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Sunday, July 5, 2015


GAMESMANSHIPThe U.S. Embassy (above, left) was built in 1950 before the U.S. broke diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1961.  In early 2000s, the Cubans created across from the U.S. mission, the Jose Marti Anti-Imperialism Plaza, as a public venue to hold rallies and concerts.  In 2006, the U.S. placed an electronic billboard on the fifth floor of the then Special Interest mission to flash messages visible from the Plaza.   In late 2006, the Cuban government installed flags atop138 poles to block the Bush era messaging.
Last week, in their respective capitol city’s, the U.S. and Cuba decided to upgrade existing “interest section” offices to full embassies on July 20, 2015.  The buildings where the embassies will be located are back in the news now that the political dodgeball between Washington DC and Havana seems to be ending.   Or, depending on who you talk to, just beginning.

Since the late 1970s, the United States and Cuba have operated diplomatic missions called interests sections in each other's capitals. The missions are technically under the protection of Switzerland, and up-until-now did not enjoy full embassy status.

Cuban-built mansion will reopen along 16th Street NW as Havana's embassy in Washington DC on July 20, 2015
Cuba’s DC embassy mansion is located in Washington’s Northwest quadrant, where foreign embassies outnumber Starbucks—albeit barely.

The mansion at 2630 16th St. NW, which was built by the Cuban government, was maintained for several years by Czechoslovakia after the last Cuban diplomats left.

U.S. Embassy (above) was built in 1950 by the same architects that created the CIA HQ in Langley, VA
America’s interest section is located along Havana’s the scenic Malecon. Built in 1950 by architects Wallace Harrison and Max Abramovitz, who, of course, also designed the CIA headquarters in Langley, VA.  Last month, while on a tour of Cuba, the boxy midcentury modern building peers out through 138 flagpoles that were installed across the street by the Cubans nine years ago.

Under the guise of celebrating the return of then six-year-old, Elian Gonzalez, a 2000 child custody episode that drew world wide attention, the Cuban government created an Anti-Imperialism Plaza by installing the flagpoles.

Pillar to Post original image by Tom Shess, April, 2015
Truth be told, the forest of flags was a piece of sophomoric gamesmanship aimed at blocking the view of an equally sophomoric ticker tape style Anti-Castro messages being flashed across the American’s fifth floor electronic billboard.

The Cubans were not unjustified in their desire to block the view of the U.S. building because during the second Bush Administration, the U.S. flashed “human rights” messages posted on the buildings large electronic billboard.

Electronic billboard atop U.S. Special Interests building in Havana, Cuba
Of course, we may never have the full story now that the past is the past.  But at least spys on both sides can have drinks—out in the open—preferably at Sloppy Joe’s bar, where the spy spoof “Our Man in Havana” was filmed in 1960.

Today, the wall of flags or mount de banderas is actually quite stunning especially on a breezy day.

In San Diego, such a huge flag display idea, especially on the waterfront near the U.S.S. Midway museum, would make a stunning showpiece for Old Glory.  Flying any number of American flags, say 76, has to be better than some of the lackluster public art that has been installed over the years on the shores of San Diego harbor.

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