At the news conference Monday with Secretary of State John Kerry and his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez, the first Cuban foreign minister to visit Washington since 1958, audience members marveled at the sight of the two nations’ flags displayed together, snickered at Kerry’s Spanish pronunciation and raised their smartphone cameras in the air to capture the historic moment.
Behind the scenes, however, the official thaw after five decades of frozen diplomacy was messy. As the visiting Cuban journalists filed out of an ornate hall at the State Department, an anti-Castro activist reporter made a few loud remarks about the state-run media delegates and put his hand over his mouth to mock how they’re censored by Havana. The state-backed journalists rolled their eyes in response.
Then they were all shepherded into the same freight elevator, opposition and pro-government journalists, eye-to-eye and silent, for an awkward ride up to the first floor, where they could exit and begin writing their very different accounts of a landmark day.
That palpable tension was what was left after the diplomatic niceties and linguistic exchanges, emblematic of the fraught conversations ahead – among Americans, among Cubans, and between Cubans and Americans – on the path to full normalization of relations.