WASHINGTON: The United States and Cuba restored full diplomatic relations Monday after more than five decades of frosty relations rooted in the Cold War.
The new era began with little fanfare when an agreement between the two nations to resume normal ties on July 20 came into force just after midnight Sunday and the diplomatic missions of each country were upgraded from interests sections to embassies. When clocks struck 12:00 in Washington and Havana, they tolled a knell for policy approaches spawned and hardened over the five decades since President John F. Kennedy first tangled with youthful revolutionary Fidel Castro over Soviet expansion in the Americas.
Without ceremony in the pre-dawn hours, maintenance hung the Cuban flag in the lobby of the State Department alongside those of other nations with which the US has diplomatic relations. The historic shift will be publicly memorialized later Monday when Cuban officials formally inaugurate their embassy in Washington and Cuba’s blue, red and white-starred flag will fly for the first time since the countries severed ties in 1961. Secretary of State John Kerry will then meet his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez, and address reporters at a joint news conference.
The US Interests Section in Havana plans to announce its upgrade to embassy status in a written statement on Monday, but the Stars and Stripes will not fly at the mission until Kerry visits in August for a ceremonial flag-raising.
Shortly after midnight, the Cuban Interests Section in Washington switched its Twitter account to say “embassy,” one of a series of similar changes being made to the two country’s social media accounts.
In Havana, the US Interests Section uploaded a new profile picture to its Facebook account that says US EMBASSY CUBA. And, Conrad Tribble, the deputy chief of mission for the United States in Havana, tweeted: “Just made first phone call to State Dept. Ops Center from United States Embassy Havana ever. It didn’t exist in Jan 1961.”
And yet, though normalization has taken center stage in the US-Cuba relationship, there remains a deep ideological gulf between the nations and many issues still to resolve. Among them: thorny disputes such as over mutual claims for economic reparations, Havana’s insistence on the end of the 53-year-old trade embargo and US calls for Cuba to improve on human rights and democracy. Some US lawmakers, including several prominent Republican presidential candidates, have vowed not to repeal the embargo and pledged to roll back Obama’s moves on Cuba.
Still, Monday’s events cap a remarkable change of course in US policy toward the communist island under President Barack Obama, who has sought rapprochement with Cuba since he first took office and has progressively loosened restrictions on travel and remittances to the island.
Obama’s efforts at engagement were frustrated for years by Cuba’s imprisonment of US Agency for International Development contractor Alan Gross on espionage charges. But months of secret negotiations led in December to Gross’s release, along with a number of political prisoners in Cuba and the remaining members of a Cuban spy ring jailed in the United States. On Dec. 17, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced they would resume full diplomatic relations.
Declaring the longstanding policy a failure that had not achieved any of its intended results, Obama declared that the US could not keep doing the same thing and expect a change. Thus, he said work would begin apace on normalization.
That process dragged on until the US removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism in late May and then bogged down over issues of US diplomats’ access to ordinary Cubans.
On July 1, however, the issues were resolved and the US and Cuba exchanged diplomatic notes agreeing that the date for the restoration of full relations would be July 20.
“It’s a historic moment,” said longtime Cuban diplomat and analyst Carlos Alzugaray.
“The significance of opening the embassies is that trust and respect that you can see, both sides treating the other with trust and respect,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be conflicts — there are bound to be conflicts — but the way that you treat the conflict has completely changed.”
Cuba’s ceremony at the stately 16th Street mansion in Washington that has been operating as an interests section under the auspices of the Swiss embassy will be attended by some 500 guests, including a 30-member delegation of diplomatic, cultural and other leaders from the Caribbean nation, headed by Foreign Minister Rodriguez.
The US will be represented at the event by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, who led US negotiators in six months of talks leading to the July 1 announcement, and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the chief of the US Interests Section in Havana who will now become charge d’affaires.
Although the Interests Section in Havana won’t see the pomp and circumstance of a flag-raising on Monday, workers there have already drilled holes on the exterior to hang signage flown in from the US, and arranged to print new business cards and letterhead that say “Embassy” instead of “Interests Section.” What for years was a lonely flagpole outside the glassy six-story edifice on Havana’s seafront Malecon boulevard recently got a rehab, complete with a paved walkway.
Every day for the last week, employees have been hanging hand-lettered signs on the fence counting down, in Spanish, to Monday: “In 6 days we will become an embassy!” and so on.
Both interests sections have technically operated as part of Switzerland’s embassies in Washington and Havana. The Swiss also were caretakers for the former American Embassy and ambassador’s residence from 1961 to 1977, when the US had no diplomatic presence in the country at all.
Five decades later, US-Cuba diplomatic ties restored
Five decades later, US-Cuba diplomatic ties restored
WASHINGTON: The United States and Cuba restored full diplomatic relations Monday after more than five decades of frosty relations rooted in the Cold War.
Indonesia looks into potential aviation, railway cooperation with Saudi Arabia
- Indonesia, Saudi transport ministers held talks in Riyadh on Sunday
- Jakarta also eyeing Saudi investment on Indonesian railways
JAKARTA: Indonesia was hoping for closer cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the aviation sector and to develop its urban transportation, the southeast Asian country’s Ministry of Transportation has revealed.
Indonesian Minister of Transport Budi Karya Sumadi held a meeting with his Saudi counterpart Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser in Riyadh on Sunday, where they explored potential cooperation between the two nations.
In a statement issued by his ministry, Sumadi said: “This is a big momentum for our two countries to continue cooperation in transportation, which has been going really well.”
Sumadi was in the Saudi capital to attend the 15th International Civil Aviation Organization’s Air Services Negotiation event, partaking in a ministerial session alongside Al-Jasser and other transport officials.
His trip follows Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s state visit to the Kingdom in October, when officials discussed the formation of a negotiation team for the Indonesia-Saudi Arabia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.
“There are plenty of other collaboration opportunities we can do, especially for Hajj flights and the development of urban transportation,” Sumadi added.
The Indonesian minister had highlighted recent urban transportation developments in Saudi cities during his meeting with Al-Jasser, projects happening at a time when Indonesian cities were also developing mass transport systems.
“There’s an opportunity for (Saudi Arabia) to invest in Indonesia’s railways, which has to be further discussed,” Ministry of Transportation spokesperson Adita Irawati told Arab News on Wednesday.
“Saudi Arabia’s experience in developing urban railways can also be a benchmark for Indonesia.”
Indonesia was looking into the possibility of establishing a joint venture for domestic flights with Saudi airlines, the ministry said, as the country also hoped to increase flights between the two nations to facilitate more Indonesian pilgrims.
“On aviation, the importance of cooperation is related to Umrah and Hajj flights as there is a large volume of Indonesian pilgrims,” Irawati added.
Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, sends the biggest Hajj contingent and hundreds of thousands of Umrah pilgrims to Saudi Arabia every year.
Former UK leader Boris Johnson apologizes to COVID-19 victims families
- Former PM begins giving evidence at a public inquiry into his government’s handling of the health crisis
LONDON: Boris Johnson on Wednesday apologized for “the pain and the loss and the suffering” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as he began giving evidence at a public inquiry into his government’s handling of the health crisis.
The former prime minister, who has faced a barrage of criticism from former aides for alleged indecisiveness and a lack of scientific understanding during the pandemic, is facing two days in the witness box.
Johnson, who was forced from office last year over lockdown-breaching parties held in Downing Street during the pandemic, accepted that “mistakes” had “unquestionably” been made.
“I understand the feeling of the victims and their families and I’m deeply sorry for the pain and the loss and the suffering to those victims and their families,” Johnson said.
Johnson, 59, was briefly interrupted as a protester was ordered from the inquiry room after refusing to sit down during the apology.
“Inevitably we got some things wrong,” Johnson continued, before adding “we did our level best” and that he took personal responsibility for decisions made.
The former premier had arrived around three hours early for the proceedings, with some suggesting he was eager to avoid relatives of the COVID-19 bereaved who gathered outside later in the morning.
Nearly 130,000 people died with COVID-19 in the UK by mid-July 2021, one of the worst official per capita tolls among Western nations.
Johnson will insist the decisions he took ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives, the Times newspaper reported, citing a lengthy written statement set to be published later Wednesday.
The Times said he would argue he had a “basic confidence that things would turn out alright” on the “fallacious logic” that previous health threats had not proven as catastrophic as feared.
But he is expected to say that overall, the government succeeded in its main goal of preventing the state-run health service from being overwhelmed by making the “right decisions at the right times.”
He will also say that while the country’s death toll was high, it defied most of the gloomiest predictions and “ended the pandemic well down the global league table of excess mortality.”
According to The Times, Johnson, who quit in part because of revelations about lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street, has reviewed 6,000 pages of evidence and spent hours in talks with lawyers.
He can expect to be questioned on whether he thought the government was initially complacent about the pandemic, despite evidence suggesting a more proactive approach was needed.
He will also need to justify his timing of the first UK lockdown on March 23, 2020, which some senior ministers, officials and scientific advisers now believe was too late.
Johnson, who was treated in hospital intensive care for COVID-19 early on in the pandemic, is expected to say that shutting down the country went against all his personal and political instincts.
But he had no choice because “ancient and hallowed freedoms were in conflict with the health of the community.”
Johnson’s understanding of specialist advice is likely to come under scrutiny after his former chief scientific officer, Patrick Vallance, said the former premier was frequently “bamboozled” by data.
Comments about lockdowns and the death toll, including a claim that Johnson suggested the elderly might be allowed to die because they had “had a good innings,” could also be raised.
Johnson has denied claims he said he would rather “let the bodies pile high” than impose another lockdown.
Johnson’s former top aide Dominic Cummings and communications chief Lee Cain both criticized their ex-boss when they gave evidence at the inquiry.
Cummings said a “low point” was when Johnson circulated a video to his scientific advisers of “a guy blowing a special hairdryer up his nose ‘to kill Covid’.”
Cain said COVID-19 was the “wrong crisis” for Johnson’s skill set, adding that he became “exhausted” by his alleged indecision and oscillation in dealing with the crisis.
“He’s somebody who would often delay making decisions, would often seek counsel from multiple sources and change his mind on issues,” Cain said.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who was Johnson’s finance minister during the pandemic, is due to be questioned at the inquiry in the coming weeks.
Death toll in Philippine ‘killer curve’ bus accident rises
- Bus carrying dozens of people when its brakes failed in the central province of Antique on Tuesday afternoon
- The Philippines is notorious for its lax regulation on public transportation and poorly maintained roads
MANILA: A passenger severely injured when a bus plunged into a ravine in the central Philippines has died, taking the death toll from the accident to 17, authorities said on Wednesday.
The bus was carrying dozens of people when its brakes failed in the central province of Antique on Tuesday afternoon, the local governor, Rhodora Cadiao, told a press conference.
Seven people were in critical condition while four were stable and recovering, she said.
Local media had reported earlier than 28 died in the crash.
Cadiao said the bus was traveling to Culasi in Antique from the neighboring province of Iloilo when its brakes malfunctioned on a winding road and it plunged 30 meters (98.5 feet) into the ravine.
“We call that area the killer curve. It was already the second bus that fell off there,” Cadiao told DZRH radio station.
Rescue operations at the site have stopped after all visible bodies were retrieved, the Antique government said on Facebook.
“The engineering design of this road is very faulty,” Cadiao said. “I want to condemn that road already.”
The Philippines is notorious for its lax regulation on public transportation and poorly maintained roads.
US Navy patrol plane flies over sensitive Taiwan Strait
- China claims sovereignty over democratically governed Taiwan, and says it has jurisdiction over the strait
BEIJING: A US Navy patrol aircraft flew through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, the US military said, describing the mission as a demonstration of the country’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.
China claims sovereignty over democratically governed Taiwan, and says it has jurisdiction over the strait. Taiwan and the United States dispute that, saying the Taiwan Strait is an international waterway.
The US Navy’s 7th Fleet said the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance plane, which is also used for anti-submarine missions, flew over the strait in international airspace.
“The aircraft’s transit of the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The United States military flies, sails and operates anywhere international law allows,” it said in a statement.
There was no immediate comment from China.
The last time the US Navy announced a Poseidon had flown through the strait, in October, China said it had sent fighter jets to monitor and warn the aircraft.
Taiwan is gearing up for presidential and parliamentary elections on Jan. 13, which China has cast as a choice between war and peace.
China has stepped up its military activity around Taiwan in the past four years, including staging two rounds of major war games over the last year and a half.
Joe Biden tells campaign donors: I am running for reelection to prevent Donald Trump’s return
- President using a trio of fundraisers to caution against what might happen should his predecessor again claim control of the White House
BOSTON: President Joe Biden told campaign donors Tuesday that he wasn’t sure he’d be running for reelection if Donald Trump wasn’t also in the race, warning that democracy is “more at risk in 2024” and that the former president and his allies are out to “destroy” democratic institutions.
The president was using a trio of fundraisers to caution against what might happen should his predecessor again claim control of the White House, noting that Trump has described himself as his supporters’ “retribution” and has vowed to root out “vermin” in the country.
“We’ve got to get it done, not because of me. ... If Trump wasn’t running I’m not sure I’d be running. We cannot let him win,” Biden said, hitting the last words slowly for emphasis.
Biden’s forceful rhetoric came as Trump, the current GOP front-runner, who tried to overturn the 2020 election he lost and is facing criminal charges connected to those efforts, attempted over the weekend to turn the tables by calling Biden the “destroyer of American democracy.”
Trump on Tuesday was asked by Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity to promise he “would never abuse power as retribution against anybody.”
“Except for day one,” Trump responded. “I want to close the border and I want to drill, drill, drill.”
“After that I’m not a dictator,” Trump added.
Biden’s campaign quickly seized on the comments with an email that read, “Donald Trump: Day One Dictator.” Later, Biden was asked by reporters whether he would be running if Trump wasn’t and gave a slightly different comment, saying, “I expect so, but look, he is running and I have to run.”
He was asked if he would drop out if Trump did and said, “No, not now.”
Biden, who said he is not alone in sounding the alarm over Trump, noted that Trump is the “only losing candidate” in US history to not accept the results. Biden also said that on Jan. 6, 2021, as Trump supporters violently stormed the US Capitol in a failed attempt to stop the certification of the election results, Trump sat in his dining room just off the Oval Office, “watching them threaten his own vice president.”
Biden also highlighted recent warnings about Trump from former Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, calling her a “powerful voice.”
“American democracy, I give you my word as a Biden, is at stake,” the president said at the first of three campaign fundraisers in the Boston area. Drawing some laughter from donors, Biden also mused: “He didn’t even show up at my inauguration. I can’t say I was disappointed, but he didn’t even show up.”
The warnings by Biden are increasingly part of his pitch to donors: that democracy is at stake if Trump were to win again and he must be defeated. The president is pushing to raise money for his reelection effort before the end of the year, appearing at seven events through Monday — with more to come. The events in Boston on Tuesday benefit his campaign and the broader Democratic Party.
They included an evening event in the city’s theater district featuring a concert by singer-songwriter James Taylor, who helped kick off a White House event in 2022 celebrating the Inflation Reduction Act, a climate and health care bill that Biden signed into law.
Onstage, Biden joked to the packed theater audience that he wouldn’t be long because he knew he was “the only thing standing” between the audience and the performance by Taylor.
“We’re always going to defend protect and fight for democracy,” he said. “That’s why I’m running.”
November was the campaign’s strongest grassroots fundraising month since Biden formally announced last April that he was seeking a second term, according to a campaign official who insisted on anonymity to discuss campaign finances before details are made public. The numbers will be released in January.
In October, Biden and the Democratic National Committee reported raising more than $71 million for his reelection in the three months ending Sept. 30, a sign that donors remained behind him going into the 2024 presidential race.
Biden had only political events on his public schedule for Tuesday, which is rare. Presidents who are running for reelection typically include an official event, like a policy speech, on the schedule to help defray costs for their campaign.
Biden will also attend a fundraiser Wednesday near the White House and another one Monday in Philadelphia. He’ll headline fundraisers in Washington, D.C., and in Maryland later in December.
On Friday, Biden will head to Los Angeles for a big-dollar event that will be his first since strikes by writers and actors effectively ground his fundraising to a halt in the heart of the entertainment industry, which has long served as a major source of campaign money for Democrats.