Latin America

‘Mojito diplomacy’ as Cuba reboots US relations in reopened embassy

Guests toast inauguration of island's new Washington mission inside its ‘Hemingway’ bar

Mojitos ready to be served at the Cuban Embassy in Washington.
Mojitos ready to be served at the Cuban Embassy in Washington.REUTERS

Even today, La Bodeguita del Medio – one of Havana’s most famous restaurants – proudly displays a handwritten note by Ernest Hemingway that immortalizes his legendary drinking binges in the Cuban capital.

“My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in La Floridita,” Hemingway wrote at the place, which claims to have invented the sweet rum, soda and mint-leaf drink.

Around 1,800 kilometers from Havana, mojitos are also still working their magic, especially among the guests who were invited on Monday night for the historic reopening of the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC.

More than 500 guests were invited to attend the reopening of the embassy at the 98-year-old mansion

They all converged at the embassy bar, dubbed “the Ernest Hemingway,” to celebrate the beginning of a new diplomatic era between the United States and Cuba after more than 54 years of chilled relations.

More than 500 guests were invited to attend the reopening of the embassy at the 98-year-old mansion that served as the Caribbean island’s diplomatic mission before ties were cut in 1961, just a few months before the US novelist’s death.

Just like Hemingway’s favorite Havana hangout, a small but attractive bar had been set up nearly four years ago in one of the rooms at the Cuban embassy to liven up breaks between the many closed-door meetings held with political scientists and activists there.

On Monday, the mojitos were flowing inside. The mix was somewhat lower in alcohol content than normal for the occasion – maybe the organizers were aware that the scheduled toast time of 11am was not suitable for the majority of guests, in contrast to the Nobel Prize-winning author, who said he liked to drink early “to make other people more interesting.”

Nevertheless, many of the party-goers did indulge in a drink, including Bruno Rodríguez, whose presence made him the first Cuban foreign minister to visit Washington since 1959.

Other guests enjoying the occasion included Obama administration advisor Ben Rhodes, who led 18 months of behind-the-scenes secret negotiations with Cuban officials with the aim of restoring diplomatic ties.

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Roberta Jacobson, the assistant US Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, and Josefina Vidal, the head of the Cuban delegation, were also at the reception.

Also seen holding a mojito was Wayne Smith, a Cuban expert who was forced to leave the US Embassy in Havana in 1961 when the two countries broke diplomatic ties during President Eisenhower’s last days in office.

Smith returned to Havana in 1977 when President Jimmy Carter opened the US Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy in the Cuban capital.

The reopening of the embassies “is not the end of our history, but it is a very important step,” said Cuban Parliament speaker Ricardo Alarcón, who was also invited to the reception.

Arizona Republican US Senator Jeff Flake – one of the few party members to have encouraged closer ties with Cuba – was one of the few to decline an alcoholic beverage as a result of his Mormon religion, which prohibits him from imbibing. However, this didn’t stop him from having “a wonderful time.” Flake said he wants to see Congress pass laws to eliminate the US travel ban to Cuba as well as other legislation that will help the island’s economic situation.

The mojito mix served at the embassy was lower in alcohol content than normal for the occasion

Actor Danny Glover, one of Havana’s biggest supporters, said the opening of the two embassies marked a “very special day” and “the beginning of a new narrative” between historical enemies.

Glover was one of those who rushed to take a picture with another important guest at the reception, Cuban singer Silvio Rodríguez, who admitted he still did not believe the changes were happening so fast.

“There was a time when this fight was so strong that many began to believe that it didn't have a solution,” said Rodríguez, a troubadour of the Cuban revolution. “One of the most curious things is to realize that it does have a solution and we can now start working in that direction.”

English version by Martin Delfin

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