The embassy, looking spruced up for the occasion with fresh landscaping and a pristine exterior, was packed on Monday morning with an eclectic crowd — politicians and artists, lawyers and priests, businessmen and think-tankers — for the venue’s first reception as an actual embassy, instead of the Swiss-run “Special Interests Section” it’s been since 1977.
The flag of Cuba was hoisted outside the columned building on 16th Street. And revelers were thrilled to raise a glass.
“Hemingway would be proud,” said Scott Gilbert, an attorney who represented jailed American contractor Alan Gross, by way of compliment to the bartenders mixing the concoctions in a room named after the famed American ex-pat writer. “There’s a feeling today of joy, but also of disbelief,” Gilbert said. “So many people here thought this would never happen.”
Guests included actor Danny Glover, Cuban folk singer Silvio Rodriguez, Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.); Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.); plus administration types including deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. NBC anchor Andrea Mitchell slipped through the phalanx of protesters, camera crews, and folks celebrating just outside the gates.
Inside, it quickly became clear that the building’s air-conditioning couldn’t keep pace with the soaring July temperatures and the throngs. It was hot. Like sweat-through-your-suit stifling. The Cold War? So clearly over.
“I’m excited,” said Glover, who in addition to his “Lethal Weapon” roles has been part of numerous cultural delegations to Cuba. “This is the beginning of another narrative….What’s happened in the last 54 years is an insult to our intelligence as human beings and [American] citizens.”
As she slipped out, Klobuchar (no mojito, she said, since she had work to do on the Hill, finding co-sponsors for her bill to lift the Cuban trade embargo) suggested that the heat was an homage to something that Washington shares with the host country’s capitol: “It’s like we’re reaching out to Havana,” she joked.
Guests were busy noshing on fruit skewers and Cuban sandwiches, and the smell of cigars wafted around. “That’s the new smell of power,” says Arturo O’Farrill, a New York-based musician who has participated in cultural exchange programs between the U.S. and Cuba. He was in Cuba when the normalized relations were first announced, and today’s event recalled what he saw among the Cuban people. “People have just been in tears — happy tears.”