witnessed history.

The reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries represents a bold and courageous step forward to open the door for more just policies towards Cuba. Witness for Peace and countless others who stand in solidarity with Cuba will continue to demand from our congressional representatives: the full repeal of the Torricelli and Helms-Burton Acts, which together codify the unjust U.S. embargo on Cuba into law; and ending the U.S. travel ban on Cuba, which violates our constitutional right to travel freely.

The Obama Administration has acknowledged that attempting to isolate Cuba through an embargo and severed diplomatic relations has been a policy failure. Since the end of the 1990s, Witness for Peace, our partners at the MLKC, and our grassroots base in the U.S. have been calling for the end of the embargo, the lifting of the U.S. travel ban, and the removal Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism—a recent victory of which we are very proud. The reestablishment of diplomatic relations was a historical moment in the relationship between our nations. However, WFP advocates, we still have more work to do!